On a single day in June 2020, Boulder lost three restaurant institutions: The Med and its Mediterranean cuisine, Via Perla and its Italian fare, and French restaurant Brasserie Ten Ten. Their shared owners, Peg and Joe Romano, announced on each restaurant’s website and social media they were shuttering business indefinitely as a result of the pandemic and Colorado’s dining capacity restrictions.
The Romanos, like everyone else, didn’t know how long the pandemic would last. They were losing thousands of dollars a day. So when the opportunity arose to sell their restaurants, they jumped on it — at least for two out of the three.
The couple, who owned the businesses under the Walnut Restaurant Group umbrella, sold The Med and its second floor offices, along with Via Perla, which reopened as My Neighbor Felix last year.
But they kept their smallest property, Brasserie Ten Ten, which first entered the Boulder restaurant scene in 2003 at 1011 Walnut St. Now, more than two years after closing, the French-inspired bistro is set to officially open again this month.
“There’s quite a bit of anticipation out there for us to reopen, so we wanted to do a great job,” Peg Romano said.
The restaurant held a private, soft opening with staff members’ friends and family last week, where it tested out an updated menu and cooking techniques it hopes will reestablish the restaurant as a slice of France in Boulder.
Brasserie Ten Ten will initially be reservation-only when it opens to the public, according to Peg Romano. The bar will allow walk-ins. They plan to open the restaurant from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday before expanding hours.
The Romanos hired all new staff, except for Executive Chef Tony Hessel, who has worked with the owners for 30 years. They initially brought on Hessel as chef at The Med in the 1990s. He later led the restaurant’s bakery expansion, and then helped the Romanos open Via Perla as executive chef in 2016.
“For us, it’s not just flipping the switch back on,” Peg Romano said. “We have a head chef who’s done this before with us, but it’s still all new. New people and a new feel.”
It also has some new menu features. During the soft opening, Brasserie Ten Ten focused on training staff in the kitchen and front of house, as well as refining the menu, which Hessel wrote with Romano.
“It’s a matter of tweaking the dishes and making sure that they work for the kitchen, as well as the customer, and making sure all the flavor profiles are correct,” Hessel said.
Peg Romano said the french fries are her favorite new and improved item. Instead of the restaurant’s previous thicker cut, the “pomme frites” are now shoestrings one-eighth of an inch wide. They’re fried in rice bran oil and made to order, straight from a pile of raw potatoes.
Brasserie Ten Ten’s bouillabaisse, a fish stew from France, is now made with a homemade broth. “It’s more traditional in the Marseille fashion,” Hessel said of the Atlantic cod filet. The dish is surrounded by steamed Bangs Island mussels from Maine, Manila clams and prawns in a shellfish broth.
As for the Nicoise salad, a plate that originates in Nice, France, Hessel said: “That’s a touchy one because Nicoise purists will tell you that you shouldn’t have artichokes.” But the Brasserie version includes them, along with yellowfin tuna, green beans, tomatoes, olives, a warm poached egg and lemon vinaigrette.
Beyond the menu itself, the Romanos also overhauled the kitchen to better facilitate the French style of cooking.
“We did it in the French tradition,” Hessel said of the kitchen’s new Montague suite, an island equipped with French cooking tops, instead of the kitchen’s previous six burners, an oven and refrigerator. “With a French top, you have more areas to cook off of, from blazing hot to warming within two feet of each other.”
The Romanos and Hessel hope that Boulder restaurant-goers will be as enthusiastic as the rumor mill already suggests they will be.
“It’s a different environment than it was two years ago,” Romano said, noting it was harder to staff their restaurant this time around. Construction also took longer than expected.
“The world feels different,” Romano said. “But we talked to different people, and everyone thought it was a great idea to reopen.”