In the fourteen months since Bryan Dayton, owner of Oak at Fourteenth, Acorn and Brider, first announced that he was planning a restaurant for the top floor of the Pearl West development in downtown Boulder, he and chef Amos Watts have been on a journey to define exactly what that restaurant is. At the outset, they knew they'd be channeling Spain, with an eye toward the celebrated Basque steakhouses that dot the country's northeast. Several trips to the Iberian peninsula helped them refine that vision, and you can now see what their travels inspired at Corrida, which opened on Saturday, March 24.
The focus on steak remains, and after months of research, both Watts and Dayton speak with reverence about the steer. Dayton says the team is nodding to El Capricho as its holy grail; that restaurant, located just outside of Leon, Spain, is frequently mentioned as the greatest steak restaurant in the world. Owner José Gordón, Dayton explains, raises his own steers, and he slaughters them when they hit a variety of ages, up to 15 years old — a stark contrast to most producers, who slaughter their animals when they're under 36 months old. "He thinks about beef like you would reserve riojas," says Dayton. "With riojas, there's so much time invested in those bottles, and it's the same with cows. He has steers that are eight, nine, ten years old — they get to be the size of my 4Runner. And he’s out there talking to him. As we all do when we age, the steers marbleize a little bit more, and then they have one bad day and go to El Capricho."
The resultant experience, says Dayton, is unlike any he's had at any other steak restaurant. "We had five-year-old, 18-month dry-aged tartare, and then eight-year-old steer. They bring out these huge crazy cuts, and the chlorophyll and beta carotene [from a grass diet] make the fat this orange color. It's a really amazing experience. That’s the best steak experience I’ve ever had — and the marbleization on that older cow is as decadent as anything I’ve had, and it's all done naturally."
American law makes offering older cow tricky, but Watts is offering a range in cuts and types of beef, from Japanese A5 Wagyu to grass-fed animals sourced from local purveyor Western Daughters ("The closest to Spanish beef you can get," says the chef) in an effort to offer a cerebral and diverse steak experience to those guests who want to go deep. (And for those who don't, classic and familiar cuts are also available.) And the guys plan to explore offering older meat, with Western Daughters and California-based Mindful Meats helping them navigate both production and USDA regulations.
Underpinning this reverence is acknowledgement of what it means to raise steer for steak, something hammered home for Dayton and Watts after a visit to a local slaughterhouse. "There's a bit of chaos and brutality to butchery, and that's something we really respect," says Dayton. "We don't want to take you on a field trip and tell you you need to pray to the cow, but we want you to think about where the beef comes from, what that means. This is a larger subject than having a great cut of beef on the table. We're not here to go to school about it, but if someone wants to geek out and talk about it, we’d love to do that. Respect it, enjoy it and don’t waste."
Beyond the steak program, Corrida's team is going deep in its homage to Spain. "We're pushing all things Spain; it's going to be a fascinating journey," says Dayton.
Watts cites a paella influenced by his travels, and a board of quickly turned-out bites: marinated artichokes, white asparagus, and marinated carrots and beets. You'll be able to get tinned fish — including sardines and mussels in escabeche — alongside your pan con tomate, and the chef says he's "really pleased with how the ham and cheese croquettes turned out." Much of the cooking here is being done over a wood-fired plancha (currently fueled with cherrywood), including calamari, cod and turbot, a white fish Watts is preparing using fish-shaped baskets he special-ordered from Europe. Future food plans include a list of tapas in the bar and a limited siesta-hour board, with snacks that'll carry from lunch service to dinner. And the pair hopes to be open for brunch in just two weeks.
As for drinks, Dayton has taken a similarly deep plunge into Spanish tradition. The team will offer a Spanish-style gin-and-tonic experience, with drinks poured tableside. "This is very different from the way that we drink gin and tonics in America," he explains. "It's a low-alcohol experience: we're using a whole bottle of tonic, so the drink is really light, almost a spritz. The idea is to have so many tonics and gins to choose from, to really get the guest into a different experience."
Corrida will also offer a comprehensive list of sherry and vermouth, inspired by Dayton's trip to Jerez, and an all-Spanish wine list. "Spain has so much great wine at a great value," says Dayton. You'll be able to get beers from the nearly all-Spanish beer list (there will be two local selections on draft) in three sizes, including a caña, the traditional short pour offered in Spain. And there's a long cider roster, too, that goes deep on the still ciders for which Spain is known. Dayton hopes to bring more drinkers to that beverage, which is still relatively unfamiliar in the States, via brunch, when both cider and cava will flow generously.
In the warm months, all of this will be best consumed on Corrida's rooftop patio, which has an unobstructed and breathtaking view of the Flatirons. Even non-diners can experience that view; Corrida will offer a menu of canned beers, cocktails and wines to people taking advantage of community spaces on the deck. In cooler months — or for patrons looking for a sleeker environment — floor-to-ceiling windows pull the mountains into the dining room.
Corrida is now open for dinner but plans to add lunch hours soon.
"This is a big undertaking," says Dayton. "It probably plays to my personality the most of out of all the restaurants we do."