Food News

Bryan Dayton, Amos Watts Talk Details on Upcoming Spanish Steakhouse Corrida

Wood-fired fish from the Corrida team's trip to Spain.
Wood-fired fish from the Corrida team's trip to Spain. Corrida
It’s been six months since Bryan Dayton — co-owner of Acorn, Oak at Fourteenth and Briderfirst revealed that he’d signed a lease for a space atop Boulder’s PearlWest development, going up where the Daily Camera building used to sit. “"It has unobstructed views of the Flatirons," he told Westword at the time. "I just couldn't walk away from it."

But he’s been mostly silent on the details of the new restaurant, saying only that he and Amos Watts, whom he recently tapped to be chef and partner in the project, were plotting a Spanish steak restaurant called Corrida, inspired by legendary steak purveyors in Basque country. The pair jetted off to Spain shortly after they announced their teaming, and now that they’re back, they’re opening up about what we can expect.

For starters, while steak and seafood will anchor the entrees, Corrida will neither be a classic steakhouse nor an all-Basque restaurant. “We’ve taken influence from all over Spain,” says Dayton. “You can draw from the south, where the best pigs are, and where the best seafood is coming out of the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Basque country pulls from French culture. Barcelona, San Sebastian and Catalan are very different, too — you get all these different cultures melding. So to say this is 100 percent Basque is not fair. It’s about a celebration of Spain.”

That celebration especially encompasses the Spanish lifestyle, which Dayton has long admired: “When I was younger, I spent a month in Fuerteventura surfing, and I really fell in love,” he says. “You’d surf all day and eat olives, ham, cañas [short pours] of beer. I wasn’t even in the food business at that point. Since then, I’ve ended up in Spain more than any other country in the world. The lifestyle is awesome. It fits my lifestyle as a barman: there’s a lot of nightlife and people going out, and then people love being out in the sunshine. Of course, it’s hard to throw a blanket statement over Spain — the cultures are so different, and everyone wants to be a separatist. But it feels like a more civilized way of life. It’s sexy, exotic, and it has soul, the beach and the mountains. There are people from all different walks of life, and this incredible food culture. That’s what’s spoken to me, and what helped mold this idea.”

click to enlarge A rendering of Corrida's forthcoming dining room. - COURTESY CORRIDA
A rendering of Corrida's forthcoming dining room.
Courtesy Corrida
The duo is designing the rooftop restaurant to foster that lively atmosphere, crafting areas for standing-room drinks and snacks service, outdoor lounging and a large bar in addition to a dining room where, yes, there will be white tablecloths — because “every restaurant in Europe has tablecloths, regardless of the level of service,” says Dayton — but theatrical tableside service elements and details like serving bread without bread plates will encourage guests to relax and spill a few crumbs on the table. It won’t be fine dining, Dayton promises, but it will be the kind of dialed-in hospitality he offers at Acorn and Oak.

The guys are also toying with creating a no-cell-phone zone by setting up a cell-phone valet, encouraging patrons to limit their screen time so that they’ll be fully present in the moment. “While we were in Spain, we were looking around and realizing, we’re the only ones with our cell phones out,” says Dayton. “Everyone else was worried about catching up with their friends and hearing the latest gossip or what’s going on with the family. It was inspiring. No one is on their cell phones. We were able to have fully engaged conversations with the people who took us out. I want to try it.” They plan to offer free charging and workarounds for, say, Instagrammers who want photos of the food and nervous parents who need to be able to have their babysitter get in touch.

As for the menu, Watts is eager to highlight aspects of that food culture outside of the realm of tapas, which the duo says only comprises one aspect of dining in Spain but has gotten outsized attention here in the States. Inspired most by the Basque steakhouses and the seafood restaurants on the coast — “You’re eating anchovies as the anchovy boats come in,” Watts says — the chef is building a menu that centers around those items.

click to enlarge Steak from Basque country. - CORRIDA
Steak from Basque country.
The guys are forthcoming about their ambitions for the steak: “We want to have the best steak in the world,” says Dayton. Watts says he’s spending the summer working with a wood-fired oven he installed in his back yard, testing out cuts from different suppliers and dialing in the cooking. He cites seafood offerings like calamari in squid ink. Each dish, says the chef, will be served with a simple salad, which echoes how meals were plated in Spain. “It’s a palate cleanser between bites of steak,” he explains.

Around that, Watts is building a board of appetizers and sides that draw from Spanish flavors and run the gamut, from fairly traditional, like padrón peppers fired on the grill, to completely reinvented, like the chef’s own take on chorizo with potatoes. You’ll be able to start your meal with jamón Ibérico, or pick up slices of a local ham for a lower cost. “I’d like to see tomato-braised romano beans, or chorizo with lentils and pickled guindilla peppers,” says the chef. And, again, while Corrida is not set up to be a tapas restaurant, some of these items will be available as snacks for patrons in the lounge or standing-room-only sections of the restaurant.

The chef also plans to offer paella, though he’s drawn more to the paella-of-the-day setup he saw in several Spanish restaurants than he is to the traditional Valencian-style rice-and-seafood dish, and he’s toying with how to serve it. It may be a limited offering, because he doesn’t want to par-cook the rice.

click to enlarge Spanish pickled peppers. - CORRIDA
Spanish pickled peppers.
For all the focus on Spain, Watts is still planning to use local ingredients and tap local inspiration for his dishes. And he promises above all that the menu will not be confusing. “I don’t like having to explain why you’re doing things. It’s going to make sense,” he says.

Dayton’s bar program will also draw from Spain, dealing in sherry-based cocktails, alcoholic granitas and, of course, gin and tonics, in addition to classic cocktails. “The gin and tonic is the national drink of Spain,” Watts points out. Dayton plans to inject some Spanish-style theater into the cocktail here, though he won’t say exactly how. “In Spain, in even the most basic restaurants, the gin is poured tableside, the tonic is poured tableside, and then you put the lime in it and stir,” he says. “It’s a cool little fun event. I want to bring that theater here, but adjust the sensibility so that it’s to the American palate and it doesn’t take two minutes to get a gin and tonic.”

The wine list will be at least 51 percent Spanish, says Dayton, though he also plans to offer great wines from all over the world, because he’s cognizant that people are often particular about what they want to pair with a nice steak. He’s especially looking forward to turning people on to Spanish offerings outside of the region of Rioja.

With this vision, the guys hope to give Boulder a fun and unusual experience. “The restaurant is on the roof — you have to access it from an elevator — and when you get up there, it feels like a different town,” says Dayton. “We’re going to do food, beverage and hospitality the best we can do, and we want to have a lot of fun.”

The team just pulled its permits for construction; if all goes to plan, Corrida will open “October-ish,” says Dayton.
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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk