First Look: Spruce in the Hotel Boulderado Promises Farm and Fish

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The Hotel Boulderado has built up plenty of character over the last 100 years or so of continuous operation, but even proud edifices with tradition and history behind them can stand an occasional sprucing up. So this summer the hotel revamped its restaurant -- operating in the same space since the Boulderado opened in 1909 -- with a new name, menu and atmosphere. The result, revealed Monday, is called Spruce after the street outside the hotel, and promises "fresh and locally focused" fare from chef Shawn Murrell.

See also: First Look: Corner Bar and License No. 1 Now Pouring at the Boulderado

Murrell, who's been with the hotel for the past five years and was at the helm of the long-standing Q's restaurant that Spruce replaces, says his focus is on bringing in the best that Colorado has to offer. So along with food and beverage menus, each table features a list of partners from which Murrell and his staff are sourcing ingredients: Agriburbia and Oxford Gardens for produce, Hazel Dell for mushrooms, and Haystack Mountain Dairy for goat cheese, to name a few.

Murrell is also focusing on fresh fish. In addition to Colorado trout and farmed striped bass, Spruce features a raw oyster bar and a range of coastal seafood, including whole snapper, Prince Edward Island mussels and lump blue crab for crabcakes. So why would a restaurant focused on Colorado's bounty include a raw bar?

According to Clark Davis, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, menus and photos dating back ninety years show that the Boulderado had one of Boulder's first oyster bars. And with seafood flown in daily, the oysters at Spruce promise to be a good deal fresher than those in 1920. Murrell says the oyster bar will feature two East Coast and two West Coast oysters daily with a "two-buck shuck" happy-hour special. The oysters are also available cornmeal-fried or baked casino style.

Desserts come from the hands of pastry chef Alex Hindman, a native Coloradan who says her focus is on comfort and nostalgia, as well as using fresh and seasonal produce. Late-summer specialties right now include an individual cherry pie in a tart crust and a simple and homey Palisade peach crisp. Hindman says she's also dedicated to providing guests with classic desserts, like a straight-forward vanilla creme brulee and a flourless chocolate cake, but that her attention to detail provides dessert satisfaction above typical hotel-kitchen standards. Her caramel sauce, she explains, gets a little more time on the heat, giving a darker color and a more complex flavor. Ice creams from Boulder's Ice Cream Alchemy, creme fraiche and house-made syrups give distinct flourishes to the dessert platings.

Decked out in cool greens and light wood finishes, the dining room combines original architectural elements -- like century-old tile floors -- with a modern and airy atmosphere. Davis says the main challenge of the renovation was adding modern touches and opening the space up without disrupting the hotel's vintage quality. (The hotel is also protected as a historic landmark, so all changes must fall within specific guidelines.) Also green is the hotel's dedication to sustainability and re-use: The hotel has achieved over 80 percent waste diversion through composting and recycling and is dedicated to reducing water waste, Davis points out. Even foods that are shipped in from out of state (like that seafood) comes from sustainable oyster farms and fisheries. Although Spruce is a restaurant in a hotel, Murrell and his staff hope to appeal to Boulderites as much, if not more, than visitors. The menu features classic presentations like filet mignon with gorgonzola and simply presented fish and salads, but modern touches like a bed of black quinoa under the striped bass or a smoked tomato reduction with the filet add Boulder appeal. Murrell also pays homage to his Colorado roots with a smoked pork loin chop that he says was inspired by by his grandfather's Boulder summer cookouts.

Modern drinks like a gin and blueberry smash and a kale, cucumber and ginger cocktail (available on a secret menu -- just ask the bartender), made with Colorado spirits where possible, should also bring in a younger generation of mixology fans, especially with the hotel's basement bar recently receiving a makeover as the new License No. 1.

Continue reading for more photos of Spruce's menu items...

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