New looks for fall

Remodeled, re-established or just plain new, three Boulder restaurants bring excitement to dining landscape

Nelson Kugel, owner of the Gondolier Italian Eatery.
Photo by Susan France

Nelson Kugel, owner of the Gondolier, unrolls a blueprint under the hanging halogen lights in his restaurant’s new location at the Meadows Shopping Center. His finger hovers just above the diagram before he points out where the full-service bar, the private dining room and the adjacent booths will fit amid the bare concrete of the now-skeletal space.

With a reopening targeted for mid-November, the beloved Boulder institution is among a group of local restaurants beginning new eras this fall. Whether it’s a change in ownership or location, the ambitious visions of these dedicated restaurateurs collide in Boulder’s already stacked market of known successes.

This difficulty in re-establishing even a well-known brand is why Kugel struggled to find a new home for the Italian restaurant his father, Gary, founded more than 50 years ago. He says that bloated real estate prices in Boulder nearly made him transplant the homegrown business to a neighboring town like Louisville or Longmont.

“There was a good four months there after we closed that I was not finding locations,” Kugel says. “The size and rent were too much. I was looking outside of Boulder, which I didn’t want to do.”

A shift from Pearl Street, which was decidedly too large and too expensive for Kugel to keep reins on, to this South Boulder home inside building A-104 at the Meadows, at Foothills and Baseline, seems a more fitting setting for the familycentric eatery. Away from Pearl’s dense row of attractions, the Gondolier is embracing an opportunity to stand alone.

“Demographically, we’ve got retirement to the south and middle income houses to the west of us,” Kugel says. “We’re the only restaurant within a mile or half-mile radius with a full-service bar.”

Kugel has also decided to bring back a weekly take on the all-you-can-eat spaghetti deal that first adherence to tradition is matched with welcoming a brought customers to the Gondolier’s gates. This progressive trend, as the Gondolier will also begin offering a seasonal, locally sourced portion of the menu that is set to change every six weeks.

This seasonal menu goes beyond garlic knots and stone-oven pizza to add a fresh dimension to the often-conservative pace of most family-style Italian dining. This twist is the brainchild of new chef and partner Brian Delka, who arrives at the Gondolier via the Boulder Cork.

As Kugel returns to work on interior modeling and construction, walking outside are a woman and her daughter. The woman pops her head through the jarred door that advertises the restaurant’s name in bold black font.

“Looks like you guys aren’t open yet, are you?”

Kugel and his business partner Marcos Jimenez, standing in the middle of the shiny tile they installed themselves, shake their heads and smile.

“Well, we’re coming back when you do open,” she says. They continue to walk along the strip mall, leaving the men to return to work as patrons await their grand opening.

But the Gondolier is not alone in a Boulder restaurant scene that’s witnessing a variety of notable changes in the upcoming days and weeks.

A Mediterranean escape

For 18 months, husband and wife Jon and Eleni Deering searched for an available restaurant space, hoping to fill the right frame with their colorful vision for modern dining. Bringing years of local restaurant experience with them, they needed an apt setting to finally bring an ultimate goal of daily made and completely unmodified Mediterranean dishes to life — what Eleni Deering calls “live art.” In buying Alba from Rick and Susan Stein, the Deerings are turning the blank-slate wine bar into Volta, a more ingredient-conscious Mediterranean restaurant.

The term “Volta,” used in Italian and Greek cultures, signifies a turn or change of pace. With a fullservice menu that includes brunch, Volta spins Alba into another world beyond a dinner-only fare of Italian dishes.

On Oct. 10, the restaurant at 2480 Canyon Blvd. will host its grand opening, inserting itself as a distinctive new member in Boulder’s culinary landscape. Creating an expansive and diverse menu, which offers a multicourse tasting portion as well as an array of entrées and small bites, allows the Deerings to offer their clientele taste, sight and structure.

“We want to fill the space with live art,” Eleni says. “The food itself is live art because it’s created every day. We are, in essence, artists. We employ artists to work with us.”

The hire of chef Thomas d’Aquin, formerly of Axios Estiatorio in Denver, shows that Volta is committed to this lofty goal with a successful and proven executive chef already at the helm.

With heavy emphasis on whole roasted lamb, abundant vegetarian options, and made-from-scratch pastas, Volta plans to execute Mediterranean cuisine in a fashion that still adheres to Colorado custom. Following suit with the progressive traits of Boulder, the restaurant will also use every part of the butchered animal and remain completely GMO-free, including oils and alcohols.

“We feel like we’re the next wave of that evolution. We want to be at the forefront of that evolution,” she says.

With such obvious passion for higher standards in food and service, the Deerings say they hope to entice Boulderites from choosing against the worn path on Pearl Street in favor of a more-than-suitable fine dining event. But Volta intends to attract crowds based on their palates and not their looks, as it takes on a “casual upscale” ambiance that dissuades dress code and invites individual preference.

“Our intention with Volta is to bring the Mediterranean here, but in a way that is much more accessible to anyone,” she says.

Though the box-shaped building occupies a largely non-descript parking lot near Boulder’s center, the Deerings hope it will prove to be an escape into a different place, one unique even in the crowded gamut of Boulder restaurants.

A new home by the creek

Near Boulder’s center, on the corner of Broadway and Arapahoe, major changes are occurring in the Riverside’s basement. And no, it has nothing to do with the recent flooding.

Hanging just over the creek like an unwavering nest, the Riverside at 1724 Broadway remained miraculously untouched by the overwhelming floods, and all plans for construction have remained on schedule.

That’s good news, as the building long known for housing live performances is nearly set to open “an upscale coffee shop” serving breakfast and lunch in mid-October. Led by chef Corey Buck, previously of John’s Restaurant, the restaurant will offer dinner as well, beginning at the start of 2014.

After a decade-long stint as chef and co-owner of John’s, Buck was attracted to the Riverside’s beautiful space, which is recognizable for its attractive brick-lined terrace. Former diners of John’s can expect a more affordable and accessible take on Buck’s previous creations.

“The food will be really similar to what I did at John’s but without the white linen cloth,” Buck says before pausing. “Well, maybe a really nice place mat.”

His vision for the space accounts for an important balance between casualness and elegance, turning the patio from an informal café (serving Ozo Coffee products) during weekday mornings to a more ornate brunch setting on Saturdays and Sundays. And at night, the Riverside transforms into a full-scale dinner setting, focusing on tapas-sized seasonal dishes to pair with a far-reaching wine and beer list. Buck says it was an opportunity to work in such a unique space that finally sold him on honing his craft at the Riverside.

“I’m able to broaden my whole spectrum of cooking to a broader market,” Buck says. “The opportunity is foremost [what] drew me.”

Much like Volta, it’s comfort without carelessness and style without stuffiness that Buck means to encapsulate in the homely basement.

The chef plans to continue partnerships with his favorite, most trusted farmers from around the state, but he’s not going entirely local. He will source truffles from Oregon, fresh fish from Hawaii and select ingredients from San Sebastian, Spain. Buck has also expressed interest in hosting culinary seminars to give customers a more intimate understanding of his menu and restaurant events that can entertain guests with live jazz and dancing.

Still, the Riverside, as well as Gondolier and Volta, hope to do more than entertain Boulder with their autumnal ventures — they look to offer Boulder with prospective havens to accommodate all comers.

“There’s something to offer, whether it’s in the menu or in the experience, for everyone,” Buck says. “It’s really a home to eat, work and play.”