The transformation of Union Station and its surrounding area is staggering — with the additions of Tavernetta, Hearth & Dram, Tupelo Honey, Citizen Rail, Urban Farmer and more just this year. While there is still a fair amount of luggage being wheeled about, the dramatic overhaul has outfitted the once drab junction with multiple coffee spots, a permanent flower stand, a large and well-frequented bar and now, most recently, Ultreia.
Opening last Friday, December 8, the fifth restaurant from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch specializes in Spanish and Portuguese tapas and boasts one of Denver’s most impressive gin programs. While it might seem like an unusual pairing, each component is done with fantastic attention to detail and a clear commitment to quality.
The first thing you will notice about the ornate interior — in addition to the open kitchen and elegant bar — is the wallpaper. Fashioned from a massively enlarged piece by 17th-century Dutch landscape painter Aelbert Cuyp, the pastoral scene covers each wall — farmers tend their flock, a stoic bull sprawls, Cuyp’s elegant clouds overlay the ceiling. There is a small upstairs and a comfortable lounge that allows for intimate dining with an excellent view of the chefs maneuvering about the well-organized kitchen. The high ceilings and creative layout give the inside’s 50 seats room to breathe, with 50 more joining outside. Multiple elaborately-tiled tables make the patio both casual and luxurious — a Mediterranean oasis in the heart of downtown.
The Food & Drinks
The interior is transporting, but the food is so good that it could make waves in a location far less intriguing. The drink program by bar manager Thomas Lutsic also inspires. With multiple derivatives of the gin and tonic and many original cocktails, the man has clear mastery of the clear liquor. As for the kitchen, the synergy between executive chef Adam Branz and his dedicated team is obvious, with a particular focus on taking care of the kitchen staff. The team decided to add a two percent markup to menu prices as a way of addressing the unfair pay disparity between front and back-of-house staff. (The Department of Labor has made it illegal to include the back-of-house in tip-pooling arrangements, something Jasinski and Gruitch are hoping to curb with this policy).
The one-page menu consists of a variety of plates, perfect for sharing is worth exploring in full. The Jamon trio ($20.40) is three excellent hams — including the legendary four-year aged $1,000 Iberican — notorious for the sheer delicacy derived from the hogs’ strict acorn diet. So decadent, the leg is displayed at the entrance — the cured cut requires no refrigeration and is kept moist by strips of beautiful, oily fat that line the top.
The Sanduiche de frango piri-piri ($12.75) is a spicy fried chicken sandwich covered in a house-blend of onion, garlic and chile pequin, then placed on ciabatta with thinly-sliced cucumber, dill and lemon. The pequin has a slow-building and sturdy heat — it should be combined with an appropriately cool beverage.
We suggest the Washed Up Mermaid ($12.24) — Hendrick’s gin, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and spirulina simple syrup. Inspired by the desire to create something oceanic for his coast–loving girlfriend, Lutsic decided to include seaweed. The result is brisk and sensual in both color and flavor.
Most impressively, Ultreia’s chefs are so good at what they do that they aren’t insulted when asked to accommodate special requests.
“If we got it in-house, we’ll do it,” said Age Ricouz, who has been cooking with Crafted Concepts for a year and a half. “We aren’t afraid to switch things up.”
Ultreia is inside Union Station at 1701 Wynkoop Street, #125, Denver. The team serves lunch and dinner all week with the addition of brunch on Saturday and Sunday. It is open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – midnight, with food service ending an hour before close every day.