Open since 2009, Arugula Ristorante has been a North Boulder staple offering Northern Italian inspired cuisine alongside its sister restaurant, Tangerine (delicious breakfast) and in between the two, their extra private dining extension bar space, Amaro.
To refresh, a spring cleaning if you will and to celebrate seven years in Boulder, Arugula has recently updated its menu to focus on seasonality and the general aesthetics to their dining room.
Chef/Proprietor Alec Schuler’s was born in New York by immigrant European parents and he attended Manhattan’s nutrition-oriented Natural Gourmet Institute. He originally wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant, but his wife’s extended family is Italian and he soon fell in love with Italian food and went that direction. Still driven by eating healthy and holistically, his time spent at L’Atalier and Niwot’s Treppeda’s Italian Ristorante, drove him to combine his two passions and open Arugula.
The father to four sons, he has recently stepped down as head chef to let Swedish-born, Executive Chef Sven Hedenas take the helm. Hedenas is charming, gentle in his speech, and no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owned 14th Street Bar and Grill (where Oak now resides) for 22 years and he led the charge as executive chef. French cooking is his passion, but he too shares the sentiment of seasonal, fresh, and healthy like Schuler. Hedenas also emphasized the 100-year old recipes he was building off of, sharing that tradition with a modern, healthy twist was important to their menu.
The space that Arugula occupies – an unassuming strip mall in North Boulder – has a lot of Italian history, as it used to be where Laudisio’s Restaurant resided (a favorite of Schuler’s, and where he would bring his parents when they visited him in college at CU years ago). Not only is Italian food a passion of Schuler’s but the space has personal history to him.
One impressive, new change is what Shuler calls, “inspired by the moment, inspired by farmers” twice a week menu changes. Every Tuesday and Friday diners will enjoy a change in menu featuring fresh menu items, to keep the menu personalized and healthy.
Seared Rocky Mountain elk sirloin topped with sun-dried tomato, house-made lemon and herb infused extra virgin olive-oil, crispy baked fennel, and Taleggio cheese melted over roasted fingerling potatoes and spinach
To be seasonal, the menu is driven by the availability of local ingredients from Boulder County’s farmers and purveyors. Eco-conscious, they also serve seafood that complies with the sustainability standards of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
House cured King salmon gravlax over butter lettuce with grapefruit-apricot vinaigrette, asparagus, Marcona almonds and dill creme fraiche
As Schuler says, “The heart of every menu continues to be pleasure of the palette with fresh, beautifully colorful, health-inspired dishes.” It’s no small feat to change your menu for seasonality, twice a week. Although freshness is something we might take for granted in Boulder, this is impressive.
Schuler has been collecting antique, kitchen tools for years. It started when he visited a corkscrew museum in Provence, France and as he joked, he couldn’t stop collecting all this “junk”. Eventually the inspiration for his collection was put to life from artist Javan Stackley who hand-crated art installations on the wall, compiling these beautiful kitchen pieces from old corkscrews to sifters to grinders. Some are hanging from the wall, some are built into the wall itself and I’ve not seen something quite like these pieces before. It’s some of the most notable and interesting art I’ve seen in a restaurant.
The fact that Schuler collected the pieces over the years, an homage to his old world European heritage, and then commissioned the art makes it incredibly personal.
A new wall was also built by local artist, Bryce Widom. Featuring chalk art of original food and wine is a beautiful black slate, with white etched wine bottles, fresh vegetables, and bounty of the earth as you enter the restaurant. You might recognize Widom’s style from the infamous chalk art at Mountain Sun, and since he’s a friend of Schuler, the personalization is another touch I love.
Also unique to Arugula, is their emphasis on the beverage program, particularly wines, where it’s all thoughtfully paired with their food. Led by GM and Wine Director, Ari Karra, (who spent 10 years at L’Atelier prior), Karra ensures Arugula’s menu always offers two or more special dishes created specifically to pair with a feature wine that is available by the glass. These by the glass options may be expensive, unique bottles that you may not have the opportunity to buy, by the bottle. Schuler tells us that they’ll first taste the wine, then let the dish inspire them from there (versus the inverse).
Two Pro Tips: Look for these options indicated on each menu by a little wine icon with the varietal next to the menu item. Wednesday they have a 40% off bottles of wine special.
Mas Tequila – Tanteo jalapeño tequila, triple sec, fresh strawberry, cucumber, house made sour, lime Cocktail Punk cherry bitters
Finally, I recommend their wine pairing dinners that are hosted every six to eight weeks, featuring five courses centered around a unique theme or region, with an exclusive menu created just for that evening. They insist, you will never see the same dish twice. Each dinner also includes an educational component where they share a behind-the-scenes look into the history and wine making techniques from a local distributor or winemaker.
In addition to these changes, Schuler hopes to open another restaurant in Denver later this year. Keep an eye out, if it’s anything like Arugula or Tangerine, it’s sure to impress.
arugularistorante.com | 2785 Iris Ave., Boulder, CO
Upcoming Special Dinners: 5/17/16 with Chester Osborn and d’Arenberg Wines and 6/21/16 Summer Beer Dinner with Louisville’s Gravity Brewing.
Amaro is available for private parties or dinners, in a beautiful intimate space between the two restaurants: arugularistorante.com/amaro