WineInk: Corrida Tierra y Mar
Boulder’s Taste of Spain
To make a restaurant a dining destination, to make it an experience rather than just a place to eat, it needs to have a point of view, an overriding philosophy. A focus. Think New York’s Le Bernardin and its devotion to seafood or Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine and its dedication to the cuisine of a single Italian region, Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Such is the case with Corrida Tierra y Mar. Conceived and created by renowned Colorado restaurateur Bryan Dayton, Boulder’s extraordinary Spanish steakhouse and tapas restaurant pays homage to the dining and drinking traditions of Northern Spain. Every aspect of the contemporary space offers guests a dining experience that celebrates the authentic taste and feel of Spain — on the plate, in the glass, and even in the décor.
And, as a bonus, the downtown rooftop patio at Corrida features reach-out-and-touch ‘em views of Boulder’s iconic Flat Iron mountains. Combine the two and you have one of the most unique dining locations in the state, even the country.
The kitchen, under the direction of executive chef Samuel McCandless, prepares a precise presentation of many of Spain’s most delectable Tapas, or small plates. They range from the salty Sardinas en Aceite (tinned sardines in brown butter and cumin), a Hamachi with preserved Kumquat and, of course, dry cured Jamón de Pata Negra, a plate of the thinly sliced ham. Pulpo, a Spanish octopus, is grilled to perfection. Slices of intensely marbled Japanese A5 Wagyu beef seared tableside on heated stones and the Jamón Fat Fries define what elevated meat and potatoes can be.
“Our North star is Bodega El Capricho in Jimenez de Jamuz near Leon, Spain, ” Dayton said with reverence for his inspiration, the steakhouse that has been called the best in the world. And to emphasize the point, as you enter the main room of Corrida there is a windowed display of dry–aging steaks sourced from American ranches, including the not so far away, but world-famous Caribou Ranch.
Adjacent to the meat locker is a wine window that shows just how “all in” Corrida is in its commitment to the region. The wines on the extensive list are sourced, almost exclusively, from the Iberian Peninsula and the nearby Canary Isles. “I was talking with Bobby Stuckey (master sommelier and founder of Frasca) about the concept for Corrida before we opened and what wines we should carry, and he said, “Dude! You should just go straight Spain.”
But as easy as that sounds it took an act of courage to undertake the task, as the vast majority of diners, even sophisticated well-traveled wine lovers, are not as familiar with the regions, grapes and wines of Spain as they are with those of, say, Napa, or even France or Australia. There are language barriers to consider. It may be hard for someone to ask for a Ameztoi (pronounced ah-mehs-toy) Rosé made with the Txakoli (pronounced chock-oh-lee) grape that is on the by-the-glass list, even if they have been to San Sebastian.
“It is a daily challenge to turn people on to new things,” Dayton says of the process. “People come and say ‘I want a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir,’ and we try and pivot a bit to a Godello- or Garnacha-based wine. They love it when they find there are new and interesting wines out there that are delicious.”
“We try to educate, not just our customers, but our staff as well,” he continued. “The key is to get people to trust us, and we can get them to try wines that can take you to a different place. It’s great when someone says that they have learned something and really liked a wine they may have never had before.”
To that end, the staff of Corrida is involved in weekly tastings of the wines, and they are some of the most knowledgeable wine people in any restaurant I have been in recently. In fact, the entire service team during our recent dinner was efficient, informed, and most of all, friendly. Even in an environment where staffing is difficult, the team at Corrida, many of whom have backgrounds at other highly esteemed restaurants nationally, was commendable.
CORRIDA TERRA Y MAR
1023 Walnut Street, #400, Boulder, CO, 80302
It is clear that Dayton is smitten with the wines, spirits and the “liquids,” as he referred them, of the Iberian Peninsula.
“There are just so many cool things happening in Spain, from the youth movement making natural wines to the old houses of Rioja,” he enthused. “We are always searching for and finding great wines and I love the story and the nature and the authenticity of the wines.”
As an example, Dayton told the story of a small producer as he poured a glass of wine, Commando G 2019 ‘Bruja de Rozas’ Garnacha from Sierra de Gredos.
“This is just a village style wine that we found in the hillsides outside of Madrid,” he explained. “We drove up into the mountains on this little dirt road to see Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, friends since college who make these amazing Garnacha wines on bio-dynamic vineyards from 50– to 80-year-old vines.”
Not only was the wine delicious but I now had a new wine, Commando G, to add to my repertoire.
To help customers better relate to the wines, they are divided on the wine list not by region or grape but rather by descriptive adjectives that express the style and feel of the wines. For example, a CLOS MOGADOR 2017 “Nelin” Garnacha Blanca Priorat is under the “Seductive” category whereas the R. LÓPEZ DE HEREDIA 2010 “Viña Tondonia” Reserva Tempranillo Blend La Rioja finds itself under the “Indulgent” heading. It is a more visceral way to categorize the wines on offer and is a bit more geared to the emotional impression of the wines.
Dayton is a uniquely driven restaurateur. He is a surfer, a backcountry skier and, in 2018, the same year he opened Corrida, he completed the Leadville 100. For 10 years he was a competitive trail runner with sponsors including Nike and Vasque, and he is out and active in the trails that surround Boulder to this day.
He began his career at Frasca as a bar manager when the restaurant opened.
“Basically, I was in charge of everything liquid … except wine,” he laughs.
That includes coffee and cocktails. He grew to appreciate the business of the business and over the last decade he has opened several well-known Front Range restaurants, including Oak at Fourteenth, Acorn, and Brider, along with Corrida. Like Corrida, each has a focus and concept.
And about those “liquids.” Corrida also has a robust spirits and cocktail program. A must start to any meal on the patio is a handmade gin and tonic from the “servicio de carrito.” A fresh mix cart is wheeled table-side and guests can order four different G&Ts, titled Bright, Verde Iberian and Indigo. They set the mood for the meal.
Spain is a continent away. But a four-hour drive to a rooftop in Boulder can take you there for a night.
Lustau Palo Cortado Jerez de la Frontera
Just as the meal at Corrida starts with a gin and tonic, it closes with something special as well.
As might be expected, Corrida has a world-class collection of Sherry, the fortified wines from the southern Andalucía region of Spain. All wine labeled as “Sherry” must legally come from the Sherry Triangle, an area in the province of Cádiz. Sherry is an acquired taste and there are many different styles including Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso. Bryan is infatuated with the wines from the region and encourages guests to try a flight of three of the styles. You learn something everyday.