Steamboat Springs Aurum is a serious restaurant.
The tagline for the new Yampa Street restaurant — "A new element in dining” — is a reference to the fun, energetic experience owner Phil Armstrong wants guests to have.
But make no mistake: Everyone in the place is serious about food and service.
A group of food writers invited for a soft opening this week closed the night impressed with a showing that wasn’t just good for an opening but would have been strong for any restaurant.
Aurum opens to the public Friday, and the locals hanging around during mud season will recognize most of the bones of Sweetwater Grill, which previously occupied the space, but face an entirely new dining experience.
The patio and deck overlooking the Yampa River are virtually unchanged while the interior shows updates to invoke the restaurant’s namesake element: gold.
During the soft opening, the staff were impressively conversant on whatever was coming from the bar or kitchen without being stiff or rote.
The wines by the glass were blended specially for Aurum by the winemaker, Joe Buckel, at Colorado winery Sutcliffe Vineyards. The rest of the wine list is organized by region and will completely change four times per year with each seasonal menu.
The menu was accessible, with entrees ranging from $18 to $38. Chef Chase Wilbanks said his favorite dish right now is the local duroc pork chop, which mixes sweet, salty and hot flavors to great effect.
Wilbanks has worked for La Tour in Vail and was at Shanahan’s Steakhouse in Denver before coming to Steamboat. As Armstrong put it, Wilbanks blends the boutique environment of a restaurant like La Tour with the experience of working in a $11 million per year kitchen such as Shanahan’s.
Aurum has a “local's hour” menu that’s distinct from the full menu, and the bar and lounge area of Sweetwater have been preserved. The bar menu has a good measure of Colorado liquors and beers along with its specialty drink list, likely preserving the easy evening atmosphere of the space.
Armstrong’s intention to focus on the “mechanics of fine dining” while also making the experience fun for diners is aided by his recruitment of talent from past working relationships and other places he’s enjoyed himself.
“Our staff has a lot of fun with people,” he said.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz