Let me preface this by saying that in my 27 years (oh yeah, happy birthday to me), this is some of the best service I’ve had.
Ultreia is the latest brainchild from Crafted Concepts, the minds behind the (extremely unfortunately) now-deceased Euclid Hall, as well as several other award-winning Denver restaurants.
With its double-height ceilings, semi-open kitchen, and cool neutrals paired with warm accents, Ultreia is equal parts inviting and relaxed. The tiles on the steps leading up to the mezzanine tie the Iberian theme together in a casual bow, and the library of spirits adds a well-traveled vibe. Located inside Denver’s Union Station, there’s a dynamism in the air that can only come from a transportation hub.
We showed up on a Tuesday at 5pm, without a reservation. Seated quickly; the only other people at the restaurant were a couple who were already finishing up.
Ashlee, our server, and Olivia, her shadow, thoroughly explained the menu (yay for happy hour!) and shared their favorites. I already knew what I was getting, though. They were quick to wish me a happy birthday and I couldn’t stop my face from twisting into genuine shock, wondering when my parents even had time to hint at the special occasion.
I opted for a glass of Rosé Txakolí, but ended up with one glass of rosé and one of white. You’ll never hear me complain about an extra glass of wine. Also, better for comparisons. There’s Sagardoa on the drink menu too, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. Another time, surely.
For pintxos, we ordered gildas (the first ever pintxo and a Donosti icon, composed of an olive, an anchovy, and a piparra), the bacalhau sandwich (salt cod, sauce gribiche and celery on pan de cristal), marinated Idiazabal served with vegetable escabeche, and crispy calamari.
I have to admit I never really liked Gildas. I understand why people like them, though, and these were no exception. Briny, tangy, savory and just a little bit hot, the tiny bites pack a huge punch. Nutty, buttery Idiazabal was delicious as ever, but I could do without the pickled veggies. I didn’t try the sandwich but judging by my dad’s expressions it was 👌👌👌.
The calamari were served with romesco, which was a first for me. I’d only ever seen them served with lemon or tartar sauce at most. Although I wasn’t a fan of the pairing, the romesco was amazing. It was nutty, savory, and just a little sweet. The calamari themselves were great as well, crunchy on the outside and not chewy at all.
Next, we had the sopa de ajo, the patatas bravas, and the setas. The sopa de ajo was much smoother than what I’d seen in Spain, something I for one was grateful for. The patatas bravas were good, but a far call from what we had in Spain. Mostly (and whether this is good or bad I’ll let you decide) because not once did I have bravas where the sauce looked or tasted homemade. Every bravas I ever had were drenched in a gooey, translucent, and almost neon orange sauce which almost certainly came from a bottle. Which they could have done here but didn’t.
But the setas, holy San Jerónimo, the setas. King trumpet and button mushrooms, chickpeas, migas (crumbs of stale bread) and a black garlic aioli. I could eat this every day forever. They remind me of the setas from Ganbara, Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place in Euskadi.
And of course, we had to get dessert. I enjoy cheesecake as much as the next person (and especially Basque cheesecake), but the churros looked especially good, and they did not disappoint. Olivia even brought them out with a cute pink candle. They were served with chili chocolate ganache and salted caramel, both of which were great. I would have loved the ganache to have more milk and sugar, but that would have defeated the point of having chili in it. The caramel was to die for – buttery and salty, but perfectly balanced with sugar from the churros.
If I could try everything on their menu, I would. In my rush to order before happy hour was over, I completely forgot to order the croquetas de jamón. But that’s just one more reason to come back soon.
Between the wine and the ambience, conversation with my parents flowed easily. Not that it’s usually hard but doing so in a restaurant where it was just the three of us, good food, and great service, was especially nice. And isn’t that what pintxos are all about?
Ultreia is located in Denver Union Station at 1701 Wynkoop St #125, Denver, CO.