Since 2009, Arugula has served Boulder with a keen eye for freshness, and a love for the rustic comforts of classic Italian fare.
But that wasn’t always the vision. “I graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan with dreams of opening a vegetable-forward restaurant,” Chef/Owner Alec Schuler says. “Then I met my wife, who has a large extended Italian family and I fell in love with Italian food.”
The resulting concept was Arugula, following in the footsteps of famed Laudisio—a restaurant that was Schuler’s favorite in his CU college days.
Now seven years into his culinary venture, Schuler has done some reflecting. In that time, he has opened the breakfast hub Tangerine two doors down—with plans to open another in Denver within the year—and toyed with ways to bring out the best of Colorado produce in his menus. While Arugula and Tangerine have both garnered a loyal following, Schuler decided that 2016 was a year to make some changes.
“I wanted to be more in tune with what’s available at the local markets,” Schuler explains. “For years, we offered a specials menu that allowed us to play around with local ingredients. But we decided to fold that into our regular menu.”
Now, Arugula prints their menu twice a week—once on Tuesday, with small shifts and amendments, and once on Friday, when guests see about a third of the menu change.
To complement the updated culinary offerings, Schuler has worked with local artists and designers to reenergize the dining room. Gone is the grand chandelier that once hung above diners—”It’s in my house now,” Schuler says—while a new wall separating the kitchen from the dining area opens up an opportunity for fresh art. On this sprawling canvas, Front Range chalk maestro Bryce Widom will seasonally contribute glorious murals of wine and food “in action”—designed to play off the inventive corkscrew and fruit press creations that dot the back wall. The latter were created years ago by chef-artist Javan Stackley, and stretch into the private dining space Amaro next door.
While all of these changes have rolled out gradually over recent months, a more notable shift is the “promotion” of Chef Sven Hedenas to Executive Chef. For years, Hedenas has worked with Schuler and General Manager Ari Karra to craft a culinary program rich in seasonal flavors while employing stylistic flair. What follows is more of a vegetable-forward look at Old World classics influenced strongly by local ingredients.
“Sven has been key to the success of the restaurant for years,” Schuler says. “And to be honest, I have four kids at home and I need to spend more time with my family. It’s a great opportunity for Sven to really guide the menus in line with our collective vision for Arugula.”
“I’m looking forward to leading the team and refining what we’ve been doing,” Hedenas says. “At my core, I focus on French cooking, and that will be reflected on the menus. That said, we are an Italian restaurant and we’ll continue offering our risottos and pastas—the classic dishes people expect. I will be experimenting with fresh, local ingredients when they are available, however.”
Hedenas says he’s also keen to try new dishes and incorporate subtle Scandinavian flavors without losing the Italian foundation.
Beyond the nightly opportunities to explore Hedenas’s creations, Schuler says a great showcase is always to be found in Arugula’s wine dinners. Hosted either in the main dining room or Amaro (depending on attendance), these five-course celebrations of vino call out a single producer, varietal, or region to inspire a seasonal menu unique to the evening. Look for the next one, featuring d’Arenberg Wines, on May 17. Additionally, Arugula will host a beer dinner with Gravity Brewing on June 21, allowing for more exploration of locally produced product.
For more more information about the Arugula team, upcoming events, and menus, visit arugularistorante.com.
- Arugula is celebrating seven years in Boulder. Opened in 2009, the concept follows in the footsteps of famed Italian restaurant Laudisio (now closed).
- With a background in natural and vegetable-first cooking, Chef/Owner Alec Schuler wanted to start a vegetarian restaurant, but fell in love with Italian food and ended up combining the two.
- Recently, Schuler did away with the specials menu in favor of two menus a week that showcase the freshest local product available.
- Executive Chef Sven Hedenas has a background both in engineering and music, but got his start in the culinary industry at the now defunct 14th Street Bar and Grill in Boulder. He’s been with Arugula and Tangerine since 2011, and as of 2016, will be “head of the team” at Arugula.
- Aesthetic updates to Arugula include all new lighting, small changes in seating, and a brand new chalk art wall with a mural designed by Front Range artist Bryce Widom.
- Tangerine continues to be very successful with a menu that has largely remained intact since day one in 2011. Schuler hopes to open a second location of the blockbuster breakfast stop in Denver this year.
—Jeffrey Steen | Managing Editor