Boiled down, an ideal dinner or cocktail out has three essential elements: location, product, and atmosphere.
The new Element Bistro in Gunbarrel has hit fairly high marks on these goals in its first month. The location is unique– amid the trees and birds above the suburban traffic. The cocktail list is extensive and food menu creative, and progress is expected as they refine their focus. The greatest room for improvement lies in the atmosphere, which shows potential for a bright future once the Element decides what it wants to be.
The Element’s opening in August brought a new “high-rise” to the three-story Gunbarrel skyline and the revitalized former lumber yard at the corner of 63rd Avenue and Lookout Road. The eatery straddles the realms of chic cocktail lounge and upscale dining venue, boasting a broad southwest-facing rooftop space. The open-air lounge-cum-dining area offers a fusion of Boulder’s Pearl Street and Puerto Nuevo, Mexico with geometric rattan, oxidized iron, and stainless steel furniture, while still open to a casual atmosphere embodied by pale grey beanbags slung amid tea tables and lounge games.
The view makes the case though with unrivaled vantage toward iconic Boulder foothills, the rugged Rocky Mtn. background, and the commercial artery of the Diagonal Highway. While Gunbarrel was emerging before the Element arrived, the bistro’s introduction puts a bright light on the potential for this corner of Boulder County.
Under the ever-watchful eye of co-owner and manager Eric Lee, the Element menu brims with impressive selections, albeit tipping toward cocktails more than food at the moment (and a limited local beer list at that). Dinner specials are still a short list, as the kitchen develops its rhythm. The standard fare menu also takes patience; its non-traditional categories not immediately intuitive, e.g., “hand held”=sandwiches and wraps, and “basic elements” = entrees.
Nevertheless, among the more inviting entrees, the Bar-B-Que Elk Tacos leave nothing to be desired. Two amble flour tortillas come laden with richly spiced ground elk, topped lightly with colorful mixed cabbage slaw and soft crumbled chèvre. The side of pico de gallo is bright and aromatic, bringing a balance of heat and sweet to the dish. Quixotically, fries come on the side as well, though the dish is complete without them.
For the more adventurous, the Chicken and Grits and Pork Tenderloin entrees deliver creative interpretations on these well-known dishes. The chicken, a Cajun-spiced quarter with a golden leg rising from a fluffy bed of seasoned corn grits, melts on the tongue with a savory butter sauce. (Be sure to check whether the leg is done close to the bone!) The tenderloin is served on a platter reminiscent of the profile of a pork side or caldera, drizzled in warm brandy demi glaze, an auburn mashed sweet potato pillow and a savory apple sweet potato fritter.
Space is tight and the sun bright on the Element roof, and though service staff makes the most of the opportunity, the space is principally a cocktail lounge. The bar is well-stocked, but overburdened with televisions and pop music. The high tables are suited for small plates and drinks, rather than embracing the elbow room appreciated in a dining venue. Some of the dishes during our visit were undercooked and haphazardly plated, suggesting a kitchen still synching.
As the front and back of this house work through these start-up kinks, and the venue determines its true identity, the Element Bistro’s potential will emerge. Nevertheless, whether settling in as a suburban gem with a unique rooftop experience, or a chic cocktail venue above a bustling streetscape, as its elements align, it is staged to be an ideally spot for a drink or nosh after a day on the Res.