seafood

Ultimate Guide to Dining in Cherry Creek

There's a bit of a dining renaissance going on in this posh neighborhood. 

For a while, the posh area set between University and Colorado boulevards and 1st and 6th avenues, seemed to be in a dining rut with chains joining the scene at a fast pace. The last year, however, brought great changes to the scene and new restaurants that are showing that Cherry Creek is still a top-notch neighborhood for restaurants. The posh neighborhood added a lot of new places with MatsuhisaDeparture, and Quality Italian, being among them. Chef Mary Nguyen added a second (larger) location of Olive & Finch in the 'hood and the team behind the Kitchen restaurant group just launched the stunning Hedge Row.

The neighborhood does not seem to be slowing down. The team from 801 Chophouse group announced that plans to open 801 Fish on the ground floor of the Civica building at 250 Fillmore St. in Cherry Creek North, as BusinessDen first reported.

Blue Island Oyster Bar

This oyster house and seafood emporium is set in a cool modern space that invites lingering at lunch or dinner. Whatever you do, don't miss the chowder.

by Andra Zeppelin  Aug 2, 2017, 10:25am MDT

Look Inside the New Blue Island Oyster Bar

by Andra Zeppelin

The seafood-centric eatery opened in Cherry Creek on Tuesday. 

Cherry Creek's newest restaurant, Blue Island Oyster Bar, opened its doors to the public earlier this week with a lineup of oysters and other seafood dishes that could make any coastal eatery jealous.

The ocean-inspired interior that can accommodated up to 100 guests was created by Arch11. The local design firm has also worked on the spaces of Oak at Fourteenth, Fate Brewing Company, and Ignite!, among others. With a contemporary vibe, Blue Island Oyster Bar highlights sea-related elements like the mural of oyster divers behind the bar, the wall-size rendering of the Great South Bay lines, and the shell-like light fixtures. 

Blue Island Oyster Bar is open for lunch and dinner daily.

Seafood and more

By Colleen O'Connor

If you're someone who likes to be first at the new places, head over to  Blue Island Oyster Bar, which opened yesterday in Cherry Creek North. 

It's the creation of Concept Restaurants, the team that's also behind Stout Street Social and  Humboldt Farm, Fish and Wine

Executive chef DJ Nagle created a menu that's got a beach-shack vibe, with such dishes as grilled ahi tuna with snap pea salad, sunflower pesto and wasabi greens, or charred octopus with a chorizo vinaigrette.

For those who aren't in the mood for seafood, there are hearty proteins like the Blue Oyster Bar Burger served with Haystack fries. 

And, of course, a range of tempting salads.

But oysters are a big player in their culinary game, and the restaurant has built a relationship with oyster diver and farmer Chris Quartuccio, whose Blue Island Oyster Co. in New York supplies many of the top restaurants in that city. 

The 100-seat restaurant also has a raw bar with fresh oysters, ceviche, crudo, clams, crab, caviar and lobster.

Blue Island Oyster Bar will be open daily starting at 11 a.m., serving lunch, late afternoon snacks, dinner and late-night eats at the bar. 

Happy hour will be weekdays from 3 to 6 pm.

2625 E. Second Ave. 303-333-2462; blueislandoysterbar.com

First Bite: Blue Island Oyster Bar Brings Dock-to-Table Concept to Cherry Creek

 Trenton Reed

What: an accessible seafood and raw bar concept that balances New England oyster shack tradition with modern Cherry Creek sophistication.

Where: 2625 E. Second Ave., Denver

Neighborhood: Cherry Creek

When: Opens September 22. Regular hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11– 12 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Note: Kitchen closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. 

Opening a "dock-to-dish" concept in landlocked Denver may raise some eyebrows. Despite endless discussions over the sourcing of seafood and an ongoing raw bar trend, diners still seem preoccupied over the Mile High City's sea-less status. To combat this, Blue Island Oyster Bar—the latest from Concept Restaurants, whose recent endeavors include Humboldt Farm, Fish and Wine—takes its fresh seafood ethos seriously.

Not only does Blue Island fly in seafood daily, and source many of its oysters from Long Island's Great South Bay, the Cherry Creek concept has teamed directly with Chris Quartuccio, founder, and CEO of Blue Island Oyster Company to cut out the middleman. When asked about logistics, Quartuccio details a remarkable half-day journey, starting at 5 a.m. in the Great South Bay with a fresh shucker's basket full of oysters, and ending on the restaurant's bar, in a similar basket, in time for dinner.

What does this mean for Denver diners? The real deal when it comes to wild-harvested, diver-foraged oysters. 

THE CONCEPT

Blue Island has deep east coast roots and is heavily influenced by the food and culture of New England and New York. In addition to Quartuccio's Long Island connection, Sean Huggard, Director of Operations, grew up south of Boston and cooked in Nantucket, and Executive Chef DJ Nagle—formerly of Humboldt—was raised, and got his professional start, in New York.

What started as a mutual love of oysters, blossomed into a restaurant. The idea began when Huggard met Quartuccio through a mutual friend about 18 months ago at the Seafood Expo North America in Boston. Huggard had always wanted to open an oyster bar with a farmer; Quartuccio had always wanted to open an oyster bar with a restaurateur. And while Concept Restaurants has raw bar elements on other menus, Huggard wanted Blue Island to be perfect. Having Quartuccio on board was the missing link:

"It was important if we were going to serve raw, living animals to people that we really understood what went into it. We wanted to know where [the oysters] were coming from and that we could control the source and serve the best. Not just the best in the city, but the best in the country," Huggard explained.

While Cherry Creek was not Concept's first choice, the team is excited to open its doors in the recently revitalized area. "I think we need to attract a certain demographic that understands and finds value in fresh seafood," says Huggard. "Cherry Creek just works."

THE SPACE

The Diners are greeted by Blue Island's opulent oyster shell entrance. Gray woods and muted blues envelop the expansive 100-seat space. The focus is the lavish raw bar and bordering open kitchen. While the restaurant features an installation above the bar that resembles oars and chairs that are seemingly constructed with driftwood, the coastal influences are lighthearted and refined. Blue Island is equal parts beachside oyster shack and Cherry Creek elegance.

What truly sets Blue Oyster a part from other seafood joints, however, are its subtle reminders of the origins of its sister farm. A detailed, full-wall rendering of the Great South Bay lines the western wall. Photographs of Quartuccio and his team of divers—including a shot of Dave Gum, a guy who Quartuccio tells me was one of the first divers on Long Island—are dispersed throughout the space. And the oysters are displayed directly on the bar in traditional shucker's baskets.

THE FOOD

When asked about childhood tastes, Huggard and Nagle are quick to tell nostalgic stories of neighborhood bars serving fresh-caught baked cod and boardwalk clam shacks cooking up family recipes. A shared memory? "That smell," said Huggard without hesitation, referring to the aromas wafting from Blue Island's open kitchen. "Especially when the clams hit the frying oil."

Capturing this essence is a common theme throughout the menu. While offerings such as the crab cakes and fried oysters stay true to their New England roots—and the menu does include non-seafood fare such as steak and burgers—Nagle's menu is accented by creative interpretations of classics. The shareable Stuffies ($6), a savory Cape Cod baked clam classic, benefit from the addition of scallops, charred corn, and Linguiça sausage. The Fish & Chips ($16) utilize a crunchy cracker crust, and are noticeably lighter than traditional beer-battered versions. And the rotating Chef & Shucker ($49), designed to be shared amongst a table, revitalizes the oft-uninspired seafood tower with eccentric raw bar offerings—the current version features salmon rillette and tuna poke—and chef-inspired charcuterie. Deserts such as Key Lime Pie ($8) and the delectable Chocolate Cake ($10) are unfussy, and are meant to supplement the seafood.

The beverage program, headed by Humboldt's Alex Curry, again emphasizes simplicity. In addition to familiar offerings such as mules and a Dark & Stormy, Blue Island offers colloquial favorites such as the Cap Code and a Daiquiri ($10)—all of which will run for $5 during happy hour. The Diver's Punch ($9), a bold concoction of gin, tequila, muddled fruit and fresh lime, is a party in a glass, but is surprisingly more subtle than sweet. And with its dry cured olive garnish, the salty, aggressive signature martini is your best bet with oysters. Finally, a balanced, focused wine list—featuring an "Interesting Whites" section—and two Boulder Beer offerings, brewed specifically for Blue Island, round out the focused program.

Unsurprisingly, however, oysters are the main show at Blue Island—and Blue Island Oyster Company's farmed and wild-caught options are the backbone of the menu. The signature Blue Island No. 9—a farmed Virginica variety that balances strong salinity with a smooth, buttery finish—will be a staple, and is also featured on the happy hour menu for $2. Naked Cowboys, a wild oyster diver-harvested in the Great South Bay, are noticeably briny and meaty. And while upfront east coast varieties are the star, the menu features a rotating selection of high-quality specimens (priced daily) from around the world for those that prefer smooth, buttery oysters. 

With an approachable menu that aims to highlight a variety of oysters—some of which are farmed or wild-caught in Long Island's Great South Bay by Quartuccio's team—and New England comfort food classics, Blue Island Oyster Bar is an appropriate homage to the generations of divers and dockhands who have long foraged for the perfect oyster. Despite being 2,000 miles from the nearest harbor.

All photography by Danielle Webster.