Hospitality Plus at Jill’s Restaurant in the St. Julien Hotel & Spa
For Denverites, the city of Boulder presents a scenic, accessible getaway destination just about any time of year. Nestled at the base of the Flatirons, this mellow college town is only 40 miles away and can offer a nice break from the bustle of the city. Even the views along Highway 36 can be rejuvenating, especially if the skies—and the traffic—are clear. As soon as you arrive you’ll slip seamlessly into the slower pace of this Front Range community. You might check out artisan shops and hip restaurants along Pearl Street; hike the trail up Mount Sanitas on the western edge of town; taste a beer flight from one of the many craft breweries; and, if you stay the night, recuperate in a place where nature and hospitality come together: a place like St Julien Hotel & Spa.
As the story goes, back when Boulder was a burgeoning gold mining supply town in the late 1890s, a tiny guest house named the Hotel St Julien operated near the present-day Boulder Theater on what is now 14th Street. More than a century later, photographs of this humble inn inspired Bruce Porcelli and Richard and Elaine Barrett, who opened their Boulder hotel—St Julien Hotel & Spa—in 2005.
“The goal of this hotel—and the most rewarding aspect of ownership—is working with our exceptional and committed team of individuals to deliver a memorable experience to each and every guest,” says Porcelli.
That goal has served them well. During the past decade, the hotel has gained national recognition—named one of the top 25 hotels in the country by Travel + Leisure and a top 10 hotel in the west by Conde Nast Traveler in 2015, as well as an annual winner of the AAA Four Diamond and Forbes Travel Five Star Awards. Yet, St Julien continues to reflect the tight-knit community and natural environment of its Boulder home. Far more than luxury lodging for out-of-town visitors, St Julien—with its green courtyard, warm lobby, and friendly, youthful staff—welcomes locals in a way that is, dare we say, unusual for a hotel of this caliber. Boulderites come to enjoy Saturday afternoon tea by the lobby fireplace, taking in the grand mountain views with piano music playing softly in the background. T-Zero Lounge draws a crowd with martinis and live music most weeknights, extending the party onto the Terrace in warm weather. And on Sundays, Jill’s Restaurant & Bistro serves a buffet brunch to rival any other in the city.
Indeed, much of St Julien’s culture and local appeal has to do with the dining opportunities here. At the helm of the dining program is Executive Chef Laurent Mechin—the down-to-earth culinary virtuoso who, alongside Restaurant General Manager Philippe Antoine, has committed to creating a one-of-a-kind experience in Boulder since he started here nearly seven years ago. “When I first got here, I didn’t know Colorado or Boulder at all,” admits Mechin, whose background includes stints at Four Seasons restaurants in California, Costa Rica, and Jackson, Wyoming. “I knew there were a lot of restaurants and educated diners here, and I wanted to rise to the task. Philippe and I have made a lot of changes since those early days, but our goal is still the same: to be a restaurant that serves the community.”
Both originally from France and both dedicated to the guest experience, Mechin and Antoine made a plan to improve the comfort, consistency, and quality at Jill’s Restaurant. During the past several years, they’ve rearranged the dining room to accommodate a more comfortable, intimate setting; updated the linens and glassware; and even transformed the stuffy booth seating into semi-private dining nooks nestled between tall partitions—ideal for small parties who desire a more personal experience.
Naturally, they are especially proud of Jill’s culinary advances. “I like to say that we serve contemporary American cuisine with a ‘French accent,’” Antoine says, his words embellished with his own French lilt. Both Mechin and Philippe make a point of translating their cultural background in a way that is refined and approachable. For instance, the menu offers French Onion Soup, but also gourmet tater tots; Escargots as well as grilled Fish Tacos. For dinner, the signature Natural Chicken Breast with Lyonnaise tarragon jus echoes Mechin’s French upbringing, while the Duet of Boulder Raised Lamb with lamb rack, braised shank, basil whipped potato, and Roquefort bleu cheese sauce presents a delectable marriage of both worlds.
Especially impressive is the unique tableside dining experience at Jill’s. Order items like Steak Diane, Caesar Salad, Shrimp Scampi, and Bananas Foster, and your chef—Mechin himself, if you’re lucky—will wheel a cart through the dining room, coming to a stop just beside your table, and begin to cook your dish right before your eyes. A flame puffs to life from a gas burner on the cart, and the chef begins to stir ingredients into the pan; butter, garlic, leeks—all the while happy to converse about the food, wine pairings, even the adventures you may have had earlier in the day. Then, a flick of the skillet, a splash of Cognac, a thrilling burst of orange flames, and your dish is before you, piping hot and perfectly delicious.
“I think the time has come when French food is more accepted,” Mechin adds. “The assumption is often that French food can be expensive and too formal. While we want our training and our culture to shine through, we also want to make our restaurant approachable, both in terms of menu items and price. We may have four stars, but we make sure that Jill’s isn’t out of reach.”
Case in point? Jill’s serves lunch all week, both an à la carte menu of sandwiches, salads, and wood-fired pizzas, as well as the Ooh Là Là Lunch buffet—a rotating French feast of flatbreads, daily pasta, and tartines at an impossibly affordable $12.95 per person. Vegan Friday lunches feature an ever-changing array of fresh vegan dishes, “by far our busiest lunch of the week,” Mechin says.
On Sundays, Jill’s Restaurant transforms into an abundant, elegant brunch buffet serving heaps of Alaskan King Crab legs, freshly carved roasts, Belgian waffles, and decadent dessert displays of bread pudding, pastries, and even a chocolate fountain. Everyone is welcome, from casual students in flip flops, to families celebrating special occasions, to locals visiting for an elegant meal in the late morning light. During the holidays, brunch becomes even more of an event. Themed décor, seasonal specials, and plenty of panache have encouraged new traditions for many guests, several of whom will finish their meals only to immediately make reservations for next year.
Of course, each menu changes with the seasons, and always features three to five specials dreamed up by Mechin and his staff. “I have a talented team in the kitchen, and I love to leave room for fresh ideas depending on what we find at the Boulder Farmers’ Market.” Some ingredients are even harvested from the St Julien garden, like tomatoes, potatoes, and fresh herbs. “The garden is quite wild,” Mechin laughs, referencing the small plot at the corner of Ninth Street and Canyon Boulevard. “We don’t use pesticide or herbicide, so we allow nature to take over.”
Mechin also prepares all the sauces and stocks from scratch; smokes salmon in-house; forages for porcini mushrooms in Boulder Canyon; and sources local meats whenever possible. In keeping with the hotel’s environmental priorities, no live animal butchery occurs on-site. Yet, in a community where the wildlife and the environment are priorities, many appreciate this dedication to humane animal treatment. “We source our proteins based on the values of the hotel ownership,” Mechin says. “It’s made us better chefs, and it’s part of who we are.”
Indeed, St Julien’s vision is dedicated to service, hospitality, and environmental awareness—values that empower Jill’s Restaurant to keep striving for excellence. “Our goal is to continually develop new offerings, fine-tune service, and showcase the extraordinary talents of Chef Laurent Mechin and Philippe Antoine,” Bruce Porcelli affirms.
Jill’s is certainly one of Boulder’s best-kept secrets; a place where luxury living and a laid-back lifestyle converge into one memorable dining experience. “We know that there are hundreds of restaurants to discover in Boulder,” Antoine says. “But Jill’s is among them, a great restaurant that happens to be in a hotel.” Educated diners know where to look—and now you do, too.