Restaurants in upscale hotels are often overlooked by locals as an option when going out for a nice dining experience. We actively seek them out, because we’ve come to learn – especially in the suburbs – that’s where you can usually get great atmosphere and a good meal. Beyond the suburbs, in Boulder, we discovered Jill’s at the St. Julien years ago just after the hotel opened and we were looking for a place to start a new Christmas Eve tradition. We knew a good hotel would be decked out in all the holiday regalia we needed to get ourselves in the holiday spirit. We’ve been doing Christmas Eve there ever since. The St. Julien represents everything we love about casual elegance, which is usually how Colorado does elegance. Pretty, yet approachable furnishings, warm, professional and attentive service without overbearance, good food quality and selection.
Not only do we go to Jill’s every Christmas Eve, but we often take family and friends from out of town there for dinner, and we ourselves go to their Happy Hour at least once a month. We’ve had many great meals there, but for this, I’m focusing on Happy Hour. We’re early eaters and robust Happy Hours are perfect for us because while we typically have a drink or two, we’re there for the food foremost. Jill’s Happy Hour goes from 4:30 – 6p and their menu is one of the most extensive and high quality we’ve ever seen. All the food is 1/2 off. There’s everything from Tuna Tartare [$9.95] and Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels [$9.95] to Rigatoni Bolognese [$16.95] and Steak au Poivre [$29.95]. In between, there’s charcuterie, salads, sandwiches and pizzas. All told, there are 20 items on the Happy Hour Menu. 20. The service is always consistently good and the Bistro area [really, the bar], has a handful of tables seating both two and four, as well as a lounge area with couch and chairs.
On this visit, we ordered the seasonal brew [$3.] and Mauritson Red Zinfandel [$11.], the bistro tots [$7.95], iceberg wedge [$8.95], saint burger [$13.95], rigatoni bolognese [$16.95] and the chocolate almond cake [$6.95]. Everything but the drinks and dessert was 1/2 off, so we got $48. worth of food, for a mere $24. We list the bistro tots on our ‘Things that will change your life for the better’ page. These warrant the honor. Slightly crunchy outside and pillowy soft inside, with a truffle aioli – they are truly incredible bites of food. The iceberg wedge is run of the mill, and fatiguing to see on so many restaurant menus, but my husband is a fan, and it’s consistent with what I expect from an iceberg wedge. Blue cheese crumbles, diced tomato, bits of bacon, blue cheese dressing. The saint burger is a production. Roasted poblano chili, tomato, capicola, cheddar cheese, balsamic onions, chipotle aioli. I pared it down to just the tomato, balsamic onions and aioli. That’s enough of a burger production for me. The rest would have overwhelmed the flavor, I think, and is an example of a chef taking things too far. The burger was cooked perfectly and while not the best burger I’ve ever had, respectable. My husband gets the rigatoni bolognese here every time. This time, he declared it’s in his top five dishes of all time. This is a big proclamation and one he doesn’t make lightly. It’s an Italian sausage bolognese and the sausage has been lovingly cooked inside the sauce, infusing it with rich sausage flavor while rendering the sauce almost pink. The rigatoni is cooked as all pasta should be – al dente – and the flavor is deeply satisfying. The chocolate almond cake comes out plated as though entering a competition for Best in Show. Thin slices of strawberries standing at attention on either side of the cake, drizzles of raspberry sauce and the star of the plate, a dense cake that tastes more almond than chocolate [which was just fine with us]. $55. all-in with tip. An incredible deal in a lovely environment.