If location, location, location is the first rule of opening a restaurant, what’s one to do if a space isn’t prime? When asked to open a spot three miles outside of Steamboat Springs in the exclusive Catamount Ranch, restaurateur Phillips Armstrong (Aurum, Table 79 FoodBar) decided to go all in. “I started thinking, what kind of destination would people be willing to drive for?”
The answer: The Periodic Table, a restaurant that reinvents itself twice a year. And that doesn’t just mean redecorating—Armstrong is channeling Next, the award-winning Chicago restaurant by famed chef Grant Achatz of Alinea, Roister, and Aviary, that transforms itself—from 1906 Paris to Ancient Rome to Hollywood and so on—quarterly. Of course, this borrowing of ideas begs the question: How does Next feel about the riff? “We got an email from Nick [Kokonas, co-owner] and he was like ‘I think this is super cool,’” Armstrong says.
And so, on December 18, Periodic Table will burst onto the Colorado scene dressed up as a 1920s New York City supper club, complete with retro menus, a cocktail program, and service and decor reminiscent of that grand time. “We wanted to do something that was approachable enough that we wouldn’t scare people off on the first go-around, but that was also interesting enough that they’d want to come in,” Armstrong says.
A restaurant that does a deliberate about-face twice a year requires a nimble chef who isn’t afraid to explore the unknown. For that role, chef Patrick Ayres of the late Cloverdale and the James Beard-winning Canlis in Seattle is the ideal culinary powerhouse. “A big part of cooking for me is to always be learning,” Ayres says. “With [Periodic Table], I’ll have the opportunity to jump into Japanese or other cuisines that I haven’t had any experience with.”
As soon as Ayres and Armstrong decided on the supper club theme, they dove into the New York Public Library’s archives, pouring over menus and looking for common dishes. Lobster thermidor, oysters Rockefeller, roast duck, steak tartare, baked ham, chicken à la king, and other classics showed up again and again; Periodic Table’s menu began to crystallize. “How do you take something like baked ham and make it so it’s not just a slab on a plate or chicken a la king and elevate it but keep it true to what it is?” Ayres says. “Those [dishes] have been fun and exciting to execute.” The duck, on the other hand, will be a version of a dish of chef Daniel Humm’s that Ayres has cooked for years at both Canlis and Cloverdale. The cocktail menu will similarly be rooted in the Roaring ’20s, with a rolling martini cart designed to bring extra pomp and circumstance to the dining room.
Armstrong and Ayers are determined to create an experience that you won’t find elsewhere in Colorado. With each version of the restaurant, they will go deep, all the while keeping their eyes on hospitality. “I want people to leave thinking that [Periodic Table] was more than what they expected it to be. I want to be obsessed with service points—you’ll pick out your own steak knife, we’re going to pour everyone a little bit of bubbly. I want everyone to leave thinking ‘Wow!’’ Armstrong says.
Bonus: Anyone familiar with Armstrong’s restaurants knows that happy hour is not to be missed. The Periodic Table will offer drink specials, half-price starters, $2 oyster Rockefellers, and deals on seafood towers. Armstrong knows that strong happy hours cultivate a loyal following which the restaurant will most certainly need in the shoulder seasons. “You gain people’s trust with a good happy hour,” he says.
33400 Catamount Dr. B, Steamboat Springs, 970-457-1224