(out of 4)
38 S. Broadway, 303-777-3505, www.beatriceandwoodsley.com

The Draw A playfully romantic setting and a creative menu that’s meant to be shared.
The Drawback Flavors can be timid; some of the seating is awkward.
Don’t Miss The spicy Killer Bee cocktail with the Cheeky Bastard (braised veal cheek rillette encased in polenta); the cauliflower gratin.
Price $$ (average entrée $11-$15)

As a rule, I tend to avoid restaurants built around gimmicky themes. The urban steak house with saddles at the bar and cowhides on the wall, for example. The landlocked seafood joint with surfboards strung from above. The restaurants papered with black-and-white photos of long-dead rock stars.

Then I came across Beatrice & Woodsley, which was inspired by a love story and designed to suggest a woodsy romantic retreat. Sandwiched between a row of funky shops on South Broadway, this is not an easy spot to find. It boasts no sign except for a whitewashed heart painted on the building two stories up. The heart, pierced by an arrow, features the letters “BW.” (I know. You’re groaning a bit, aren’t you?)

But once you find the entry and walk inside, you’ll be entranced. Smooth aspen tree trunks pierce the ceiling. Flickering camp lanterns hang from above. Chain saws slice through (and hold up) the back bar. And rustic wooden faucet handles dangle from chains by the bathroom sinks. On paper, this may sound like overkill, but Beatrice & Woodsley is surprisingly elegant. It’s rural and urban, youthful and grown up, and this was exactly the intent of founders Kevin Delk, 36, and John Skogstad, 41. (The pair also owns Two-Fisted Mario’s Pizza and Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto downtown.) “We wanted a place that reflected the history of this state,” Delk says, “but also the refinements we’ve all gotten used to.”

More than anything else, Beatrice & Woodsley is sly and whimsical, and to fully enjoy the place you’ll want to play along. Start by ordering a cocktail. With names like Nancypants, Killer Bee, and Jam for Francis, you’ll find it impossible to suppress a grin. The Jam for Francis is especially fanciful—a cool, jammy, deep purple blend of Stranahan’s whiskey, blackberry liqueur, tarragon, and lime.

The food menu will further amuse diners with names like Cheeky Bastard (tender braised veal cheek served inside polenta), Scallop on Holiday (a single plump diver scallop served atop a chewy black rice cake), and Tail Between the Legs (a half lobster tail served with butter-braised frog’s legs). But be forewarned: While both the menu and milieu are playful, there are some tricks to dining at Beatrice & Woodsley. The more you know, the more fulfilling your experience will be.

First, choose to dine here with someone you: a) know well, or, b) would like to get to know better. Not only is the place romantic, thanks to all that soft lamp light, but the seating arrangements are cozy. If you’re lucky—and call ahead—you might snag one of the few booths in the main dining area. If not, you may be seated at one of the too-small quarter-round booths or the low tree-stump tabletops. You may want that kind of intimacy, but if you’re discussing a contract with your Realtor, consider eating someplace that puts more real estate between you and your companion.

Second, know that most dishes here are meant to be shared. If you’re weird about splitting food with others, Beatrice & Woodsley may not be for you. Otherwise, begin at the top of the menu, which is inhabited by smaller dishes, and work your way down.

Start with the duck rillette appetizer special, which is so tender and succulent you’ll want to weep. The duck is served with chewy chopped mushrooms, salty bacon lardons, and crisp toast points, creating an earthy blend that pairs well with the sweet and spicy Killer Bee cocktail, which is made from a house-made honey-and-Fresno-chile syrup. One sip of the Bee, followed by one bite of the duck, and you’ll forget what you were talking about.

After that macho starter, femme it up a bit with the pink and pretty tea-poached pear, a sweet-tart Bartlett pear poached in tea syrup and served with a tangy dollop of house-made yogurt cheese. Although I first thought the pear would be best served as an accompaniment, it was balanced and satisfying on its own.

Next up: cauliflower gratin. I know, cauliflower. It’s hard to view the humble white veggie as a standout, but this dish will convert you. Served in a miniature, black cast-iron skillet, the cauliflower is baked with loads of creamy sweet potatoes, folded inside a Gruyère cream sauce, and topped with crunchy toasted herb crumbs. It’s warm, woodsy, classic, and luxurious when followed by a sip of Colorado’s Sutcliffe Merlot.

Finally, just because it’s so darn cute, you’ll want to give Pete, Pete the Pumpkin Eater a try. In this dish, a tiny roasted pumpkin is stuffed with a savory, dinner-worthy pumpkin-pie filling, and served alongside a pyramid of crunchy cubed apples, onions, and celery root. (Hint: don’t try to eat the pumpkin.)

The flavoring in some of Beatrice & Woodsley’s dishes, however, isn’t quite as bold as it could be. The coconut vinaigrette served with the scallop lacked any discernible coconut flavor. The swordfish broth, advertised as “spicy,” wasn’t. And every dish that came with any kind of dough-based element failed either partially or wholly. The sheepfish beignets were doughy and undercooked. The crust on the pineapple upside-down cake was too thick for the filling. And the masa-pumpkin dumplings served with the pork belly drew too much attention to their chewy selves.

It’s one thing for Beatrice & Woodsley to subtly hide the delights in the decor and ambience. But diners shouldn’t have to seek out pleasure in the meal itself. The right flavors should assert themselves unbidden, unobscured, and unabashed.

And yet, in the final analysis, even this is a minor quibble. Thanks to Beatrice & Woodsley, I now know that all my dining rules—including the one about themed restaurants—can be broken. You likely won’t find me straddling a saddle at a steak house anytime soon, but you never know.