Wednesday, January 31, 2007

No. 37 rewrite

Marigold’s Stars Keep Shining

Marigold’s Café and Bakery has long been a linchpin in the independent restaurant community. I was reminded why on a recent visit there for lunch. Although I arrived at noon, the restaurant was already full. The short wait gave me just enough time to torture myself at the dessert counter—after too much holiday cheer, I had sworn off sweets. You might ask me: why, then, was I at Marigold’s, a café and bakery? More on that later.

The lunch menu ($6.99 to $10.25) is straightforward on its surface—pizzas, sandwiches, soups and salads. But as soon as you dive into the fine print you are rewarded with both standard fare, like Reubens and hamburgers, and more rarified offerings such as muffuletas and curried chicken pockets. Their French onion soup is the best in town, topped with a thick slice of Gruyere cheese served bubbling hot. As much appeal as I found in that daily menu, the Specials of the Day delivered what I was looking for: a substantial meal at a great price ($9 to $12) that went above and beyond plain lunch. From the choices of Blackened Prime Rib, Quiche Lorraine, Jambon Madeira and Mahi Mahi, I knew immediately that the Mahi Mahi ($10) was for me. My server confirmed it was an excellent choice, served with field greens dressed in ginger orange vinaigrette. I ordered a house chardonnay, reasonably priced at $4.75, and turned my attention to the restaurant.

Lunch can be a terrible time at a busy restaurant. Diners are all in a hurry and they all arrive at once. The pace at lunch can so overwhelm the wait staff that all the niceties associated with fine dining are flung out the window as the plates are slung onto the table. Not at Marigold’s. Even though the place was packed, I never felt hurried nor did the servers seem rushed. The dining room hummed with conversation. I had time to sample a wheat baguette and appreciate the chardonnay before my fish arrived.

One thing Marigold’s knows is that presentation is key to an enjoyable dish. This plate arrived with two golden brown slices of pan seared Mahi Mahi resting aside a mound of field greens, chopped red onions, white mushrooms, tomato wedges, and crumbles of goat cheese. The fish was succulent and the portion ample for a lunch entrée, its flavor sweet and enhanced with just the smallest bit of seasoning. The field greens were fresh and crisp. But the best thing about the salad, for me at least, was that the ginger orange vinaigrette added just a whisper of sweetness, balancing the tart goat cheese and the tangy red onions. And when the salad was gone, so was the dressing. No puddle of oil here!

When my server suggested dessert, my thoughts ran back to the dessert counter: raspberry tarts, tiramisu, carrot cake, strawberry Frasier (two layers of white cake engulfed by pastry crème and fresh strawberries—beautiful), and my all-time favorite, triple chocolate mousse cake. It seemed traitorous not to order one of those, diet be hanged, so I sacrificed the mousse cake and ordered a chocolate éclair. It just missed earning a standing ovation.

The éclair pastry was perfect, airy but firm and not dry. The filling was thick and creamy as crème brulee and smooshed perfectly out the sides as I cut into the éclair. But the chocolate on top, while tasty, crumbled when I cut it instead of clinging to my fork.

Was it only coincidence? Just as the chocolate crumbled from my éclair I heard a dish shatter in the kitchen.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars (4 is perfect)

Location and phone:

4605 Centennial Boulevard



Open Mon. through Sat., 7-10 a.m. for breakfast; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 5-9 p.m. for dinner. Dinner reservations accepted.

Major credit cards accepted. Dress is casual.

No. 32 rewrite

Andy McCarthy’s Sports Grill

The New Pub in Town…..

Privately and independently owned, quite contrary to chain restaurants, Andy McCarthy’s is conveniently located on the East side of town. This restaurant is truly a local upscale sports grill that gives patrons the opportunity to enjoy fresh cooked meals in a fun and relaxed environment. You better come hungry because the portions are huge!

I was greeted by friendly staff members and seated immediately. The atmosphere was warm and inviting with upscale contemporary soft lighting outlining the restaurant’s interior. Dark wood trim detailed the windows, tables, and booths. Black and white pictures of historical sports memorabilia occupied the walls providing the opportunity for customers to brush up on their sports trivia. If you come here to watch a sports game, you will have no trouble with locating a television nearby. There are several big screen televisions accompanied by smaller televisions throughout the bar and dining area.

My waitress, Crystelle, greeted me with a smile. Initially I had thought about ordering one of the many microbrews listed on their bar menu but then quickly decided on a nice glass of Chardonnay instead.

The appetizer menu although not unusual, was appealing, offering a variety of munchies to choose from to include wings, nachos, quesadillas, corn dogs, and shrimp cocktail. I opted for something spicy and ordered the Santa Fe Chicken Egg Rolls. Filled with spicy chicken, black beans, jalapenos, red peppers, corn, and spinach, this appetizer smelled delicious and came nicely arranged on a bright and festive plate exposing its many tasteful ingredients. The egg rolls were deliciously crunchy and full of flavor though not as spicy as I originally thought they would be.

Andy’s Entrees. Where to begin? The menu offers a variety of options to include salads, burgers, ribs, fish-n-chips, specialty sandwiches and even Mexican dishes. I ordered the Penne Alfredo with Spicy Chicken, one of Andy’s Signature Dishes. The menu indicated my entrée would be served with a side salad and choice of one of their side dishes; however, I was only offered soup or salad so I choose a cup of their homemade green chili. Served piping hot with a warm tortilla by its side, this green chili was fantastic! Darker than most green chili, with sort of a smoky color to it, this chili was thick, peppery and full of flavor and contained large tender pieces of pork. Get this to go by the gallon, you will not be disappointed!

The Penne Alfredo was served shortly after. Served in a large pasta bowl there was enough of this dish to feed a football team! Topping this mountain of pasta was a combination of fresh garlic, parsley, greens onions, and parmesan cheese. This dish was both elegant and fragrant. The chicken was moist, lightly dusted with a Cajun spice and grilled perfectly. Tying all of these ingredients together was the Alfredo sauce. Not as heavy as I expected, it was lighter but yet creamy and silky with the tang of parmesan in every bite. This was truly a satisfying and filling dish.

The dessert menu was tempting with favorites such as Banana’s Foster and Apple Cinnamon Crispitos; however I had to pass as I knew I couldn’t eat another bite.

Andy McCarthy’s is more than just a sports grill, this is a place where family and friends gather for a good time and enjoy a good meal without having to blow their budget.

Rating scale: 1 to 5 Stars (5 being the highest)

Food: * * * *

Service: * * * *

Ambiance: * * * * *

Price: * * * *

Kids menu: Yes

Party Accommodations: Yes

Address: 5710 S. Carefree Cir. (Powers Blvd. and S. Carefree)

Phone: 719-574-3400

No. 47 rewrite

What Does a Bear Do in the Woods?

To steal a riff from Casey Stengel: Can't anyone in this town make a good pizza? To try and answer this question, me, the missus, and a pal from back East grabbed our snowshoes and climbed on up to Green Mountain Falls and the Black Bear Restaurant. We had it on good authority that this was one of the best joints around. The chef, a guy named Victor, runs a cooking school down in the Springs. He's notched more stars than Warren Beatty. Capice? Certainly he could toss a decent pie if anyone could.

It was dark by the time we arrived, just they way I like it. Dark as it was, I could see the place is not much to look at. This too is perfect because it means they put all the money into the food. To my surprise on entering we were met and seated by a real person. That's a nice touch. I did not overlook the bar and pool table down the hallway. They think of everything here, maybe one could get a little action too. But I digress. The dining room has a great big fireplace, the old-fashioned kind that burns wood, not gas. The tablecloths are real and so is the silverware. The only plastic in the whole place is a credit card. One thing made me a little nervous, we were the only ones there, and for a minute I thought it might be a set-up. The maitre d', a fast-talking gal with gunmetal eyes named Brooke, laid it all off to the slow season. A likely excuse. There was only three feet of snow. Maybe it's a front.

We scrutinized the menu with care. Appetizers and soups, yadda yadda, vary nightly and run from five bucks up to $19 for foie gras. A burger - "almost a pound" - will set you back a ten spot and an hour on the treadmill. Similar comfort foods like chicken fried steak and barbeque ribs fetch in the teens. Seemed like a greasy spoon, but then there were the award winners. Lacquered Duck, $30. Sounded kind of stiff to me. Claude Monet's Pork Chop should make quite an impression for $22. I was all set to ask about the pizza when we got sweet-talked into the Chef's "Tasting Table" of the "Gourmand" variety – a five course price-fixing deal, with wines, for $85. Someday, if the governor fails to call, I'll order the eight-course "Gastronomique."

It all started with something called an amuse bouche, which is French I think for onion relish on a potato chip. Like Lay's you can't eat just one, but that's all they give you. Next came the antipasti. I am not making this up, our server recited these from memory: Creole butternut squash soup and a salad of heirloom tomato, honey truffle cheese, and mango balsamic. The soup was nice and hot. I thought it tasted of sausage but it was just Louisiana lightning. I do not know where to get such a tomato in January.

Now we were hungry. Along came a duet of quail, two nice leg quarters, one marinated in raspberry, the other in balsamic vinegar. Only a quartet could have improved on it. Both were delicious, especially the salty, vinegar version.

An ample filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes batted cleanup. My partners thought it was a grand slam, but I found the pressed duck demi-glace (again, I'm not making this up) it was drenched in a bit sweet and oniony for the meat. I'll call it a two-run double.

The wines were mezza-mezz. The Colorado chardonnay was too stiff, but by this time so were we. The malbec was what they call fruity. The Valpolicella – now you're talking. It was a Ripassa, and I didn't know this before but I'm telling you so you'll know next time, a Ripassa is made from sun-dried grapes, raisins practically, that are steeped in wine from the prior year's vintage before being pressed and fermented. It knocked me clear back to Veneto. Mama mia.

Dessert was a trio of chocolate hazelnut truffles with espresso dust in a white chocolate whip, but you probably figured it out already. Somebody call a cop. What was the number of that truck?

Sadly our quest for a decent slice of pepperoni did not come to fruition that night. Not only does the Black Bear not make good pizza, they don't make pizza at all. So we were somewhat disappointed. It is a pretty fancy place though, and we will go back. Our fare and service were worth a C-note, and I'll bet a sawbuck on the burger too. Don't take my word for it, go see for yourself. Let me know what you think. And if you know anyplace in this town to get a decent pizza, let me know that too.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Dining critic candidate No. 50

Coke’s Diner

There is a time for gourmet. There is a time for nouveau cuisine. There is even a time for spinach. And every once in a while, there most definitely comes a time for diner food. When that time comes, make a bee line for Coke’s Diner in Fountain.

I listened to my neighbor rave about this place for months before we ever actually went. I assumed that diner food was diner food, once you’ve tasted one diner menu, you’ve pretty much tasted them all. I am proud to say that I was wrong. Dead wrong. This diner is not only owned by Jim Coke, a long-time Fountain local who gives a lot to the community he loves, but it is without a doubt the best diner I’ve ever eaten in.

It’s a small place with a small parking lot, in fact there are no lines to mark parking spaces, just follow the lead of the regulars who have figured out how to get as many cars as possible into the small asphalt space on the corner. Once you walk inside you are greeted by relatively typical diner décor of black and white checkered floors, old tin signs and red tables and booths. But look a bit closer and the underlying personality of the place shines through. One table gives a glimpse into the old community’s farming roots with pictures of John Deere tractors under the glass, one a picture of an ingenious hybrid of a Deere tractor and motorcycle. Hand written notes stuck to the walls give a peek into the owner’s sense of humor. But the real personality comes from the people who work and eat there everyday.

When you walk in the door and look around for somewhere to sit, you can’t help but notice the large corner booth with the wooden sign “Liars Table” over it, or the table next to it designated as the “Wannabe’s Table.” These belong to the regulars, and a jolly looking bunch they are at that. There is the sound of laughter and silverware happily clinking on plates as well as the underlying sounds coming from the kitchen. Makes for a warm and welcoming atmosphere that draws you into the enticing smells wafting from griddle behind the counter.

The menu is pretty typical for a diner. Breakfast is eggs, various breakfast meats, biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steak, hash browns, pancakes, omelettes and more. Lunch is sandwiches and burgers. Dinner is meatloaf, pot roast and other favorites. We’ve gone for breakfast and late breakfast. I’ve tried just about everything but the omelettes for breakfast and I can honestly say that if my cardiologist wouldn’t hunt me down and restrain me, I would eat all of it every day for the rest of my life.

The pancakes are huge. One is often just a bit bigger than the plate they serve it on. A friend’s father took a picture using a butter knife as reference to show circumference on this puppy and shows it off with pride to anyone who will look. The pancakes are also the best I’ve ever put in my mouth. They are light and fluffy and perfect with or without syrup. The hash browns are cooked in butter and come out with this amazingly comforting flavor while still crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. And the biscuits and gravy. My goodness. Dreams have been built on biscuits and gravy like this. The biscuits are handmade everyday and are fresh, moist and perfect. The sausage gravy is riddled with large chunks of sausage and has the perfect amount of black pepper spice. The consistency is thick enough to cling to the biscuits and smooth enough to spread evenly so every heavenly mouthful is the perfect combination of gravy and biscuit.

On the day we went for late breakfast, my husband tried the Bacon Cheeseburger off the lunch menu. The bun was lightly toasted, the burger was juicy and the bacon was perfectly done. The real star of the plate though was the French fries. These are real, hand cut, freshly fried taters of the most coveted kind. It was all I could do not to steal the whole lot of them off his plate. They were nicely browned and crispy with just the right amount of salt.

We’ve made a weekly tradition of Sunday morning breakfast at Coke’s Diner. The food, the people and the atmosphere are addicting to say the least and you’re likely to walk out with a smile on your face and the warm glow that only down home, all American diner food can elicit. Oh and did I mention, they do carry-out.

Here are the particulars:

Coke’s Diner

311 N Santa Fe Ave

Fountain, CO


Dining critic candidate No. 49

Do you want to have your cake and eat it too? Did I say Cake? How about Steak? Do you want to eat your steak and savor it too? I’ll get to the cake a bit later!! So you are thinking a specialty steak house for a great steak, right? Wrong!!!!!!! Let me tell you about the filet I had this past week-------done to perfection, topped with a creamy, pepper Boursin cheese, served with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh grilled asparagus! No place other than Macaroni Grill!!!! Surprised? There are more surprises!! Jenna, for one! A great waitress who has aced the knack of writing her name upside down with a double crayon so we could all read it------it was almost a work of art! Must be a job requirement to have that ability! Getting back to the steak, it was fork tender and done just as we ordered it---- we are “well-doners”-----no pink!!!! And that’s the way we got it, but still juicy and melt- in- your- mouth tender! The potatoes were topped with a sprig of rosemary that looked like a little Christmas tree! The dinner FELT like a Christmas gift, it was SOOOOOOOO delicious!!!!! We asked Jenna to have the plates warmed------who wants hot food on a cold plate, especially in this Colorado winter weather? Every request we had was taken and fulfilled to the max! We are frequent flyers at the MG and this menu item is our very favorite. It is one of those places where you can take the kids as they get to do their own art work on the paper tablecloths and have their own menu that is kid friendly. I particularly like the fact that it is not a noisy place----you can ENJOY the conversation around the table.

Now back to the cake!! We celebrated a birthday for a family member, so if it is your birthday, you get treated to a generous piece of Smothered Chocolate Cake with a lighted candle; the piece is large enough to share with the others at the table! And the best part is that you are not given a rip roaring rendition of Happy Birthday that sends shock waves to the next table and jolts them out of their seats! No, you are sweetly serenaded by a lovely hostess with a beautiful soprano voice who sings Happy Birthday in Italian!!!!!

You owe it to yourself to enjoy this dining delight at Macaroni Grill; if you are fortunate to have Jenna for your waitress, that’s icing on the proverbial cake! But we observed that all the staff is eager to make your dining experience all that you hope it will be!!!!!!!!! Bon appetit!

Dining critic candidate No. 48

Paravicini’s Palmer Lake

Northside diners, rejoice! Paravicini’s, the quaint little Italian place on the Westside with big flavor, has opened a second restaurant in Palmer Lake, in the pink stucco building that formerly housed the Villa. I decide to give it a taste test with friends who live near Baptist Road, where the dining choices are sadly limited, considering all the area’s new neighborhoods.

We enter the foyer next to a cozy bar area, and are greeted by a photo of Frank Sinatra and a friendly host. I’m a bit put off by the foyer’s neon green paint, but the big stone fireplace in the corner makes up for it. We can see the other dining area at the back of the restaurant, which has another, more formal fireplace. We’re seated next to a vintage poster of a monkey tilting back a bottle of Italian liquor. The décor in the front of the restaurant looks like it’s still underway, with the fake vines and un-ironed curtains feeling a bit out of place.

The place is hopping for a Wednesday night, and the dining room is a bit loud due to the crowd and echoing wood floors. We’re immediately greeted by our server, who is bearing ice water and rosemary bread. She offers helpful suggestions on wine, house specialties and the evening’s featured dish.

The menu is extensive, going beyond the clichéd Italian restaurant fare of spaghetti with meatballs. (But fear not, pasta loyalists, you can get your fill of the classics, too.) Chef Franco Pisani also cooks up everything from salads and sandwiches to steaks, chicken, veal and seafood.

We begin our meal with the bruschetta, which is almost as pretty to look at as it is tasty to eat. The juicy red tomatoes (where do they find these in January?), tangy red onions, pungent garlic and gooey mozzarella on crunchy bread taste like they’re fresh from a summer garden. We all agree that we could be happy stuffing ourselves with this tasty appetizer and skipping further courses.

After so much flavor, we are disappointed with the tasteless house salad. The limp iceberg lettuce, grocery-store caliber croutons and bland dressing do not live up to the rest of our meal. Skip this unimaginative course altogether and fill up on other dishes – the generous portions ensure you’ll go home with leftovers.

Our entrees are served so promptly that my friend’s baked chicken tetrazzini, the nightly special, is still bubbling. Our server offers us freshly-grated parmesan from a large bowl.

My husband’s herb-crusted salmon is the perfect combination of contrasts and complements, featuring chewy sun-dried tomatoes, delicate angel-hair pasta and a nice light cream sauce. The fish itself was fork-tender and moist. My friend’s gnocchi achieves that delicate potato-dumpling balance of soft and firm. The chef is kind enough to substitute marinara sauce instead of the veal, beef, sausage and vegetable ragout listed on the menu. The marinara, which I consider to be the litmus test of Italian cuisine, passes with flying colors: rich and thick, with lots of herbs.

Although I am pleased with the chunky sautéed onions, peppers, olives and capers in my chicken cacciatore’s tomato sauce, as well as the juicy, tender breast pieces, I am forced to break out the Kleenex due to the excessive spiciness of the dish.

Because we’re so stuffed from our previous three courses, we can’t find room for anything on the tempting dessert menu, not even the cannoli. But we do finish things off with coffee – decaf for my friend, cappuccinos for my husband and I. The coffee is fine, but the cappuccinos are a bit on the watery side.

All things considered, we enjoy the friendly atmosphere and well-cooked food. The service is impeccable, prompt and solicitous without intruding on our conversation. This is a great place to linger over a meal with friends or to take a casual date. You can show up here in anything from jeans to a tuxedo and fit right in. When you stop in, ask for the Wise Guys’ Room, which seats four to six in an intimate room featuring wine racks, and toast the photos of the Godfather.

Paravicini’s vital stats

Palmer Lake location

75 S. Highway 105


Open at 4:30 nightly

Accepts Mastercard, Visa and Discover

Entrees: $8 to $18

Vegetarian and children’s dishes

Reservations accepted

Dining critic candidate No. 48

A Review of


Every day, around six o’clock, I face the same question: “What are we going to eat for dinner?” Arriving at an answer is often beyond aggravating, and way too often we find that by the time we decide many places are already closed! But praise the food gods, we now have a new option that will make deciding a little bit easier on those nights when we want a great meal in a fabulous setting. I discovered a gorgeous eatery called Plate World Cuisine.

I arrived at the north Colorado Springs eatery surprised by the surrounding area, which is pretty devoid of other restaurants. But the second I could clearly see Plate I was impressed. This restaurant is absolutely beautiful. The décor has a sort of Asian tropical flavor in which no detail was overlooked. From the silverware to the fantastical sloping ceiling to the dramatic waterfall behind the bar, Plate is from first glance a feast for the eyes. I wasn’t about to let the surroundings affect my impression of the food, however, so I tried my hardest to scan the menu with a harsh eye. This proved to be nearly impossible.

Plate World Cuisine is called such because Chef Ryan Blanchard refuses to follow the trend of “Fusion Cuisine,” the popular style of merging several distinct world flavors to create a new dish. Instead, he carefully prepares his menu according to a divided map of cooking styles including French, Latin, New American, Italian and Japanese. Each region has a selection of appetizers, salads and entrees.

First we sampled the pig tacos which came in fried wontons. They were served with chunky guacamole mixed with lots of sweet corn. The shells were perfect, crispy and flavorful without a hint of the hardness that taco shells usually have. We both agreed the pork was a little underseasoned, but still tasty enough to disappear in two seconds. Next up was a jicama and mango salad with mango habenero dressing. I was a bit wary of the habenero spice but a glaze of creamy and sweet dressing combined with the cool crunch of jicama made that fear dissapear. The salad was quickly followed by Peruvian roasted chicken on a bed of rice and some mango jicama slaw, and red snapper baked in banana leaves. The plating of the chicken was a little boring on the eyes but the flavor, crisp skin and juiciness more than made up. The plating of the snapper was beautiful, with layers of potato rosti and grilled vegetables.

The service at Plate was ridiculously great. Our server arrived at precisely the perfect moment with each course. It was almost scary. I kept waiting for a slip but it never ever came! Did they finally perfect the personality program for robots? Hmmmm…..

Plate World Cuisine is fun, beautiful food in a fun, beautiful setting. That annoying nightly question will be answered many times in the future by this great restaurant.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dining critic candidate No. 47

The Bearable Lightness of Eating

If you're looking for a gourmet experience in a private, dignified, and comfortable setting, grab your snowshoes and head on up to Green Mountain Falls and the Black Bear Restaurant. Did I say private? For a 6:30 table to entertain a friend from back East, we had the entire restaurant to ourselves one Wednesday night last month. Far from feeling conspicuous, we received the special treatment from the Maitre'd Restaurant and the chef, who seemed more than pleased to have something to do. And did they do something.

A newcomer to Crystola, I have found Ute Pass from Manitou to Woodland Park to be a warren of public houses of many stripes, and it is a blessing of sorts to have the four star Black Bear within a few minutes' drive. A couple of neighbors had recommended the Black Bear as a fine dining experience, and the menu displayed along with the Bear's yellow pages ad certainly seemed appropriate for entertaining our out of town guest. It runs from "Mountain Favorites" like burgers and ribs to specialties such as Lacquered Duck and Colorado Stuffed filet, and beyond, to the Chef's "Table Tasting" menu, more of which in a moment.

The story of the Black Bear and its proprietor would take up another entire column so it is enough to note that Chef-owner Victor Matthews operates the Paragon Culinary School in Colorado Springs, has an envious resume, and has notched more stars than Warren Beatty. He manages to sustain a four-star establishment in a decidedly seasonal location by offering comfort food of the first order as an adjunct to his passion. A restaurant had been serving the community for many years at this location before Chef Victor acquired it, and nothing about the establishment's façade says "four stars" to drive-bys. All the better. Inside, the beamed-ceiling dining room affords everyone a view of the massive log fireplace. The crisp white linen and comfortable seating exude continental charm. Think Black Forest (not that one, the one in Germany).

If you like surprises, or are tired of making decisions, I can recommend the Table Tasting menu. We each opted for the five course "Gourmand" menu with accompanying wines, for $85, and encouraged the Chef to let 'er rip. The eight-course "Gastronomique" is available for those with larger pocketbooks and greater gustatory libido.

The star of our dinner turned out to be the duet of quail, one marinated in raspberry, the other in balsamic vinegar. Both were delicious, especially the savory, slightly salty, vinegar version.

My partners complimented the penultimate course, an ample filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, but I found the that pressed duck demi-glaze it was drenched in a bit sweet and oniony for the meat.

Aiding and abetting these two feature courses were an amuse-bouche of onions and raspberry balsamic on homemade potato chip, a creole butternut squash soup (unparalleled for a cold winter night), and a salad of heirloom tomato, honey truffle cheese, and mango balsamic, each of which nourished a different cranny of our appetites. The night was capped with a trio of chocolate hazelnut truffles with espresso dust in a white chocolate whip. Gotta have chocolate.

The food had that most important additional aspect that sadly is missing from too many modern dining experiences: it tasted like it was made for us. This is an attribute beyond objective quality that is hard to define, yet you know it when you taste it. For me, this separates a merely adequate meal from a good or great one, whether it is haute cuisine or biscuits and gravy.

The wine pairings, five in all including dessert, were generally appropriate but our table unanimously gave thumbs down to the rigid, spare, and wooden Colorado chardonnay that accompanied the salad. The Argentinean malbec was popularly styled and would appeal to many and offend none. The real treat was a Valpolicella Ripassa, which was at once a rich, broad, ripe yet exceptionally dry mouthful. While the malbec worked with the quail and the Ripassa the filet, I would have made the opposite pairing to match sweet with sweet and dry with savory. Less intrepid or carefree diners might be better served by choosing something they know from the Bear's extensive wine list, which runs deep with Italian selections.

Choosing the Tasting Table means whiling away the better part of the evening, so bring along a conversationalist or someone pretty to look at. I did both. The service is unhurried yet prompt and delightfully informed, and dinner progresses at a pace only the upper classes used to enjoy and is rarely experienced nowadays. By the end we felt well fed and watered. While few have the time and money to do this sort of thing often, most can and should enjoy this little luxury on occasion. We will again.

The Black Bear Restaurant, 10375 Ute Pass Road, Green Mt. Falls. (719) 684-9684.

Dining critic candidate No. 46

There is something to be said about an eatery that has been around for thirty-one years, still going strong, and still in the family. Trivelli’s, started by mom and pop, is still cranking them out thanks to their two sons, John and Steve. The line of hungry patrons waiting patiently out the door during the lunch hour is a good indicator of what awaits you once inside. The menu is simple – Hoagies, nineteen to be exact which all can be ordered in 6” or 12” sizes. The hoagie rolls are always fresh, and the only way to explain the texture is perfectly chewable. Something about the east coast breads that are impossible to duplicate. (Can we say Jersey hard rolls?) The marinara sauce is a delectable family secret. Very mild and does not overwhelm the deliciously moist and tender meats it engulfs within so you who cannot tolerate tomato sauce, have no fear. They offer a mouthwatering Sausage Grinder which is sweet Italian sausage atop melted provolone cheese ($4.95 for 6” or $9.90 for 12”) The sausage is cooked to perfection and the sandwich is heated so as not to overcook the roll or burn the cheese. (How do they do that?) The Italian hoagie is equally scrumptious. Capacola ham, Genoa salami, provolone cheese, tomato, lettuce, onions, sweet cherry peppers, oil &spices. ($4.75 for 6” $9.50 for 12”) A friend of mine claims the Philly Cheese Steak is the tastiest menu item, thin sliced beef, American cheese and grilled onions. Yummy! Trivelli’s also offers vegetarian fare, chicken selections, and the Philly lite (half the cheese and half the meat).

They do have a chef salad (untried) and side salad with thin sliced lettuce like that on the sandwiches and topped with onion, black olives, and tomatoes. I say stick to the hoagies. You won’t be disappointed. You can wash it all down with a fountain drink or some freshly made sun tea. Friendly service with a smile, good prices, clean prep area and, fun décor (Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Bronco flags along with cute posters claiming non smoking seating area) The posters are especially comical because the seating consists of one table outside (better get there early), Murphy’s bar next door, or a bench at one of the local parks. Parking is available out front and they do deliver within a 3-mile radius. Enjoy!

Dining critic candidate No. 45

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

“Peso Little – Get So Much!”

Have you ever had one of those weeks where life kicks you around like a well-used soccer ball? That’s the time to forego adventures in dining and retreat to a comfortable place that won’t throw any unpleasant surprises at you – someplace like La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina.

Nestled in the heart of downtown Monument just north of Colorado Springs, La Casa Fiesta promises "Southern New Mexico style Mexican Food served in a warm, friendly family atmosphere." Whether you’re one of the many regulars or visiting La Casa Fiesta for the first time, the attentive staff will welcome you as if you were a part of their family. You can enjoy your meal in the cozy dining room, and when warm weather decides to return you can admire the mountain views from the open-air patio. It’s a great place to unwind after a tough day, or to bring out-of-town guests for a taste of small-town hospitality.

We visited La Casa Fiesta on a weekday evening. The place was pleasantly busy, but not nearly as crowded as it tends to be on the weekends. We were seated at once and immediately served a basket of warm, crisp tortilla chips accompanied by two versions of fresh, homemade salsa. Much as I enjoy this restaurant and all it has to offer, I find the salsa consistently disappointing. Granted, I have distinct salsa preferences, but on this visit the mild salsa resembled chunky tomato sauce dressed with a touch of undefinable seasoning. Still, it was an improvement over previous recipes that tasted like Campbell’s Tomato Soup sprinkled with a dash of garlic. The spicy salsa, usually ripe with hints of chile pepper, lime and fresh cilantro, was overpowered by diced white onions that rendered any other flavors indistinguishable. I didn’t see a flake of cilantro, and frankly, it just wasn’t that spicy.

No matter what your tastes are, you can find something to like on the widely varied menu. In addition to traditional Mexican fare, La Casa Fiesta offers several different salads (including shrimp salad), charbroiled New York strip, fish fillets and chicken strips. My Chicken Chimichanga arrived stuffed with tender, moist slow-cooked chicken that was lightly seasoned. The deep-fried tortilla was a little chewy and not as crisp as I would have liked, but it was still quite edible and tasty. The whole thing was topped with zesty green enchilada sauce and melted cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Fresh diced tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce and sour cream rounded out the plate.

My guest opted for the fish taco combination and declared it delicious. Presented in double flour tortillas, the tender and flavorful fish was served in a yogurt-based cream sauce. These tacos are usually topped with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo, which my guest asked to have served on the side – a wise decision in retrospect. Suffering the same fate as its spicy salsa cousin, the pico de gallo’s subtler flavors of green pepper, tomato and lime were obliterated in an ocean of onion. Smooth, yummy refried beans topped with melted cheeses and fluffy, light Spanish rice completed the fish taco combination.

Soft drinks, tea, and coffee are standard drink fare, but you can also order beer and mixed drinks from the bar. Margaritas are served by the glass or in a 32 oz. carafe, frozen or on the rocks, and are available in regular, strawberry or peach flavors. My guest ordered the standard house margarita and found it well mixed, neither too strong nor too weak.

Desserts include fried ice cream, sopapillas and apple chimi – all usually very good. We chose the flan and it was simply scrumptious. Firm without being overcooked, the smooth and creamy custard swam in a light caramel sauce that was neither scorched nor watery. Whipped cream and a hint of cinnamon complemented the already-full flavor. For a small extra charge you can add Kahlua or Bailey’s to the flan, which we’ve done before with wonderful results.

Families are always welcome at La Casa Fiesta. The little people in your group can choose either traditional Mexican dishes or favorites such as chicken fingers and French fries. And as indicated by the restaurant’s catchy slogan “Peso Little – Get So Much,” the prices won't break the family budget, either. Luncheon specials served between 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. average $6.00 - $8.00 each, and the larger dinner menu offers items ranging from $7.00 to $13.00.

La Casa Fiesta recently completed renovations that expanded the dining room area and added a large, covered patio for fair-weather dining – a smart move to accommodate the growing number of people who have discovered La Casa Fiesta and bring their families and friends back for return visits. Unfortunately, the expansion did not include enlarging the rather small parking lot. During peak hours you might have to park on the street, but the minor inconvenience will be well-rewarded by a down-home dining experience. Like the “regulars,” you’ll want to come back for more.

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

230 Front Street

Monument, Colorado

(719) 481-1234

Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily

Reservations: Available only for large groups.

Credit cards accepted: Master Card, Visa

Attire: Casual

Dining critic candidate No. 44


When you walk into Paravicini’s, you’re instantly surrounded in comfort. Glowing ocher walls, Andrea Bocelli softly serenading in the background, framed Italian posters, unobtrusive staff; all contribute to a feeling of ease as you’re seated.

My husband and I decided to follow the traditional style of Italian dining…seven courses! But before food, as always, a beer for him (this time Moretti) and a Pinot Grigio for me.

To begin our evening of gluttony, the antipasto (appetizer) we chose was the Mozzarella Caprese ($6.95), a classic Italian salad made of Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. The tomatoes were a bit lackluster, but we had unlimited access to the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and this presentation came with roasted red peppers and thinly sliced onions which was a nice twist on the traditional. Next, our primo (first course), was Baked Penne ($12.95), al dente pasta tossed with spicy, yes spicy!, Italian sausage, tomato sauce, onions and garlic. Since we like our saucy dishes dripping, we ordered an extra side of marinara and dug in. Soon we were dripping… marinara off our chins and heat off of our foreheads from the sausage! Most excellent.

With our tongues still tingling from the fiery primo, we ordered another round of beverages and were served our secondo (main dish). We selected a “Paravicini Original” called Chicken Valeria ($14.95). It is an ingenious concoction of the most tender sautéed chicken with big chunks of garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and mushroom sauce smothering a bed of angel hair pasta. It was melt-in-your-mouth-to-die-for. Our contorno (side dish), was the house salad: mixed greens, shredded carrot and cabbage, and croutons with oil and vinegar. No fuss in this salad, simple and pure and delightful. In Italy the contorno comes after the main course and is a cool light dish to temper your palate for what is to come next. Dolce! We all know that this means dessert, and for all that know me know that it’s my favorite part of the meal. We ordered the Biscotti Parfait ($5.25): layers of crumbled biscotti, vanilla ice cream, caramel, and a slight hint of hazelnut. Heaven.

We wound up the evening with decaf caffe and the ammazzacaffe, or liqueur, for us Frangelico to complement the hazelnut in the dessert. All in all, we had a magnifico experience. The pace was good, we never felt rushed, and the food was exceptional. Paravicini’s, which translated means “for the neighborhood”, is a restaurant that these two neighbors will definitely visit again.

Dining critic candidate No. 43

Restaurant Review - The Blue Star

Being new to Colorado Springs, I was pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant the caliber of The Blue Star my first week here. The restaurant is one minute west on Tejon off the Tejon-Nevada exit on I-25, easy to find, and with ample parking once you arrive. Valet parking is available Thursday to Saturday evenings.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant, a pleasant hostess immediately met us and gave us our choice of tables. Though there is a formal dining room (which seems less popular), we decided to sit in the bar area, which is very quaint and has comfortable booths and many tables to choose from. The atmosphere is quiet and romantic, lighting is dim, and music is quietly playing in the background. Within 30 seconds, Jennifer, one of the waitresses, brought us some white bean hummus and some crusty bread. Although the bread was a little dry, the hummus more than made up for it with a spectacular olive oil and pungent pepper as a base. Snacking on the hummus as we looked at the menu and the wine list, we made our selections for dinner. I was so impressed with not only the magnitude of the wine list, but the quality of the wine glasses. They are not the normal chintzy small glasses many restaurants use, but have large, gorgeous bowls so that you can easily smell the nose of the wine and appreciate the taste.

The menu changes every month, however there are certain selections that remain on the menu consistently, such as the salmon and flank steak. One can order from either the less expensive bar menu or from the somewhat pricier dining room menu selections. The wine list is one of the best, if not the best, in Colorado Springs. On Sundays, the wines are half price, and on Mondays, martinis are half price. We started out our dinner with a crab cake appetizer which was outstanding. Being from Maryland, I didn’t think anyone locally could compete with Maryland crab cakes, but James Davis, the executive chef at the Blue Star, has nailed this dish. The cakes were moist with all jumbo lump crab meat, little filler, and a phenomenal tarter sauce which was very pleasing to all of our palates.

I was able to taste all of the salads and was very impressed. Blue Star has a great selection, from a wedge salad with the freshest iceberg lettuce and crusty lean bacon to an excellent baby spinach salad with a sweet poppy seed dressing. My favorite was the mixed greens with walnuts and dried cherries; all of the salad portions are very large, easily shared by two.

As far as the entrees are concerned, Davis has perfected every aspect of food from seafood and chicken to veal and beef. We ordered the chicken marsala and it was as tender and flavorful as it could be. “The Butlers Did it Shrimp” was innovative and gently flavored with blue cheese, with very large shrimp; it was a little bit too rich, but that did not keep us from cleaning the plate. Davis makes a habit of naming certain menu items after people or places that have made an impact on him. My husband ordered the grilled flank steak with a crystallized ginger sauce and thought he died and went to heaven. The steak was tender and perfectly seasoned, with an Asian inspired sweet-soy marinade. The house mashers have to be the best mashed potatoes in the area – moist with a hint of garlic, and they just melt in your mouth. Worth every calorie!!!!!

There were numerous desserts to choose from, but the one that impressed my group most was the flourless chocolate torte. It was creamy, chocolaty, and melted in your mouth. It was a perfect end to a perfect night - a special combination with the decaf cappuccino. For lighter dessert fare, poached pears with blue cheese and numerous sorbets and ice creams were on the menu.

This is a fine restaurant, never a disappointment. One of the things that impressed me most about this restaurant besides the quality of the food was how personable the staff is. The hostess was warm and friendly; Joseph Coleman, the owner of the Blue Star, makes his rounds and talks to everyone, making one feel very welcome; the chef, James Davis, is absolutely the best, supervising the kitchen and visiting guests as well. His sous chefs, Andy and James, also make their rounds and are friendly; the bartenders, Cody and Julie, and the waitresses, including Jennifer and Kayla, are all experts in customer service.

When you leave the Blue Star, you feel like you just had a wonderful gourmet meal in an intimate atmosphere that rivals your home. One could not ask for anything more!

Dining critic candidate No. 42

Shanghai Cafe

(Yes, this appeared in the paper recently, as we'd asked notables in the community to fill in. The writer liked it so much, she wanted to be considered for the real job.)

The newest prominent gastronomic family in the Springs is named Tran. The Trans, who run Shanghai Cafe Chinese Cuisine, all did themselves proud for my family last Saturday night. As conductor of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, I felt the strong urge to compare what they do with what I do.
We were greeted by Daniel, the general manager, who doubles as a waiter. He was really
the concertmaster. Brother Richard is the co-manager. Another brother, Andrew, is the owner (sort of like the executive director); then Mama Jessica and Papa Kevin, the chefs (sort of like co-conductors).
Let the symphony begin:
The First Movement: The Appetizers!
We chose two: the crab rangoons ($4.25 for 6) and two egg rolls, a buck apiece. These were both outstanding with vivace bounce and freshness. The egg roll was the moistest I have ever had and was molto leggiero (light). Both vegetarian and pork egg rolls are available.
The Second Movement: The Soups!
Egg drop soup ($1.50). A standard, but this had a depth of flavor that made you take notice, like a fine oboe playing a perfect A 440.
War Wonton Soup ($5.25 for two). War? It simply means it’s with meat, Papa Kevin explained. The jumbo shrimp, snow peas and dumplings were to die for.
The Third Movement: The Entrees!
Any food critic worthy of the podium always asks the chef to recommend his house specialties, and boy, did he! We began with a Duel Combo with Scallops ($11.50); I challenge
you to find more tender scallops anywhere. Next was a Mongolian Beef ($7.75) — cut from the most tender flank steak, seasoned perfectly — followed by Seafood Combination ($11.50); and folks, you could SEE the seafood.
Our beautiful 9-year-old, Shea Small, chose Vegetable Lo Mein ($6.75) and remarked that it was the best she’d ever had. However, the overwhelming applause goes to Sesame Chicken ($7.50 and worth twice that price). It had strong overtones of caramelized heaven, which brought down the house.
The Finale: A tour of the kitchen (we were allowed to go backstage.) It was spotless, with state-of-the-art facilities and a most charming family.
My recommendation as maestro: dine in, take out or have a party catered, but don’t miss out on this fabulous experience. A standing ovation is indeed in order. Bravissimo!

Dining critic candidate No. 41

Barbeque at the Bird Dog

I’ve been hearing for weeks about Bird Dog BBQ so when I noticed the article inviting people to send in their reviews I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see what the fuss was all about. I looked up the address on the Internet, called a friend to meet me there and off I went on a barbeque adventure. The restaurant is in a strip mall, and although I might be leery of eating some foods in a strip mall, the best barbeque can sometimes be found in the least likely places.

I opened the door and was greeted with the wonderful smell of smoked meats, which immediately put me at ease. If you’re love barbeque you know what I mean. Upon entering I noticed that this was a counter service establishment. I hadn’t been prepared for that, but I’m a girl who can roll with the punches. The upside of counter service is that you don’t have to worry about bad table service. The restaurant has a smallish dining room with seating for about 64 at both tables and booths. The booths were handmade and if you go there and sit at one you’ll know what I mean. The tables are covered with pictures of customers’ dogs which helps to give the place a welcoming, neighborhood feel. There were a couple of TVs on showing reruns of Seinfield which was a nice change from the usual sporting events offered at every other place with a TV.

On to the food; pay attention people this is the important part!

The menu is chock full of your barbeque standards: pulled pork, chopped or sliced brisket, ribs, baked beans, cole slaw as well as a couple of surprises such as prime rib and a Shotgun Spud (baked potato overflowing with chopped brisket). For this visit I kept to the tried and true standards. I ordered the 3-meat plate to get as broad a picture as possible for this article. I chose pulled pork, turkey and ribs with sides of fried okra and coleslaw. My dining companion ordered hot links, sliced brisket and half a chicken with sides of baked beans and a baked potato. Our plates were handed to us at the cash register and upon seeing them we knew we had over done it. There were mountains of meat and sides on each plate!

All the meats were moist and tender, and were served dry (without sauce) allowing the customer to use as much or as little of either the hot or mild homemade barbeque sauces. The ribs were smoky, flavorful and nearly fell off the bone. The meat was blackened on the outside and pink on the inside like any good smoked meat. The meat on this pork rib was so tender that it nearly melted in your mouth. The ribs were succulent and perfect. I’m not a big chicken person because generally I find chicken dishes to be overcooked and dry. This chicken however was the most moist and tender I have ever tasted. The subtle smoky flavor was an enhancement of the chicken, it did not take over and distract from the texture and juiciness of the meat itself. The hot links were impeccable, spicy but not overwhelming and bursting with flavor; probably the best I‘ve had. I’ve tried hot links at barbeque places from Colorado to Memphis and these were outstanding. The pulled pork and brisket were more than acceptable however I would have preferred them on a sandwich instead of as entrée items. Neither Meat lacked anything but there were more interesting menu offerings. Of all the meats we tried the turkey was the only let down. While it was juicy and tender, it was really lacking any distinct flavor. This was disheartening as everything else had been so consistently pleasing. All the meats were very flavorful, tender and juicy as served. Customers having control of their own barbeque sauce means one never has to worry about the sauce overpowering or drowning the meats.

The homemade barbeque sauce is offered in both mild and hot. Each sauce has a thick, sweet molasses base a little bit of tangy and a hint of spice, with the hot sauce offering a bit more spice. Neither sauce is vinegar based so if that’s your idea of the ideal sauce this isn’t for you. The sauces are thick enough to coat, but not thick enough to cover the meats. I found the sauces perfect and rotated my way though both with each bite as I couldn’t decide which I preferred.

In any meal the side orders are as important as the entrees. A great entrée can be suffer when surrounded by sides that are not complimentary or are lacking in flavor and personality. The baked potato was medium sized and not over or under done. It comes with butter, sour cream, cheese or any combination of these. There’s nothing special here, it’s just a baked potato, but it was cooked well and is complimentary and that counts. The baked beans were tangy, and delicious with chunks of pork baked in for additional flavor. The sauce for the beans was thick and at the same time both sweet and spicy. My companion enjoyed them so much that for most of his meal he dipped his meats into the baked beans instead of using any of the wonderful barbeque sauce provided. The fried okra was good, but not as exciting or delicious as it would have been made from scratch. Next time I visit I will order a different side, I prefer something a little more exciting than I found the okra to be. The coleslaw was wonderful. Recommended by an employee at the counter, it was creamy and sweet with loads of cabbage and carrots.

The only really disappointing part of our meal was the Texas Toast that is included with each order. It was not as thick or tasty as real Texas Toast, but was rather the same size, consistency and flavor as inexpensive sandwich bread. I could have lived without the bread and never missed it.

With all that we tasted we had no room for desert. They offer a peach or apple cobbler and brownies without nuts each for only $1.00. I don’t feel too bad about missing dessert because is gives us a reason to go back.

The service as mentioned above is counter service, however even counter service boils down to service. The quality of service here was hit or miss. While placing our original orders the service was prompt and informative, if not overly friendly. Later, I went to request to-go containers and I had to compete for attention, not with other customers but with employees. This is a common problem in a great deal of businesses, when service staff gets distracted talking to friends or co-workers the service level takes a hit. I made a third trip up to the counter to get portion cups to take some barbeque sauce for our leftovers and ended up helping myself to them rather than wait any longer for an employee to provide them.

Overall, I found Bird Dog BBQ to be a clean, fast barbeque joint. The service is quick and the food is flavorful. Portion sizes should satisfy nearly everyone, with most taking home leftovers. Pricing is comparable with other barbeque restaurants in the Colorado Springs area with sandwiches from $ 4.25 to $5.50, dinner plates $ 9.75 to $11.00, drinks $1.25, beer $2.50 - $3.50 and desserts $1.00. My experience was enjoyable and I would go back when in the mood for a quick lunch or dinner. If you like barbeque you should go visit the folks at Bird Dog BBQ.

Bird Dog BBQ offers catering, kids meals, family meals and meats by the pound.

Bird Dog BBQ

5984 Stetson Hills Blvd Suite 200

Monday – Saturday 11:00am – 9:00pm

Sunday 11:00am - 8:00pm

Credit cards and cash welcome

Checks are not accepted

Dining critic candidate No. 40


When my friend, a skilled but amateur BBQist from Texas, came to visit recently I knew there was only one place to go for dinner; Birddog BBQ. I felt obliged to show my visiting friend that great BBQ can indeed exist outside of the BBQ obsessed Lone Star state. And exist it did. At least it did before we devoured it all.

Located at 5984 Stetson Hills Boulevard, Birddog BBQ has many different items, but they mostly fall into two categories; meat and sides. Of the meat, they serve pork ribs, beef brisket, turkey breast, chicken halves, hot links, polish sausage, pulled pork, prime rib and chicken tenders. Aside from the chicken tenders (which are frozen and fried), all of the meats are expertly prepared and smoked on site by one of the two owners, Neal Ellis and Brad Cleveland, or a trusted employee trained in the sacred arts of BBQ. Birddog BBQ uses oak and not the typical hickory or mesquite. The result is a succulent, uniquely flavored meat tender enough to eat with your fingers and delicious enough to eat without either one of Birddog BBQ’s two delicious BBQ sauces.

Of course, just because you can eat it without sauce does not mean you have to. Birddog BBQ’s mild sauce is flavorful without being overbearing, just sweet enough to enhance the smoky flavor of the meat but far from saccharine. Their hot sauce, my personal favorite, is spicy enough to make you notice without being painful.

For sides, Birddog BBQ offers fried okra, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, coleslaw, potato salad, French fries and baked beans. Be warned though, not all sides are created equal. Prepared early and left to sit in a warmer tray, Birddog’s steak fries can be soggy and stale. Also, the corn on the cob is boiled, not roasted, which makes it taste a little bland, not to mention visually unappealing when compared to the rich colors and textures of other items. Instead of fries or corn, get the beans prepared with Birddog’s own sauces and hearty chunks of beef brisket. And with those beans, grab an order of coleslaw or potato salad. These are real BBQ sides and Birddog’s are delicious.

All of these items can be ordered individually, by the pound for catering or, the best deal, as part of a plate. For $9.75 you get two sides and one meat of your choice. For the hungry, add $1 and get one more meat. And for the ultimate BBQ lover (or just someone wanting leftovers) add $2 and get two more meats. With each plate a nice piece of Texas toast is complimentary. Additionally, Birddog offers sandwiches and what they have dubbed the ‘shotgun spud’ – a baked potato piled high with brisket, pulled pork or turkey.

A note for the New Year’s dieters – use the sauce sparingly on one of these spuds and you have a delicious way to get a high protein BBQ fix without all the fat.

The dining area of Birddog BBQ is simple and clean in a fashion that matches their cafeteria style serving bar. However, I recommend that you get Birddog to go. Unlike so many other restaurants offering to-go orders that get cold by the time you get home and then can not be reheated without significant damage to taste and texture, Birddog is juicy and tender enough to taste almost as delicious heated up in your oven at home as it is served fresh. By doing this, you can put your elastic waistband pants on (the ones you’d never wear outside the house) and dig right in without having to worry about wiping your face and fingers in between each bite – what a waste of valuable BBQ eating time that would be!

Dining critic candidate No. 39

One hemisphere out of two ain’t bad

Plate World Cuisine impresses—in the Western World, anyway

Several stars or thumbs or something


What is “world cuisine”? Can a restaurant have an accurate sampling of food from around the entire world? A restaurant in Colorado? Springs?

I ask myself these questions as I drive two and a half hours to the Springs from my home in Fort Collins. I don’t know what to expect—flags? Will Plate World Cuisine look like something of a model United Nations? Will higher-end items be on a part of the menu called “The Security Council”?

Then, after two hours hating my CD collection and wishing I had the radio thing for my iPod, I find it. Plate is nestled between a Conoco station, something the sign calls “Diet Center”, a massage clinic, and a $1.89 cleaners. And a coffee shop. And other things.

I enter. No flags.

I am greeted by Walter Iser (know Walter’s Bistro? Yeah, same guy), Plate’s very hands-on owner, who, seeing I am alone, suggests I sit at the bar.
Already parched from the drive, and made even thirstier by fascinating waterfall-type things cascading behind the bar, I am in need of strong drink. I order a Bombay Sapphire martini ($8)—up, with bleu-cheese-stuffed olives.

The martini is good, but what I’m noticing is the olives. Bleu-cheese-stuffed olives are somewhat of an obsession for me, and these ones are to be commended. They literally overflow with what Tony the bartender informs me is Roquefort.

The bar is relaxing. Blues and greens span the walls. The bar itself accommodates about twenty, I’d assume, and there are three tables behind me, and a large nook-type area to my left with bench-couch things and lots of cushions.

It’s a good night, business-wise, for Plate. That’s saying something, since it’s 7pm on a Wednesday. The crowd is an interesting mix of people who my mind is only describing right now as “power brokers” in tailored suits and pastel-colored power ties, and people far less dressed, if you will—I’m not exactly dressed to impress in an Old Navy button-up and some Adidas, and I don’t feel out of place. The guy down the bar is wearing a t-shirt.

Speaking of the guy in the t-shirt, he is eating—something that looks amazing—which reminds me that I, too, am here to eat food. At the bar I get two menus—the bar menu and the whole restaurant menu. The bar menu is appetizers—some of which you can’t get on the restaurant menu, like the Bistro Steak ($10) and the Kobe Cheeseburger ($10) (I don’t try either of these, and that decision still haunts my dreams).

The restaurant menu, while it has no flags, is like a spreadsheet. The columns are the food categories (New American, French, Spanish/Latin American, Japanese, and Italian), while the rows are courses (appetizers, salads, entrees).

I decide, for my first taste, on the Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops ($11). Served in a shallow puddle of lobster and corn succotash (not unlike corn chowders I’ve had), the scallops are done perfectly—crunchy crust on the outside and still a little raw in the middle—something not that easy to do. Garnished with what I think is watercress, the dish is stunning in appearance.

The corn flavor and the chunks of lobster in the succotash mesh perfectly with the scallops—a delicate balance which leaves the seafood at the forefront of all flavors present.

In the interest of trying more things for less money—money I don’t technically have (I really should not be given a credit card)—I decide on another appetizer. Thinking Plate describes itself as “World Cuisine” deliberately, I decide to try Japanese: the Pork and Lobster Gyoza ($8).

And I’m afraid my complaint is here. The gyoza doesn’t really knock me off my stool the way the scallops did. The dumplings aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. I eat them all. But they also aren’t extraordinary. They are under-stuffed, and I can’t seem to find any of the advertised lobster.

If it wasn’t for the outstanding quality of the scallops before them, I might not be thinking unspectacular thoughts about the dumplings at all. But that’s what makes me think that perhaps the “World Cuisine” concept is a little bit far-fetched.

But again, I don’t hate the dumplings; I don’t want them to die. I’m not writing Plate off. We’ll get through this.

To finish my evening with Tony the bartender, who’s providing me excellent service and more water then the glass is only half-done, I order the Caesar Salad ($6), which is, to me, the ultimate litmus test for any restaurant. No one ever wins, because I’m comparing them all with my mother’s—it’s more of a question of how close they come.

Plate’s version is sizely, and beautiful. It is garnished with two amazingly high-quality anchovy filets (I’ve never found anchovies with silver sides in stores) making an “x” on the top. The dressing is good, better than most restaurants’ attempts at Caesar. The croutons are not impressive—they are little, and don’t do much for the salad.

This is hardly a comprehensive critique of Plate; I didn’t even try an entrée. But I can say that I know Plate does things well, like the scallops and the Caesar. I saw other diners eating things I wanted to steal from them.

If I lived in the Springs, I would eat at Plate as much as my income would allow. I guess my advice, though, would be to stick with the “Western World,” as opposed to the Japanese cuisine on the menu.

To sum up, though, Gazette readers can know that Plate is worth checking out—I was more than pleased with my experience, four-and-a-half-hour round trip and all.

Dining critic candidate No. 38

Gold Tooth Annie’s Restaurant in Fountain, CO

You know how it is when you see a friend that you’ve missed for years, and the conversation picks up easily from the last time you met?

It’s familiar and comforting, yet exciting and mixed with a chorus of anticipation.

In Fountain, that old friend came back to its downtown with the long awaited re-emergence of The Original Gold Tooth Annie’s. A sign had announced for weeks its return to the flabby and lifeless restaurant choices in this 18,000-member community south of Colorado Springs. For Fountain, dining out has centered mostly on delivery pizza and a handful of chain food meccas along the Highway 85-87 corridor.

And then, Gold Tooth’s re-appeared after a six-year sabbatical, and the scent of Michael Hudgins’ barbecue became Thursday night’s fragrant perfume that everyone seemed destined to wear. The smoking meat gets its start early on Thursdays and by 5 p.m. – when the downtown City Hall has to peel the aphrodisiac smell from inside its office walls – the frenzy of barbecue begins for a limited three hours. Get there early and the meat has a nice chew to the bone; by 8 p.m. it simply slides off the ribcage. At Gold Tooth Annie’s it’s no marketing slogan: you really CAN have it your way.

BBQ is as personal as Mexican food tastes. It kinda depends on where your roots were planted when you first tasted its flowery ambrosia. Dry rub or wet. Sweet sauce or spicy. Texas or Tennessee. Beef or pork. Gold Tooth’s has a day-long smoking that gives it that prideful Western states flavor. There’s none of that cooking in sauce all day ending up with a piece of meat that lacks flavor. Instead, the Gold Tooth platter of ribs is respected in its own right (that means naked with hours-long smoking and dry rub spices) and served with a gusty sauce spooned alamode or on the side. The star of the smoker are two – not just one - five-rib portions per platter for the half order (full order also available) at a price that makes you feel honored to take a ten-spot from your wallet.

But if gnawing on a rib is too messy for your five year old or intimidating for a first date jitters, then try the combo plate. It’s a civilized way to enjoy Michael’s smokin’ and spiced chicken, brisket and sausage. While ribs taste best with a bit of chew, brisket should be enjoyed with only the pressure of a fork to spear the bite sized morsels. A great brisket is simply that tender, and Gold Tooth Annie’s has laid claim to the definition of tender. The combo plate has a bit more sauce when served – a truly appreciated covering that has a nice earthy touch and not a sticky sweet, molasses laden concoction made popular in the Southeast. But like noted before, BBQ is a personal thing based on where your mamma grew you up. Our only advice: take a walk on the Colorado/Texas side and give Gold Tooth your full sensory attention. You might as well succumb, since the perfume will last on your hands, your clothes and emerge from your pores throughout the night. But what a way to fall asleep without Ambien.

The thing about Gold Tooth’s is that barbecue is only a once a week treat. On Friday, the menu gives prime rib the nod and the rest of the week is less structured. Leila Hudgin just cooks what she feels like cooking that day. You could get a hamburger at any time (and I imagine they are great on the fresh baked honey wheat bun) but walk past the hand-lettered sign outside the restaurant and you will see what is cooking – and baking – that evening. Meatloaf. Catfish. Pork Tenderloin. It’s like stepping into Leila’s kitchen at home. She is the chef in the Gold Tooth twosome. A woman who treats home cooking with a reverence for the simplicity and flavor of food she learned from her growing up years in Salt Lake City. Mormons are simply some of the best cooks in this country. Michael grew up in Colorado Springs and when they opened the first Gold Tooth’s it exploded on the Fountain culinary-starved scene. But make no mistake. Fountain knows good food. They consume some of the best when traveling up to the Springs. It’s just nice to have it back in their own hometown again.

The Hudgins loved their baby they initially birthed in downtown Fountain, then Leila became ill and she has fought a personal battle with leukemia for a couple of years. The return of Gold Tooth Annie’s is her victory over illness.

A specialty chicken salad in a tomato cup brings lunch goers from all over. It’s delicate flavor is not overshadowed by heavy mayonnaise dressings or too pungent curries as it often found in many competitors. It’s not overpowered by grapes and nuts and apples and celery and all the other filler ingredients used in lesser concoctions that call themselves chicken salad. No, this actually gets it’s flavor from chicken – moist, fresh, light chicken and a little celery in a tomato that solicits a comment for its actual tomato flavor. And when you pay the $5.95 for Leila’s Chicken Salad Stuffed Tomato, you get a homemade fresh baked roll of the day.

Leila can also bake.

Her baked goods make Gold Tooth’s a continual gratifying treat. The homemade fruit pies have crusts that flake under fork pressure and the carrot cake makes you glad that someone has finally discovered a way to make veggies a sweet, moist ending to a meal instead of a dry, lard laden afterthought. Yes, five servings a day of carrots can taste good.

Dessert should always be enjoyed as the indulgence that it is, and Leila’s baked goods make you remember that indulgence is never bad when the cream puff is shared among friends.

Location: Downtown Fountain at 108 West Ohio.

Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Sunday Closed. Everyone needs a rest!

Phone: 382-9378

Specialty: Those wonderful white styrofoam take out boxes. Good Tooth’s is so good and so plentiful you can’t eat it all and you want to savor some for later. Officially the menu states their specialty is “home cooked meals and fresh baked breads where no one is a stranger.”

Menu Choices: Burgers, salads, sandwiches and homemade soups are always on the menu but the evening entrée changes daily. Call ahead to see what’s cooking or make it a surprise and walk on in.