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 fa├žade 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel asleep before I got to the actual review... ZZZZZZZZZ...

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Submission Reviewer said...

Good location and atmosphere description although a bit wordy at the beginning and good food and wine descriptions. The review makes it seem like there are no ala carte items, although I am sure there must be. No standard menu pricing listed and no hours mentioned. Too much focus on their own selections instead of what is available.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like someone's got a thesaurus.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Art Buono said...

Thanks for the comments. I agree. The lead was weak. I should have sampled more items (or made my wife and our guest order something different). I also like words; for the record I did not use a syllabus but this could have been tighter. The tone is probably too sentimental, but I'm not a real fan of the hip/ironic/sarcastic style.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous art buono said...

Uh, that would be thesaurus, not syllabus.

1:11 PM  

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