Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dining Guide feedback

Reviews on our 2nd Annual GO! Dining Guide have been mixed.

One of the most heated criticisms was this online post:

All Vietnamese people in the US are Anti-Communist and we're here bacause of Communist. We're not happy to see Communist flag on Dining Guide. Since there is small community of Vietnamese here in this town, if not there will be a demonstration against this Dining Guide. Please find and watch "Journey from the Fall" movie to see how Communist Party treated us when they took over Vietnam.
no rating
-Anti-Communist 11/28/07 08:40:19 AM

We certainly didn't mean to promote communism. We merely ran flags from the countries that correspond to the cuisine. The communist Vietnamese flag IS the Vietnamese flag now. On the other hand, I recognize how the local Vietnamese places have strained to distance themselves from the current regime, with names like Saigon Grill, Saigon Cafe, Saigon Stars. Nobody's opening a Ho Chi Minh City Noodle Bowls anytime soon.

But what's the politically sensitive newspaper to do? Drop the flag motif entirely? Use the old South Vietnamese flag? What do you think?


Dave Lux, founder of Concept Restaurants, found it disturbing that so many local dining institutions, including his own Jose Muldoon's, but also Oscar's on Tejon, Tony's, Dos Hombres, SouthSide Johnny's and the Stagecoach didn't make the guide.

I love the new Jose remodel, but we think the food needs more of a makeover. The others were fairly close to making the list, and each has its merits but somehow fell short.

Dave Symonds, owner of the Craftwood and the Stagecoach, took a very positive approach, glad that his Craftwood made the guide again. And he wanted to know what the Stagecoach could do to raise its game to make the list next year.

Symonds and Lux know a lot more about the restaurant business than we do, and I wouldn't presume to tell them how to improve their business models. (I think both of them have done rather brilliantly in that regard.)

Food ... this is a subjective thing. But I think most people who tried to fried chicken at Barney's would find it better (and quite a bit cheaper) than the fried chicken at the Stagecoach. And while people rave about the top-shelf margaritas and the atmosphere at Jose's, does anybody love the food?

Maybe they do. What do you think?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Reason to stop in Ames, Iowa

I have this habit of structuring all my driving trips around food. When we go to visit the inlaws in Iowa, I usually like to go through Kansas City so I can stop at Jack Stack (a place that inspired and helped Randy Price get Slayton's going.)

But this Thanksgiving, we took the northern route through Nebraska and figured the food would be ho-hum... until we discovered the phenomenal eatery, The Cafe in Ames, Iowa.

I had a beef brisket with cheese sandwich that may be the best sandwich I ever had. Manchego and asiago cheeses blended perfectly with the grilled onions and tender beef. My youngest son had a grilled cheese that was filled with apple slices and cheddar. Mmmm.

I'd go way out of my way for this place.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Talking turkey

Looking for a place for a Thanksgiving meal that you don't have to cook? Here are some suggestions: Stagecoach Inn, Edelweiss, Doubletree Hotel, Briarhust, Home Town Buffet, Golden Corral, The Ritz, MacKenzie's.

Of course, I'm open to other suggestions.

Catch of the day

Colorado Springs will be once-again getting a high-end seafood restaurant. We need one. The best seafood restaurant in town right now is English Dockside, which is good, but it's a low-end fried fish joint.

Victor Matthews of Black Bear fame will open Palapa’s Surfside Island Dining on South Carefree and Powers (where Andy McCarthy's was).

He says he plans to flying in fresh fish daily.

We've seen so many seafood places come and go ... so great, some not-so-great.

My favorite was Academy Street Grill at Academy and Vickers. It looked like it belonged in Miami, with its clean white decor, punctuated with giant salt-water fish tanks. The fish and other seafood were fabulous.

Some others we've had: Fins, Chicago Joes/The Fish Market, Sarasota's, Pelicans ... am I forgetting any?

I have high expectations for Palapa's.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Adam's room service?

I got a tour of the new spa building in Manitou last weekend. This place is going to be so cool. First of all, there's a new Manitou General Store open there that serves Boulder Ice Cream, which may be the best ice cream in the world. There are plans for a winery, Divine Wines, complete with a tasting room, nearby.

The lofts themselves are small, urban chic one-bedrooms and come with a very sweet amenity: free room service from Adam's Mountain Cafe.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bear with me on the Black Bear

The Black Bear may be the hardest restaurant I've ever tried to rate. Why? Because it makes no sense. It's a roadhouse dive bar and some of the most inventive haute cuisine around. It is dingy and tacky and exciting and wonderful. It is one of a very few places I always want to go back to.
Now... whenever I write a review, we hear from readers who have had a very different experience. If I say it was good, they say it was terrible. If I hate it, they love it. And most of the time, they have good reason. We probably are having very different experiences. No critic can be omniscient. We can only go by our experience.
Here's how my reviewing experience usually works. I go anonymously to the restaurants, without anyone knowing the place is being reviewed. I always bring at least one other person, and I always go at least twice. I try to keep my trap shut about what I think, letting the other diners decide for themselves.
Sometimes we all really like a place. Sometimes we all really hate it. Much of the time, it's a mix. We like some things, and others a totally average, or noticeably bad. How do you rate something like that?
Well, we don't have a checklist of 230 items like Mobil Travel Guide. It comes mostly from subjective comparison with other area restaurants, in terms of food, service, setting, value, and overall experience.

Critics can get a hard time from readers for giving restaurants a hard time. When it comes to writing a restaurant up, the toughest challenge is to overcome the urge to hem and haw. Believe it or not, I'm a very polite, nice guy, who generally wants people to succeed. I don't like to make a fuss. As a civilian, I've never sent a plate back in my life. But what good is encouragement and euphemism in a review, or a reviewer? You come up with literary mush. The idea is, after all, to let diners know whether it's worth going or not, and what they can expect. That's what I try to do. It's as simple as it is difficult: did you like it? and why?

So, what did I do with the Black Bear. Well, my three visits convinced me that the food is excellent. Really excellent. The service was helpful and nice. It's not what you'd find in Manhattan, but on par with anything on Highway 24. The setting is just plain odd. I give it top ratings for food. A middling rating for everything else, but in the end, it's still one of my favorite places.

Shot at the Bear!

Nathaniel Glen's review of the Black Bear Restaurant in Green Mountain Falls read like it was written by Victor Matthews, not a legitimate critic. I find it shocking that Glen would give four and a half stars to ANY restaurant that has the deficiencies of the Black Bear. Sure, some of the food is good. Some of it is even, on occasion, as good as Matthews thinks it is. However, it can be dreadful: two examples from the last time I ate there were a soup so salty it couldn't be eaten, and a chocolate mousse that tasted like canned chocolate frosting.

The servers are poorly trained, pushy, and not very responsive. I realize it's hard to find trained servers willing to work in Green Mountain Falls, but this important failure should impact the rating. And no wine list? When the help is untrained? Good grief!

Perhaps Glen has low standards, but I rely on the Gazette to tell me what to expect, especially if I'm going to drive a good distance and pay top prices. His readers should have been told that the bathrooms are filthy; that a decor he calls quirky includes dining chairs that are so uncomfortable they're a constant distraction; that dining patrons will be entertained by loud (and sometimes profane) bar noises; that a fat bartender in a dirty shirt often walks through the dining room to the kitchen; and, that they should examine their cutlery and glasses before eating or drinking. (Surely the bar patron I encountered vomiting in the dirty bathroom sink was a one-time thing.)

If Glen's review had been more honest, had he tempered his breathless praise with the sharp eye of the critic he wants to be, he would have accomplished several things. Most importantly, Victor Matthews might have taken steps to improve his restaurant. First-time customers would be better informed and less likely to lose faith in Gazette reviews. And I wouldn't have been awakened this morning by the sound of Ute Pass residents snorting coffee out of their noses when they read his fantasy review of the Black Bear.

Your thoughts?

Kelley Sanderson

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dining guide is coming!

Our Second Annual GO! Dining Guide will hit the stands on Nov. 21. It'll be more inclusive than last year, with 150 restaurants: fine dining, casual, you name it.

I've put on a few pounds doing research, which ticks me off because Nate and Teresa haven't gained an ounce.

But I don't expect your sympathy. Nobody feels bad for you when you SIMPLY MUST go out to eat every night.

Still, consider this: We ate at a lot of bad places so you don't have to.

The really bad restaurants won't make the guide. The restaurants in the guide are all places we recommend.


Not all of these places are perfect. Consider Jake & Telly's or Amanda's Fonda. Order on the low end of those menus and you'll get simply average gyros and tacos. Go for the chef specialties, which can be a bit pricey, and you'll be glad you splurged.

And speaking of splurging ... how about that Perose Room at The Broadmoor!

Five diamonds from AAA is quite a feat. I believe it will be the first restaurant in the Rocky Mountain region to ever get AAA's highest grade.

Consider: No restaurants in Aspen. None in Santa Fe.

But we have one right here in Colorado Springs. That's really a phenomenal thing.

Nate and his family went to The Penrose Room a couple of months ago and his meal was outstanding and flawless.

My only concern is that getting the five diamonds will encourage The Broadmoor to jack up the prices so high none of us mortals will ever be able to eat there when we're not on an expense account.

Of course you'll find The Penrose Room and plenty of other fabulous spots in our GO! Dining Guide.

Let me know what you think about it.

By the way, here are some reader comments on The Penrose Room story today.

Too bad our community cannot strive for excellence like the Broadmoor and improve the living conditions. I sure the fat cats will love this overpriced restaurant while thousands go to community pantries and soup kitchens. Woo Hoo for the Broadmoor, bring us some real news.

John Boy - Nov 07, 2007 08:07:19 AM Remove Comment

Timing-wise, if The Broadmoor were truly integrated with the community, they would have worked with The Gazette to have Teresa Farney announce it in The Gazette. Teresa has consistently been a champion of the work of local chefs. The Broadmoor has always been conflicted over whether they are part of The Springs or whether they just happen to be inconveniently surrounded by The Springs.

Gastronomer - Nov 07, 2007 07:08:22 AM Remove Comment

The Broadmoor gets more publicity and they will use it to justify asking Colorado Springs for a MILLION dollars to subsidize the seniors golf tournament next summer.

gw - Nov 07, 2007 06:28:23 AM Remove Comment

wow, quite a feather in our town's cap. hopefully we can get another one in the near future.

town crier - Nov 07, 2007 04:53:57 AM Remove Comment

Wow. I sure wish I could afford that 5 diamond cookin'.

millersinpockets - Nov 07, 2007 01:48:18 AM Remove Comment

So, the Broadmoor has scheduled the announcement for Thursday. Guess that the Gazette has stolen the thunder from that announcement by putting the news in the paper ahead of time, eh? Good going Gazette, nothing like deflating the pomp and circumstance.

Merlot Maiden - Nov 06, 2007 11:20:29 PM Remove Comment

Congratulations. We have dined there and it is truly remarkable. The chocolate souffle for dessert is heavenly. Me and my wife like to go there for our anniversary, what a treat it is.

Way to go - Nov 06, 2007 09:16:58 PM Remove Comment