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Decadent design at moZaic

Appetite

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While spots like Sunbird or the Pepper Tree boast of beautiful city views that come via hilltop, moZaic goes au naturel, offering all the beauty of Palmer Lake's bluffs, plateaus and copses of pine.

It's also offers something of a new look, with chef Scarlett Farney — who has cooked at every restaurant the Broadmoor has, and whose mother Teresa is the food editor at the Gazette — remaking the lunch and dinner menus, not to mention the entire kitchen staff, after taking over the seven-year-old restaurant last October.

Regarding the cooks, "It's not that I had to [replace them], but a lot of men in this industry — who wants to work for a woman, right? Especially a female exec," she says sarcastically, while prepping for that night's service. "So they're wusses, so they left."

While a lot of that fearless confidence comes through during an impressive dinner visit, it's a bit missing at lunch. Take the blasé steak wrap ($12): The usual base of tortilla, lettuce and tomato is there, but if the small, graying chunks of meat taste like U.S. Prime, then I'm the next pope. (Great onion rings, though.)

Or the bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($12), which felt further along in effort, but came with some sticky, clear-ish yet gravy-ish, stuff that reminded me of microwavable Salisbury steak. And there wasn't much wrong with a turkey melt ($9), with Brie and a skewer of peppers and olives, but it was all so mild that a butter-rich sourdough seemed the highlight.

Only the crab cakes ($13), two deep patties laden with chunks of backfin, felt like a main event, with their celery crunch; sides of caper sauce and sherry vinaigrette; and a simple, knockout salad of fresh greens. A side of spicy red-bean soup, with grilled red peppers in a loose broth, was equally delicious.

Then we were bowled over at dinner. It was the responsive staff — the hostess takes your name and phone number in case you forget anything — the food, and the feel of the restaurant itself.

By day, the dining room comes off a little like a hotel lobby, not least because it's wide; filled with teals, yellows and easy listening classics; and actually serves as the check-in for those staying at the adjoining Inn at Palmer Divide. But nighttime brings intimacy and nearly perfect everything.

There might be a handful of restaurants in the area that serve an amuse bouche, and moZaic is one. Our gratis kiss was a fluffy little potato cake stacked with Southwestern spice and a touch of cream on top. Then came the duck-confit Tessera Grilled Cheese ($8), a sandwich-and-tomato-soup knock-off that featured bacon-onion marmalade, smoked Gouda and a sunshine-bright romesco sauce to cut it all. That appetizer nearly made up for the pear salad ($5), a severe miscalculation with its melted bleu cheese and reduced balsamic — heat multiplied the funk of the cheese, and the fruit's poaching flattened its flavor.

At dinner, Farney's meats were a revelation. The Colorado lamb chops ($22), with a hint of maple, were a perfectly purple medium-rare, with thick edgings of fat that could almost stand up on their own, and a side of beautifully firm risotto laced with mustard and grape. And the gorgeous trio of cocoa pork-loin chops ($26)? More tender than the Lord's mercy.

bryce@csindy.com

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