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Rasta Pasta

405 N. Tejon St., 481-6888, rastapastacs.com

Our reggae-rooted noodle stop just turned three, and its simple Italo-Caribbean charm persists: As comfort food goes, it's hard to beat garlic bread, pasta and a beer.

We tried two new-to-us plates: the seafood Alfredo ($15.95) and best-selling chicken Montego Bay ($13.95), each with substituted gluten-free penne ($1.50 extra). That pasta holds a nice, firm texture, and in the Montego it's met with pineapple and chicken chunks plus basil and intermittent bits of broccoli, cabbage, peppers and celery, all seared in white wine then finished with Alfredo sauce. It's fine, but practically insipid next to the creamier, heavier seafood plate with pieces of shrimp, crab and clams. That one has a hearty fish sauciness to it, and ours would have been perfect but for sand flecks that kept grinding in our teeth. (Spit out by the clams, I presume.) Side query: Is there a food that doesn't taste better paired with Bristol's Mass Transit Ale? — Matthew Schniper

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Castaways

107 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-3300, castawaysinn.com

It's hard to reconcile tales of Castaways' prior prominence with the dinner I suffered through recently. While the restaurant's nautical effects are sort of charming in a Casa-Bonita-meets-Jack-Sparrow kind of way, it's all a little oppressive when the restaurant's dark and empty; it's a skeleton staff; and you can't really hear your soft-spoken server over the sounds of calypso and the waterfall in the lobby.

But the food we had was leagues worse. The broiled red trout ($14.95) came topped with hazelnuts turned black under the broiler, while the fish was a mix of dry and pretty dry; the mixed vegetables had been boiled to death, causing the colors to leach into pale approximations; and the cheese on the twice-baked potato was more like indestructible garlic gum. (I had to spit it out.) The popcorn shrimp ($5.95) seemed at least palatable, but it was difficult to dent the shiny, gelatinous cocktail sauce. — Bryce Crawford

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Paradox Beer Company

106 E. Village Terrace, #100, Woodland Park, 686-8081, paradoxbeers.com

A fun paradox indeed: My tasting notes contrast those of our respected beer-migos at Focus on the Beer. But the complexity and overall success of the Candid Kaiser Project American Pale Ale (around $11, 750 ml) aren't in question. Brewer Jeff Aragon acknowledges the subjective nature of tastes while emphasizing his "wayward beers, barrel-bound" slogan.

Kaiser is among Paradox's first production run, with hand-numbered bottles that also display a barrel origin and bottling date; look for the second run around 2013, after a "Heralded Nocturne Project" delivers an oak-aged Oktoberfest, Belgian pale and apple saison. The 6-percent ABV Kaiser started with a pale ale grain bill (at Pikes Peak Brewing Co.), whose wort then aged with New Zealand hops for three months in a Bordeaux barrel. Bottle-conditioning leaves a velvety texture and yeasty, almost fruity, elaborate finish. — Matthew Schniper

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