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Prime 25 opens as first face of huge Ivywild development

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Grab a cocktail and truffle fries at happy hour. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Grab a cocktail and truffle fries at happy hour.

We're $53 in, and have barely whetted our palates on two cocktails and two apps.

When people come to speak of Prime 25, they will inevitably speak of priciness. Even if this is a damn good twist on a Sazerac, with Bulleit Rye and house vanilla bitters. Classically prepared escargot with herb butter, garlic and shallots show steady too; but $16 feels overly steep. As does $14 for a single, shallow half bone of marrow that's not enough to smear even a quarter of the provided toast points; yeah it's good with tart cornichons and biting radish slivers but sadly bereft of quantity.

That second cocktail, Lee Spirits gin with pink peppercorns and sage, floats enough pepper for a cool appearance, but ends up only tasting like boozy Squirt on account of a lemon juice addition. We experience a similar dissatisfaction on a later visit with the Ketel Peach Smash, made with Gosling's ginger beer and a house peach-basil shrub (vinegar-based sweet syrup) that tastes mostly like a gingery Sprite. A Prime Negroni almost balances the huge herbal punch of Fernet Branca with Hendrick's gin and Campari, still making for a nice, bitter apéritif. And no complaints when lemon and pear honey meet in the throat-warming Lee Spirits Ginfuego as the Pear Fuego, or when aromatic tawny port and maple manage not to over-sweeten Buffalo Trace with orange and cherry bitters in a satisfying Old Fashioned rendition. Kudos also for a mezcal-laced smoked apple margarita, utilizing blanco tequila too, apple cider and Gran Marnier and lemon for citrus offset.

Now to put those cocktails, a fair $9 to $12, into more context: Prime 25 heralds the coming of the ambitious, $75 million redevelopment project called Creekside at Historic Ivywild, staged to bring a mix of apartments, condos, townhomes, retail storefronts, a higher-end hotel and several more eateries to the surrounding acreage backing up to S. Nevada Avenue. Co-creator Kathy Guadagnoli — known for her and her husband Sam's longstanding Tejon Street club strip that includes Cowboys and The Mezzanine — says "we're moving really fast on this project," which will likely wrap up by 2020 sometime.

Kathy's credited with designing Prime 25's impressive (and laudably non-clubby) layout, which she calls an "upscale contemporary steakhouse," complete with an indoor fire pit at the upstairs bar, flexible private-dining rooms, a central, rail-enclosed cut-out to the floor below (through which long spherical lights hang), big downstairs booths and an open kitchen. Visually, it meets Broadmoor standards. "What's a 'budget'? I don't know how to spell 'budget,'" she says, referring to an inside joke between her and Sam.

Co-owner Chuck Schafer (Sam's nephew, also of Powers Boulevard's The Cow Pub & Grill) says they set out to be different from other local steakhouses, and attract "a melting pot" of the Broadmoor's well-off and millennials. He's plucked a crew with experience from MacKenzie's, The Famous (servers and bartenders) and Till/Altitude Hospitality (chef Dylan Montanio), and calls the menu "well priced." (One millennial friend turns his pockets out at the assertion.)

At happy hours, dishes culled from the small plate and side-item menu do range from $4 to $11, and $5.50 Stella Artois and Coronas drop to $4, for example, next to well drinks for $5. Excellent truffle fries loaded with Grana Padano shavings can't be beat for $4 (normally $9), and a jalapeño popper option with airy breading and smoked white cheddar hit gourmet as can be. Bruschetta composed mostly of zucchini dice hits like bright pizza with red onion sharpness, big herbaceousness and fleeting touches of goat cheese and prosciutto with arugula, used widely and to good effect as under-bedding. Accents sexify steak tartare: a quail egg to yolk-smear bread rounds (this time not enough bread, in contrast to the marrow), onion and radish slivers, and defining pickled mustard seeds — Rah rah raw! Lastly, crab cakes are all meat as promised, but not well bound, and small, though still rich and creamy with dips into zesty citrus aioli.

Diner entrées usher back in the price tag: $28 for striped bass and $38 for lamb chops, both Colorado bought. (That's if you don't want a $19 burger or $47, 14-ounce prime-grade ribeye.) Crispy skin kicks off the bass, layered lovely between flavors of a sweet, acidic balsamic reduction and fennel soubise (cream-butter-onion sauce); snap peas, fingerlings and turnips are treated beautifully too. The lamb feels safe and stodgy over mashed potatoes and broccolini but it's well portioned, cooked perfectly pink, gorgeously gamey, and carried forward by a sherry jus; a few trumpet mushrooms in the mix nearly steal the show.

Montanio, a Pikes Peak Community College culinary grad who also did line-time at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, concedes he has coaxed the menu toward the familiar, with French foundations and minimal flair (no hotshot touches) — for now. He hopes to play more down the road, he says. And this clearly isn't a bad start, despite the aforementioned bumps in the overall experience, to include several-minute waits to receive menus upstairs, and some misinformation/confusion from the hostess stand and servers (otherwise all professional and with-it on other details). Typical newness issues.

Execution hiccups aside, the menu and its high prices speak to the nature of the restaurant and the redevelopment to come. Creekside at Historic Ivywild replaces and abuts a run-down stretch of town. In turn, it highlights a stark contrast between the haves (money for a meal at Prime 25) and have-nots (those other millennials and nearby lower-income folks). Call that urban renewal if gentrification makes you uncomfortable. But don't kill the cook over it.

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