But even before Carlos came to the United States from Peru in 1982, his father, who ran a small restaurant, inspired him. "I found life in that business, and now that I have my own place, I want to be here for 30 years or more," said Carlos.
Carlos' Bistro offers an elaborate menu, featuring appetizers, sandwiches and salads for lunch ranging in price from $6.25 to $18, and dinner entrees priced up to $32 for the Filet a la Oscar main course. Seafood is flown in daily from the East Coast and the finest Reserve beef is secured from the Midwest. My partner and I shared an order of fried Chesapeake Bay oysters as an appetizer at $9 a half dozen. They were lightly breaded with Italian seasoned bread crumbs, and though they were a bit small, they were remarkably succulent and sweet, served on a bed of greens, accompanied by both a horseradish cream and a fresh Roma tomato cocktail sauce. We wished we'd ordered a whole dozen of the little gems but were glad we refrained when we saw the size of our entree portions.
Grilled Reserve rib-eye was my partner's choice, which he ordered "cold rare." It was a full 10 ounces at a remarkable $13.95 and was caramelized with a black peppercorn brandy sauce and served over garlic mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. The steak was truly rare, as my partner requested, but a few more minutes on the grill might have rendered it a bit more tender. Carlos prides himself in having "the best steaks in town," and recommends the bone-in rib-eye or the seared filet mignon from the dinner menu for excellent taste and tenderness.
My choice was the catch of the day, Florida red snapper in a delectable and tangy wasabi vinaigrette sauce, served over couscous flavored with ginger, bell peppers and cilantro, and topped with grilled veggies. The fish was not only fresh, but also perfectly cooked -- juicy, flaky and tender. The lunch price for the catch of the day is $11.95. (Dinner prices run slightly higher, but all main courses for both lunch and dinner always include mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes or couscous.)
Fresh breads are delivered daily from a local bakery, and for dessert Carlos offers a signature Chocolate Bread Pudding served warm and topped with a Frangelico caramel sauce. ($7.50) The serving is large, more than enough for two people, and so memorable.
Other than the Chocolate Bread Pudding, desserts vary from day to day and might include fresh berries and a cream sauce flavored with Jack Daniels and vanilla bean -- whatever Carlos dreams up on that particular day. Dessert prices range from $5 to $10.
Facing west on 21st Street, just north of Highway 24, Carlos' Bistro offers a spectacular view of Pikes Peak, and, in warmer weather, opens a rather sizeable patio that's designated non-smoking, as is the restaurant.
"We want everybody that comes here to feel good -- that's our job," said Carlos. His wife and partner Marcia added, "Everyone likes feeling special -- I know I do -- and we want everyone who walks in the door to know that right away. We don't require jackets or ties, although that's all right, too."
The warmth and attentiveness of Carlos and Marcia, combined with memorable food and understated ambiance, makes Carlos' Bistro a welcome addition to Colorado Springs' fine eating establishments. I wish them the 30 years of success they both envision.
-- Jan King Garverick
1025 S. 21st St., 471-2905
Lunch: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday through Saturday, 5-9 p.m.
Open 3-5 p.m. for martinis and oysters