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Despite a few flaws, the Pepper Tree does wonderful things to a steak




I can't stop staring at the skyline blight that is the Martin Drake Power Plant.

As I effortlessly butter-knife through my 8-ounce, $44.95 center-cut filet, gazing out Pepper Tree's expansive bay windows, I momentarily daydream about building a time machine just to go back and power-wedgie, if not all-out maim, the person responsible for putting a coal plant immediately downtown.

Were it not for that eyesore, the eatery's 180-degree city view would be 100 percent spectacular, complementing the dignified décor of dark woods and white linens under a low, black drop ceiling that adds warmth to the intimate tableside cooking arena.

Flambéing flames ignite and roll out of sizzling pans almost constantly, as signature pepper steaks as well as Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Foster orders comprise a great deal of Pepper Tree's mouth traffic. Charming waiters in tuxedos are both culinary confidants and chef companions, spending much time at your table over those fireballs, even though upon seating at both visits we sat menu-less for many minutes, having to request food lists after only drink ones arrived.

Because although the spot's gorgeous, it's not flawless. Our lobster bisque ($9.95) tasted too strongly of stock, lacking cream balance, while meat hunks were dropped in, and remained, disconcertingly cold. The side commercial crackers in plastic wrap feel misplaced from a diner, clearly not as special as easy-to-execute homemade crackers that would befit such a pricey level of fine dining. And long, fried calamari tubes ($14.50) become quickly bland after the king crab filling and outer breading (dampened by a delectable sherry-cream sauce) all are swallowed, leaving you masticating for more than a minute to combat the excessive, alarming chewiness.

Thankfully, molten-hot escargot ($11.95) delight in a classic garlic-herb butter, which also welcomes toast points beautifully. And texturally pleasant, pistachio-crusted crab cakes ($13.95) are dense, meaty and flavorful. They're also interesting with a sweet raspberry saucing instead of the conventional aioli, even if more is needed on the plate to combat dryness.

But that pliant pepper steak, procured locally from Anderson meats, I'm told, does ascend to juggernaut territory. After a long, warm butter bath, brandy enables the char-forming combustion, then an Indian-style mango chutney and the crushed peppercorns add a crystallized, candy-like sweetness and light bite, respectively. On split plates ($9 extra), proficient wild rice and scalloped potatoes with kale-chip-esque, baked parsley garnish receive the protein portions.

And because one pan explosion deserves another, and hey, everyone's doing it ... a superlative steak should be followed by a strong dessert. Our fine French waiter announces each Bananas Foster ($13) ingredient as it finds the mix: butter, crème de banane, fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juices, brown sugar, Myers's Dark Rum, cinnamon, bananas — all marrying and melting vanilla ice cream into syrupy splendor in a wide goblet.

Though its cocktail list could use a creative jolt of that pizazz, again to match some of the other magic present here — the website unabashedly leads with, "The menu has remained standard over the years ... but the chef will occasionally offer dishes that push the current culinary boundaries" — this sister outfit to Woodland Park's Swiss Chalet still offers quite a scenic vista, even if it's marred by a few failures of execution or imagination.

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