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Halfway House: Dale Street Café needs work, but could shine




The two-top directly in front of the gas fireplace is probably the single best dining table in town, at least in winter. Forget your romantic candle — we've got a whole hot hearth to ourselves.

It's the perfect ambiance otherwise punctuated by purple walls and a wide collection of locally painted still lifes and landscapes hanging for sale in the 150-year-old converted home, seemingly misplaced from Old Colorado City's retail row.

Huí Yon Park, former operator of Genghis Khan (now the Melting Pot), bought the decades-old business around 11 years ago. She employs the words "contemporary," "fusion" and "fresh" when describing her updated menu.

For her, those words apply not only to the food style, but to the atmosphere. Park aims to open an upstairs back deck by summer, targeted at Colorado College students and a younger crowd. The white tablecloths will stay downstairs, and smaller, affordable plates, some off a tableside grill, will rule above, she says.

In the meantime, lunch and dinner service appears to draw a mix of college faculty, ladies who lunch, and everyday couples who appreciate a three-course fine dining meal for $50 post-gratuity (sans alcohol). In the case of our evening visit, that meal was virtually flawless.

A good French onion soup cup and side salad ($2.50 extra each with entrée) led off, the spring mix indeed noticeably fresh under a beautiful, biting wasabi ranch dressing. Mahi mahi ($15.95) was grilled perfectly with char-lined skin encased in a starchy veneer of tangy, buttery, sweet mango chutney. Mashed potatoes sported a lively jalapeño-cheddar infusion, and haricot vert, asparagus and broccoli were uniformly snappy from restrained heating.

Tri-color bell peppers and red onion slivers also retained crunch next to wrinkly roasted tomato wedges in the hearty gorgonzola gnocchi bowl ($13.95), whose soft potato-flour dumplings needed only salt and pepper at the table to fully jell flavor-wise with the bleu cheese. A crème brulee ($5.50) proved a model in texture, from caramelized crunch to creamy vanilla airiness.

All of which makes our plates in a lunch visit more disappointing in their stumbles — "muted versions of the food it could be," in a co-diner's words. The signature cream of artichoke soup ($3.50/cup) was but a semi-watery, blandish ghost leaving stringy artichoke pieces in our teeth. A roasted garlic app ($9.50) didn't give enough of the great toast points to dip in a decent red bell pepper hummus and one-note olive tapenade; the garlic cloves were overly dry and lacking sharpness.

A chèvre pizza ($9.75) was seriously under-baked and thereby gummy, distracting from enjoyment of its elegantly simple toppings. The truly wonderful nutmeg and cinnamon essence of the house-made harvest ravioli ($11.95) in a delicious pesto cream sauce was also diminished by an under-boil that left tough edges. A straightforward patty melt ($9.75) showed nice spongy bread and some onion and Swiss character, but lacked a defining zing (something pickled, or stone-ground mustard perhaps?) with which to form a memory.

Lastly, a house bread pudding ($4.50) fell hardest as a microwave-molten (literally bubbling) plate of too-sweet, scantly boozy whisky butter over a soft but flavorless compressed bread wad. Lackluster coffee with a burnt edge ($2) followed suit.

Night and day, as it's said — in this case literally — with highs and lows starkly contrasted. It leaves consistency a key priority of future updates, because I do want to toast myself by the fireside again.

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