- Matthew Schniper
- Presentation only takes a dish so far.
Couples stroll the Pueblo Riverwalk and lights glimmer off the Arkansas. In aesthetic respects, there couldn't be a better place to pass a warm spring evening than The Place's wrought iron-wrapped patio.
Co-owned by neighboring Angelo's pizzeria's Rich Foresta, The Place bears an upscale Italian aura. Polished stone tile floors, neat white tablecloths, and a chic, cracked-glass bar-top are upstaged only by an alluring gelato cooler with 16 rotating, housemade flavors. GM Marco Palmeri calls the 3-month-old eatery an upscale-casual new-American spot, with a few Italian influences brought by longtime chef Otello Ganni at the helm. The dinner menu spans a manageable two pages, with eclectic, approachable (read: non-challenging or creatively progressive) offerings from steaks and seafood items to commendable vegetarian options.
The whole pricey affair should function fine, once some serious tweaks are made across the board. But let's bookend this examination with the positives (ending in that overall excellent gelato). Though the cocktail menu could use some new-wave touches (amaros, etc.), the Angry Mule of Spring 44 vodka, lime, mint, ginger beer and jalapeño slivers refreshes and delights. A strawberry mule lands cloyingly sweeter, as does a Grand Marnier-spiked Sicilian Margarita (basically, a Cadillac Margarita), and The Place Manhattan hits hot and boozy, out of balance and needing a more gourmet cherry.
Service desperately needs attention. A greeter helps us pin down a just-opened patio table, but nobody comes to bus it, re-greet us or offer anything for almost 15 minutes, until we flag down help. Drink orders don't come quickly, and entrées break the comfortable 20-minute ticket time. Silverware isn't reset until we flag again for help, and a pitcher of water is abandoned on our table, leaving us to feel more like tray jacks than guests.
For apps, a soy mustard drizzle on decently seared ahi tuna tastes like generic honey mustard dressing from a buffet. Tomatoes on our virtually basil-bereft Caprese chew mealy, with overly tough mozzarella. For mains, a recommended Amazing Fried Chicken simply isn't, leading with under-seasoned skin and too-tough and -dry meat among the four pieces — a breast bests the rest. The side slaw is okay, but potato wedges (generally loathsome anyway) aren't even fully cooked. The Mediterranean quinoa salad, with Monte Vista-grown grains, will be great once it's not overdressed and its added salmon is not overly salty and wearing commercial lemon-pepper seasoning like an eager teen over-bathed in bad cologne for a date. Subtlety, man.
Our Wagyu beef burger, from Idaho-based Snake River Farms, is far from "grilled to perfection," unless it's perfectly okay to turn a med-rare request to med-well. Two strips of topping Brie don't make it anywhere near "the best in the West." Groan. And my Colorado lamb has sadly been murdered twice, with another med-rare request turned med-well, toughening the protein into a jaw exhauster. Underlying broccolini does not a fine presentation make. At least side garlic mashed potatoes are spot on.
Which brings us back to the gelato, which we have to later wonder if we over-praised simply by contrast to the preceding meal. Still, I recall spooning quite happily through a taster flight of authentic-flavored coffee, hazelnut, chocolate-raspberry, mango, salted caramel, organic granola, peppermint patty and cucumber flavors. I find them texturally accurate, made in fact on a machine from Palermo, Italy. I scoop and savor and as the cool night breeze feathers the surface of the river water, I think to myself: Damn nice patio — for dessert.