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Raising the bar

The Warehouse gets consistently better

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Serving it up at the Warehouse: (from left) Jan - Christianson, chef James Africano, and owner Raphael - Sassower. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Serving it up at the Warehouse: (from left) Jan Christianson, chef James Africano, and owner Raphael Sassower.

There are plenty of reasons to return to the Warehouse again and again. The hummus, served with olives, feta and pita bread, is among the best in town. The beer-battered English pub chips, thick and crispy, served with malt vinegar, are the perfect late-night snack. And there's the Warehouse signature salad, one for the ages: mixed baby greens, cashews, feta cheese, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges and balsamic vinaigrette -- an artful, healthful marriage of textures and flavors.

The handcrafted beers, brewed on the premises by Palmer Lake Brewing Company, have won many well-deserved awards for excellence over the years.

Consistency is a hallmark of the Warehouse.

But in recent years, chef James Africano's inventiveness has become an even better reason to frequent the brick warehouse just south of downtown. Anchored by a cavernous gallery space used for special events, brick walls, brass and wood fixtures, good music and a friendly bar, the Warehouse rises above the accepted standard of Colorado Springs dining with food that gets better and better with time.

On a recent Saturday night, I dropped in for an early dinner at the bar and ordered the daily special, a green curry "au poivre" top sirloin steak. The steak was surprisingly thick and tender, rubbed with curry powder and spices, seared over high heat to produce an au poivre-style crust, the heat balanced by a puddle of sweet coconut jus. The plate was an oriental still life, with long green onion tempura and a rice pilaf flavored with mushrooms and sweet, creamy chunks of roasted garlic, all accented by a sprinkling of black sesame seed.

It's rare that the beef in a local restaurant warrants raves, especially an inexpensive cut like top sirloin. But this beef was extraordinarily tender and flavorful. Proprietor Raphael Sassower explained that the Warehouse has recently begun serving Ohrbach beef exclusively, the product of a Colorado rancher, in an arrangement that buys the ranch's entire ready beef supply -- supporting the local farm economy while assuring a fresh, locally grown supply.

A commitment to locally owned, independent businesses and to excellent ingredients drives the Warehouse. On a recent Tuesday night, the Independent Restaurant Cooperative, a group of locally owned restaurants, held their monthly, second-Tuesday-night dinner there and chef Africano served a five-course meal that reflected his wide-ranging taste and skillful use of surprising ingredients.

Sassower, in his usual outspoken way, opened the evening with a greeting to guests, welcoming them to the Warehouse and to the Independent Restaurant Cooperative, noting, "As independents we have to help each other because the chains are killing us."

The first course arrived promptly -- seared scallops, centered on a pinwheel of spikes of cucumber and pink grapefruit, drizzled with tomato water and scallion oil. The combined textures -- crunchy and creamy -- and colors, as well as the unexpected combination of flavors, worked well to awaken the palate.

The second course was a more traditional flavor combination, served warm and attractively presented -- a salad of haricot verts, thin baby green beans lightly cooked and topped with bacon, red onion, slightly melted brie and toasted almonds. A handmade crispy, salty crouton topped the nest of green, drawn together with a dressing of sweet sherry vinegar.

Apricot thyme sorbet, pure and unsweetened, constituted the refreshing third course, a slight fuzz still on the chopped thyme leaves.

For the main course, Africano served ginger soy-glazed ostrich medallions with veggie egg rolls and rice pancakes, accompanied by a sweet chili sauce. As delicious as the deep red, perfectly lean and thinly sliced ostrich loin was, the rice pancakes stole the show: flour, jasmine rice, eggs, garlic and rosemary combined to a delicate crispness, the fragrance subtle and clean.

Dessert was a bittersweet chocolate panna cotta, "cooked cream" in Italian. The silky pudding was topped with mashed strawberries marinated in port and balsamic vinegar with black pepper, and plated atop a rich, vanilla bean sauce. This is a dessert that approaches perfection -- creamy and soft, with just the right balance of bitter, fruity and sweet, rich but not too filling.

It's true that some things get better with time and some don't. The Warehouse continues to raise the bar for itself and for the local dining scene.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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The Warehouse

25 W. Cimarron St.

Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 6 p.m. to midnight

Call 475-8880

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Independent Restaurant Cooperative dinners

Five courses, five wines for $50/person plus tax and gratuity

Call individual restaurants for reservations; dinner is limited to 50 guests

Ten percent of the proceeds benefit the Fine Arts Center.

Tuesday, April 12: Sencha, 632-8287

Tuesday, May 10: Marigold Caf and Bakery, 599-4776

Tuesday, June 14: The Margarita at Pine Creek, 598-8667

Tuesday, July 12: Edelweiss,

633-2220

Tuesday. Aug. 9: Briarhust Manor, 685-1864

Tuesday, Sept. 13: Jun Japanese Restaurant, 531-9368

Tuesday, Oct. 11: La Petite Maison, 632-4887

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Steel City Diner, Pueblo, 719/295-1100

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