Unless you're at a four- or five-star hotel, lobby dining has the propensity to be spotty. Often, the otherwise nice three-star joints offer a great reason to get out and explore: You won't find much creativity in-house.
When you do find locals heading inside a hotel to dine, it indicates that something more palatable than room service is going on.
Such is the case with the Antlers Grille's evening menu, a diverse construction of varied cuisine types highlighted by fun and interesting touches, such as orange zest butter (served with bread) and liquor-infused desserts including a Grand Marnier crme brle and a Frangelico, white chocolate, macadamia nut torte.
I'd been wanting to check out the menu from chef Alan Sirull and chef de cuisine Gene Kalesti ever since Sirull netted top awards in February's Chef's Gala.
On a Friday evening, we were one of only five parties in the cavernous, elegant dining room. The sound of the Eddie Jones Jazz Trio filtered in pleasantly from the foyer bar while we enjoyed a glass of wine from the Antlers' commendable list.
Our meal began with a small but impressive Colorado spring roll ($6.25) of locally grown spicy micro greens, organic greens, baby arugula and thin carrots hugged by rice paper in an outstanding apricot cilantro and soy ginger sauce. This starter far outweighed the Judge Baldwin's Cascade Amber Brew-battered Portobello sticks ($5.25), whose advertised Hatch chile seasoning had intrigued us. The spice was mute and the beer battering less crisp than we had hoped.
We passed up the mussels, crab cakes and shrimp cocktail, all of which featured alluring sauce descriptions.
Next we ate a generous Caesar salad and Hot House Leaves salad the latter a mix of baby red and green leaf, green oak, red perella and lolla rossa leaves tossed in a pomegranate citrus dressing served with pine nuts. The Caesar was solid, the Hot House exceptional; both were included in the entre price.
Then came our favorite dish of the evening: a polenta wild mushroom gratin ($12.95), baked in an oversized ramekin with eggplant, bell peppers and a Parmesan bchamel sauce. The richness of the sauce spiced, with butter- and flour-thickened milk paired with the vegetables' flavor brought the polenta, an otherwise bland ingredient, to life beautifully.
Over lamb chops, a beef filet, king salmon, chicken and scallops, we selected a satisfying Cabernet-marinated, Colorado buffalo ribeye steak ($28.95), which came medium rare, as requested. It was served on an Ancho chile veal sauce next to mashed potatoes, fried onion strings, asparagus, carrots and parsnips a welcome and seldom-seen side item.
On a follow-up lunch visit, I opted for the "pasta action station," ($12.95), complete with a soup and salad buffet. I chose between bowtie, Fusilli or penne pasta and tomato or Alfredo sauce. Then I selected from a variety of meats, vegetables and garnishes, which included a few finer items like asparagus and roasted garlic.
Servers on both visits were quite friendly, and informed and attentive when nearby, though they tended to disappear around corners at times.
All in all, the lunch quality reminded me more of cafeteria dining and nondescript hotel food not entirely bad, but lacking the gourmet touches of dinner.
The lesson: Go for lunch if you're hungry, go for dinner if you're a connoisseur.
4 S. Cascade Ave., 955-5600
Hours: Breakfast buffet, daily, 6:30-10 a.m. (regular menu until 11 a.m.); Luncheon buffet, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (regular menu until 2 p.m.); Dinner, Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.