Victor Matthews is at it again. In 1999, he left Houston's Omni Hotel behind -- along with five Mobil stars and five AAA diamonds -- for his own shop in a rustic cabin in Green Mountain Falls. Fueled by boundless enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, he started from scratch and built the Black Bear into a mecca of culinary innovation. Hungry for a new challenge, Chef Matthews has roared into Colorado Springs with a four-point plan to change the way people cook, relax, celebrate and eat.
Taking up residence at the former Ramada on Sinton Road is Matthews's newest venture: The Paragon, which encompasses the Paragon Royal Ballroom, the Paragon Culinary School, Cedars Jazz Club and the ber-exclusive Paragon Dining Club.
True to the name, The Paragon aspires to be a shining example of culinary excellence.
If you're thinking Matthews has lost his mind, he agrees. This time, at least, he's not going it alone. Chef Matthews has lured his longtime friend, and fellow Mobil five-star chef, Jason Miller to join in on this errand out of the wilderness.
Their biggest project is the Paragon Culinary School, which pledges "twice the training at half the price." In addition to Matthews' and Miller's expertise, visiting masters from around the world -- with specialties in an array of fields ranging from winemaking to ice carving -- will be brought in to provide elite-level training. Intense courses as short as three hours will be available to the general public, and 200 full-time students will soon embark on a three-year apprenticeship in the culinary arts.
Miller and Matthews have also set their sights on teaching Springs residents a new way to eat, beginning with Cedars Jazz Club and culminating with the Paragon Dining Club. Gently bathed in a brooding red light, live music reverberates off of Cedars' glimmering dance floor, enveloping club chairs, sofas and intimate tables that are spread throughout the room. Speaking of spreads, the kitchen at Cedars focuses on tapas, small plates of food meant to be shared by a crowd over cocktails.
Hailing from Spain but imminently amenable to loose interpretation, the tapas format offers Chef Miller an opportunity to showcase his creativity. Because portions are small and usually shared, he can experiment with flavors that might be too concentrated or esoteric on the entree scale. Although the current offerings are limited as renovations in the kitchen reach completion, Miller plans extensive offerings from traditional Spanish recipes to signature Cedar Plank items that will feature exotic fish, game and vegetable combinations.
If the current crop of tapas is small, it nonetheless demonstrates Miller's artistry and sensitivity. Flavors are clean, dishes are well executed, and presentation is immaculate. The fruits de mer combination features a trio of shrimp cocktails, an herb and octopus salad, oil-cured tuna loin, and a Spanish standard: white anchovies cured in oil. Small plates ($12) serve two and large plates ($24) serve four. Similarly diverse arrays of olives, cured meats, and artisan cheeses are also on the menu along with changing daily specials.
Bookending the room, two bars offer creatively named house martinis, top-shelf liquors and an impressive selection of wines by the glass. Among them are fine examples from Spain, such as the opulent and sophisticated Condado de Haza ($8) and rare Italian offerings from legendary winemakers Gaja and Zenato. Few establishments anywhere in the United States offer wine of this quality as a single serving.
Making use of their long friendship, Miller and Matthews have also teamed up to present the Paragon Dining Club, a unique gastronomic adventure that promises to set a new standard for innovation and opulence.
Twice a month, the two will put their heads together to create an 18-course tasting menu for 24 intrepid eaters. Each meal will be paired with nine wines from specific, internationally recognized vintners including Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Opus One. Luxury has its price, $225 per person in this case, but also its rewards. Their first time out, Chefs Matthews and Miller actually crafted 21 courses, including quail with mole sauce, spiny lobster and sweet curry bisque, and wild mushroom and black truffle linguine.
From once a week to once in a lifetime, the Paragon has brought new and exciting possibilities to the Colorado Springs dining scene. Home cooks should be excited by the opportunity to take short courses from Matthews, Miller and the visiting masters. And for groups from two to 12: Just pull up a few chairs in the corner and let the smooth sounds take you on an eating adventure.
-- David Torres-Rouff
Cedars Jazz Club at The Paragon 3125 Sinton Road (northeast corner of Fillmore and I-25) Wednesday through Sunday evenings 964-2990
The Paragon Dining Club
Every first and third Tuesday night
18 courses, 9 wines
Extremely limited availability.
Contact Jason Zacharias at 210-9799 at least one week in advance
The Paragon Culinary School
Sunday cooking classes begin Oct. 10 with homemade soups.