Walter's Bistro has grown up. Its previous location on Eighth Street was handily outclassed by the cuisine, and now owner Walter Iser and company have moved into a new space on Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard.
The digs are beautiful: two rooms oozing class, with stylish colors, tasteful linens and artistic flower arrangements. All of this sets the stage for the kind of fine dining experience Iser wants to offer -- but the upscale surroundings have put more pressure on the kitchen to make sure the food keeps up.
Our first foray into the menu didn't disappoint. One glimpse of chef Ryan Blanchard's scallop appetizer makes it clear why the good people of the James Beard Foundation decided to honor him as one of America's great regional chefs.
Three immaculately fresh and perfectly seared jumbo sea scallops sat side by side on top of three accompaniments spread across a long, glass rectangle. One rested atop a subtle butternut squash risotto, and another astride an unusual eggplant caponata, its ever-so-slightly mushy and slimy texture driving down its value.
The third scallop, and the showstopper here, reclined atop a luscious lobster salad. Chilled and a bit tangy, the salad combined with the scallop in a symphony of contrasting and complementary flavors, textures and temperatures. Without reservation, we agreed it was the finest bite of scallop we'd ever had the privilege of eating.
The appetizer marked only the first appearance the filet mignon-of-the-sea made at our table. Lobster bisque proved nearly equal to the scallops, sporting a deep orange hue, an expressive lobster flavor and satisfyingly weighty silkiness.
Besides the standout soup and scallops, there's more to explore on the first page of Walter's menu. We thoroughly enjoyed a wild mushroom fricassee with a brie-topped crostini and an astoundingly rich, deep brown sauce. Equally praiseworthy are the crab cakes, loaded with big chunks of crab and a nicely crisped exterior.
Collectively outstanding, the first courses ratcheted up our expectations for the entres to follow. Unfortunately, they didn't meet the same level of greatness, though they came close.
The "Peking style" roast half duck was classically presented, with a semi-circle of breast meat foregrounding the intact hindquarter and a spring roll standing at attention in the rear. The plate was lovely, but it spent a bit too much time in the oven. Rather than rare to medium-rare, the breast meat was barely pink, most of it cooked past medium.
The skin was perfectly crispy and tasted delicious, but we had to get to the inner part of the thigh, where it meets the drumstick, before finding meat juicy enough to make us smile. In all fairness, those five bites were utterly fantastic, suggesting the dish's true potential.
Stuffed into a hearty filet of sea bass, lobster made its final appearance and gussied up our consensus favorite entre. The fish was nearly perfect, although our table's hypothalamus fans missed the advertised sweetbreads in the hash.
The pork tenderloin was far less solid. Overdone, it couldn't be saved by the meager spice and sweetness of the kalua pig potato cake that accompanied it. We found ourselves craving something -- anything -- to provide some added nuance to the dish.
On the whole, appetizers effortlessly outshone the entrees. The difference, as it always is with food at this level, was in the attention to detail and execution. Aside from the fish, parts of each entre simply were overcooked -- not by much, but with duck and pork, the margin for error is quite thin.
None of this is to suggest that we didn't like the food, eat almost all of it or have a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Without doubt, Walter's is one of the finest restaurants in Colorado Springs. But we suspect they want to be the best. To do so, the flashes of brilliance must be amplified into a sustained glow.
-- Aaron Retka and
146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 630-0201, waltersbistro.com
Hours: Monday-Friday, lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; bar 2:30-9 p.m.; dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m.