Il Postino is a warm and beautifully modern space, located in what was Colorado Springs' first post office, and, more recently, the Tre Luna Downtown Event Center. The six-week-old Mediterranean fusion restaurant is the first of several food spots promised by the construction project now known as The Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Hotel.
It's also something Jeff Gebott was a part of from the start. The 36-year-old chef helped design the open-air kitchen to handle restaurant and banquet demands, because a lustrous back room functioning as an art gallery and events center offers space to larger parties.
But for all the things Il Postino is, there are several it is not. For instance, it's not a place to find comfort food.
"I've adjusted our cooking techniques to minimize the amount of creams and butters, and use healthier oils," says Gebott, whose menu is sprinkled with natural meats, whole wheat breads and gluten- and lactose-free dishes. When creating his menu, actually, Gebott solicited input from sports nutritionist Dr. Nanna Meyer, from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The thinking is probably best presented at ilpostinocs.com, which trumpets Colorado Springs' "Healthiest City" designation and says the restaurant is "committed to providing cuisine focused on health and wellness that complements our urban environment."
Dishes like the lasagna bolognese ($14) and the Mediterranean crab cakes ($12) do reflect these sensibilities, for better or for worse. Our square of lasagna was moderately overcooked, but underneath offered tender noodles and a thin tasty, tangy, cheesy ragù over all-natural ground sirloin and lightly spiced pork sausage. Without heavy layers of formaggio, the dish was pleasant, but less substantial than expected, almost a plated memory of what traditional lasagna might taste like.
Similarly, two medium-sized balls of crab arrived sans crumbs, the lump crab held together with interspersed claw meat, sliced cucumbers and diced roasted red peppers and jalapeños. The texture was somewhat off-putting, even as the cakes offered a satisfying and subtle seafoody heat that went down just fine.
It works ...
Another thing Il Postino is not, is fully mature. Some service hiccups stand out, like a missing dessert menu and a final check that we had to request. On a different night, one couple who had been waiting by the door for a while asked us if they were supposed to seat themselves.
On the other hand, all food is brought straight from the kitchen by a chef, to better answer any questions and make sure special requests are fulfilled. Even more impressive, Gebott delivered a flawless Colorado beef filet ($22) our first visit, but held off on the accompanying truffled cauliflower mash, saying it wasn't up to par that day. Instead, the chef tossed fresh button mushrooms with butter and garlic, a small, simple side that complemented the cool pink center and salty ridges of the filet nicely.
Turns out there's more change where that came from; we were surprised to find out Monday that a new winter menu was set to be unveiled Wednesday, Dec. 1. So a few items we tried will be gone by the time you read this.
One such disappearing dish is the panzanella salad ($8), a mix of whole grain house-baked focaccia croutons, tomatoes, roasted peppers, red onions, capers and minced anchovies that seemed temptingly complex, but came off tasting like onions and vinaigrette. Equally disappointing was a too-heavily-crusted rainbow trout ($17); on the new menu, Gebott promises, it will be pan-seared in garlic butter instead.
Alternatively, the house salad ($5) was incredibly fresh — a mix of greens that seemed straight from the farm, drizzled with a rosemary balsamic vinaigrette and tossed with Roma tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers and delightfully spicy garlic herb croutons. Try combining the salad with a soup ($7 for both) like the Five Way Roasted Mushroom — a rich, earthy celebration of fungus featuring thick slivers of porcini, cremini, morel and yellow and black chanterelle mushrooms imported from Italy, and set off with a rosemary kick.
... some of the time
Co-owner Raphael Sassower previously headed the Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery, so he knows how to build a successful restaurant. To aim to do just that — to guarantee consistently satisfying flavors — with almost wholly healthy, conscientious dining is a bold move. Sometimes, it comes together. The smoked salmon sandwich ($10) may be leaving the menu until spring, but its fresh, light dill and cucumber taste will linger. And the simple delight of truffle-salted, hand-cut Colorado frites ($5) is memorable.
Plus, it's impossible to go wrong with house-made desserts like the thick flourless chocolate torte ($6) with a tart raspberry coulis, or the excitement that follows rosemary-laced chantilly cream with cold caramelized apple Tarte Tatin ($7).
But a little too often for my taste, you get something like the bruschetta caprese ($7) — a small, dry, toasted baguette thinly covered with good Roma tomatoes, limp basil and a tiny lump of mozzarella. I'm left a little wanting, and with a little worry: Light may be how many in Colorado Springs eat at home, but it's not how they eat out. So until the hotel's ready to funnel out-of-towners downstairs, the beautiful space that is Il Postino might wind up light on clientele, too.