When January brought a schizophrenic combination of sunny days and subzero temperatures to Colorado Springs, a company of Broadmoor chefs, including chef de cuisine Justin Miller, was spared. The group was in Italy for 3½ weeks, absorbing the culture and eating widely, all to bring it back home to one of the most beautiful restaurants in the city, the new Ristorante Del Lago.
"We [also] wanted to go over and meet with the vendors that we were sourcing our products from," says Miller. "So, like our Pio Tosini prosciutto, the Valserena Parmigiano, the Cattani Balsamico and the Castello di Ama olive oil, we actually went and visited and met the owners, the families, the producers. ... It was a pretty cool trip."
Located in the west-lobby space formerly held by Charles Court, it's a pretty cool restaurant. Designed by Adam Tihany, who's also done restaurants for Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the beautiful space is divided into a bar and patio, and an airy dining room with exposed wood beams, lots of indirect lighting and, befitting the name, an alluring lake view.
Elsewhere, bronze plays off red; colored-glass accents off wide mirrors; and dark walnut paneling off leather. The eye's as considered as the mouth, evidenced when you look across the room and see the open kitchen with its aging-room full of cured meats and cheese wheels kept at 55 degrees; a beautiful wood-fired oven; and rotisserie laden with whole chickens roasting over pans of potatoes. For all that, though, Tihany joked at the grand opening in June that it wasn't meant to look like an authentic Italian restaurant, but "what you think an Italian restaurant should look like."
Sit at the bar and you'll occasionally witness a wall smoothly open and turn into a doorway for bartender access, next to shelves full of amaro, Cynar and grappa. (Fear not, you packs of 45-year-old, conference-going bros: There's also Johnnie Walker Blue Label.) You'll have access to a variety of bubbly spumante, as well as a focused selection of Italian wines, running from $9 to $17 per glass, overseen by sommelier Michael Buckelew (better known as Bucky). From there, you can play with cocktails like the Bicicleta ($11.75) — a mix of Pinot Grigio, Campari and soda, which might be your thing if you like your wine bitter — or the big-and-brassy Sanguinello ($11.75), a cherry-red beauty of limoncello, Campari and blood-orange juice.
Order the antipasti misti ($15) for a picture-perfect selection of meats and cheeses. An order one day yielded tissue-thin folds of prosciutto crudo di Parma that came off like pale-pink, salted butter; misshapen rounds of salami; and a light mortadella that offered all the good things about lunch meat. Super-fruity olive oil and a pool of honey take the cheeses — a slice of taleggio, a triangle of creamy buffalo cheese, and a wonderful rock of Parmigiano-Reggiano sourced from doe-eyed Bruna Alpina brown cows — to the next level. And if you're wondering, gourmet black olives taste like almost all other black olives, except there's a gnarly pit in these.
A word of advice when it comes to dinner: Make reservations. Otherwise, you'll end up like this schlub, beginning your evening meal at 8:45. The pain was eased by a basket of bread from the hotel's incomparable baker, Johann Willar, and cured completely with a bite of the simple, savory sexiness in the sea-salt, olive-oil, guanciale pizza ($12). Made with Caputo "00" flour, the chewy, moist crust is perfect. A side of gorgeously fugly heirloom tomatoes ($7) grown by Venetucci Farm receive a drizzle of nutty and piquant balsamic — from $90 bottles marked DOP (protected designation of origin), as opposed to the lower-quality, but still tasty, IGP-stamped stuff — while roasted carrots ($7) laced with mint get a drizzle of honey, turning them into an instant Thanksgiving classic.
Our pedestrian, $28 striped bass roasted in the wood oven didn't exactly taste worth the cost, but its side of lemon-basil pesto over ricotta and sugar-snap peas is freaking genius. Elsewhere, two plump house sausages ($18) smack you with fennel up front, and finish you off with a mouthful of juice, and tender, house-made canestri pasta provides structure for an insanely rich carbonara ($14) that, with the cured pork, runs right off the Cliff O' Salt. The more measured cacio e pepe ($13), pepper-spiked mac-and-cheese for adults, can receive a gluten-free corn-pasta sub and still shine like a star.
Service is in the fine-dining range, meaning napkins are folded upon departure from the table. And desserts from pastry chef Adam Thomas, like a nutty pistachio gelato or some ricotta cheesecake (each $7) with a dense and forgiving crust, offer a clean, sweet finish. I guess that's just how they do it in Italy.