"Not responsible for well-done steaks." That's the brilliant note at the bottom of Park East's menu. Equally smart is the steak-temperature rundown, taking you from the ominous well-done description ("Completely cooked with no color, can tend to be dry") to that of rare ("Very red from inside out").
It all indicates rather clearly that the 8- to 22-ounce cuts of beef are dear to the man on the grill and he wants you to get yours right.
Located on the fringe of Pueblo City Park in a nearly windowless, cellar-like, red brick building, Park East also functions as an art gallery, mainly featuring contemporary abstracts. As yet another note on the menu relates, owners Terra and Jeff Riggio and David Jimenez are carrying the tradition, and many of the recipes, of the Lepetsos family, which owned a like-named establishment on the site many years ago.
A '70s-airport-looking lounge area harkens back to those days and occupies half of Park East, detached by the foyer and a long hallway from the dim, track light-lit dining room. White under-cloth tables are covered in tan construction paper and set with funky, curved silverware (think Munch's "The Scream") that proves less fun to use than to view.
Once seated, my party started with the fried calamari tapas plate ($6) and smoked Gouda spinach artichoke dip ($7.99). The calamari were tasty enough, dressed in a mild ginger soy sauce over greens on a B&B plate. The dip, though flavorful, ran a bit too thin, and the crostinis served with it felt stale rather than crispy.
Next arrived side salads that came with each of our entres: the Park East, of Gorgonzola over greens with a basic vinaigrette, and the classic Caesar. Each was light and good, but as my dining mate noted, could have used an upgrade of the brown-edged "Sysco lettuce."
Our server, seeming to struggle in keeping up, delivered entres before the salads were cleared, and left bread on the table through dessert and our departure. He was friendly and knowledgeable of the menu, but personally, I expect better service when ordering entres over $20.
Park East recovered with the arrival of four superb entres. Save for slightly rubbery haricots verts, the dishes shined in all aspects. Under a flagpole rosemary sprig, the halibut ($18.99) with a creamy lobster risotto was delicious, its faint citrus note perfect with the buttery fish. The portobello mushroom pasta ($14.99), ordered with a scallop upcharge ($3), mixed spinach, tomatoes and artichoke hearts with basil- and garlic-rich, olive-oiled pasta under a large mushroom cap minus the seafood addition, a vegetarian's feast.
Though the New York strip ($21.99) hit the mark with temperature and taste, the celebrity of the night quickly became the bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($23.99), ordered with satisfying garlic mashed potatoes. The meat was moist with bacon sweat and expertly cooked.
Sadly, satisfaction slipped away again when we sampled a "chocolate chocolate mousse" cake ($3.95) and crme brule sampler ($7.99). The sweet cake was dry, but pleasant enough compared to five botched brules, none of which shared the same texture and all of which needed better caramelizing raw sugar crunched between my teeth.
Frankly, Pueblo's fine-dining scene is slim. So shortcomings aside, Park East remains a wise dining choice if for nothing else, a fine steak.
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