After a recent review, a restaurateur suggested food critics might consider calling restaurant managers or owners to ask about their "vision" for their establishments.
I completely disagreed; their vision should be evident in all areas of the dining experience. If you have a vision, I should get it and if you don't, I should get that, too.
Entering Fire Rock Grill, formerly the Ranch Steakhouse, one encounters Western flair with elegant restraint. The area that once housed the Ranch Foods Direct Market is now a bar of misted glass, with prairie-grass strands running through. Contradicting the look: '80s band A-Ha singing "Take on Me," which led to a Boy George tune from junior high. Fire Rock Grill, it seemed, was veering off point.
At lunch, our server greeted us with a lengthy yawn, which set the stage for both visits. My husband quipped, "Nice tongue ring." I had to assist each of our servers in pronouncing basic menu items such as "mussels" and "crme brule." Needless to say, though nice, they lacked professionalism.
The menu offers up traditional steakhouse fare: starters, steaks, pastas and a few seafood selections. Most entres come with a side salad and a choice of two standard sides. Additional sides are $3.
We started with the blue cheese potato crisps ($6). The mountain of kettle-fried chips smothered in a melted bleu cheese sauce was a great idea, but overdone. Excessive saucing overpowered the crisps, and the large portion turned soggy once boxed. A definite keeper, but I'd suggest placing the cheese on the side.
The side salad arrived looking every bit as tired as the waitress. The dehydrated mix of ordinary greens and cucumber apparently had been left in the fridge uncovered. My husband's 8-ounce prime rib ($15) was average at best, though the lightly creamed spinach side had a nice bite and put a smile on his face. My chicken Florentine ($12), a covered with a cheesy spinach sauce, was juicy but lacked seasoning.
Dinner was lunch revisited. Our waitress mentioned that she was new, and when questioned, she often mutely shrugged, as if to say, "Your guess is as good as mine." The shrimp cocktail ($9) arrived in classic form. My friend's pecan smoked chicken breast ($14), served with a homemade barbecue sauce, was over-smoked and dry. A fan of Ranch Steakhouse, my friend commented, "This is disappointing; even the bread is bad."
My half-rack of pecan smoked Ribs ($14) was completely overshadowed by the mashed sweet potatoes. My friend and I both know sweet potatoes; we were grateful for the fresh-made dish, with brown sugar and butter, and dotted with caramelized potato bits. Outrageously good but you can't live on sides alone.
A tepid cup of coffee was the last straw. "Come on!" my friend said, frustrated. Then we pegged it. No one is minding the store. When servers don't know the menu and the kitchen is dishing up plates of mediocrity, it comes down to leadership. I can only assume the owners either don't know or don't care. Either way, I got it.
Colorado Springs needed the former Ranch Steakhouse's concern for all-natural, hormone-free beef standards. What we didn't need is an independent restaurant, minus those ideals, failing to top chain-restaurant taste. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fire Rock Grill
575 Garden of the Gods Road, 593-1955
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.