For many of us, a trip to the Marigold Bakery and Caf leads no further than the front counter and its bounty of beautiful breads and tasty desserts. For the past few months, I have repeated this dip into the shallowest end of Marigold's pool, bringing home sweets and sweet breads for breakfast. After peeking at the specials listed just inside the front door and furtively perusing a menu, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I made my reservation and geared up for the deep end.
We waded through the crowded dining room to our table near the back. The high ceilings made the room feel open even though it was busy, and the warm, yellow-orange walls kept each table cozy. A slew of chandeliers fashioned from small, inverted and trimmed Christmas trees hung from the rafters, adding a festive holiday glow. As we settled into our comfortable chairs, we met an extensive menu featuring an array of salads, soups and pizzas. Rustic meat and fish dishes dominated the entrees and specials.
Happily, much of the food proved as inviting as the surroundings. Crocks of onion soup ($4.95) arrived hot and cheesy, perhaps a bit too hot as the cheese had begun the transition from browned to burnt. Beneath the bubbling crouton a heap of tender onions percolated in a sweet broth. Gorgonzola, pecans and fresh fruit dotted a salad of romaine greens ($4.99), creating a nicely balanced array of stimulating and refreshing flavors, accentuated by a sherry-walnut vinaigrette. Caesar salad ($3.99) was the only real miss this night. The lettuce and the flavor were limp despite a smell that packed a promising punch.
Chef Dominique Chavanon's tenure in one of France's finest kitchens shines through in the entrees at Marigold. His dishes reflect a commitment to three hallmarks of classic French cuisine: simple ingredients, exacting preparation and silky sauces. A prime example was the tangy tomato sauce bursting with capers and Kalamata olives that combined with three sizeable fillets in the Red Rock Snapper Marseillaise ($15.50). The sauce proved a perfect foil for the mild, buttery Snapper. All of our other entrees spent time on the grill, where a very skilled hand earns high marks.
Steaks achieved near perfection on the hot iron. A culotte steak (the cap cut of the sirloin, meaning only one per side of beef) was joined by a velvety red wine and shallot sauce. This dish, available nightly, embodies the simple side of good French cooking and came in at a wallet-friendly $16. If size matters, the Kansas City steak special wins. A massive, full-flavored, bone-in New York strip, it tipped the scales at over 20 ounces and brought plenty of shock value to the table. Yet, it too was handled with care and partnered with another French classic, a rich but not heavy green peppercorn sauce that added depth and breadth to the meat's flavor. A veal chop ($20) evoked a softer touch from the kitchen, in the form of an herbed cream sauce that highlighted the grilled chop's sweet and rich characteristics. The sauce had a little thickness to it, and the flavor of the cream itself highlighted the meat and the herbs.
Venison rack chops ($24) brought out other elements in the kitchen's French background. After achieving medium-rare nirvana on the grill, the two thick chops were colorfully plated with sauted vegetables, yam pure and a poached pear. Sadly, the sauce was a bit over-reduced, and its thick saltiness almost overwhelmed the venison's woodsy richness. Despite this stumble, a welcome surprise awaited inside the poached pear, which had been hollowed out and stuffed with a celery root pure. This helped to offset the sauce, as the soft sweetness of the pear and its contents made for a great flavor and texture contrast with the earthy venison.
From beginning to end, dinner was a success. Our waiter was professional and energetic, but a bit under-attentive. Details such as fully explaining the specials or offering to refill empty coffee cups escaped him. Much more importantly, the folks in the kitchen are clearly good at what they do. The same care that produces those alluring sweets in the front case yields equally attractive food, making for an enjoyable evening and a delicious meal. Having feasted at length on the large portions, however, I could not consider a foray into that part of the Marigold Caf and Bakery that I know best -- the front counter and its decadent treats. So I ended this trip the way I had all those before it -- by taking some dessert home for later.
Marigold Caf and Bakery
4605 Centennial Blvd. (at Garden of the Gods)
Open Mon. through Sat., 7-10 a.m. for breakfast; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 5-9 p.m. for dinner