When former The Famous partner Tom Lazaron purchased Gertrude's this past September from longtime owner/chef Robert Wooldridge, Lazaron assured the only change was the new face. He planned neither a massive menu overhaul nor shift in cuisine direction; he'd inherited a stable Old Colorado City business with loyal clientele not a stressful deal.
That is, until one accounts for the stress of living up to past expectations of said loyal clientele. Regulars can be picky buggers. Some will scan minutiae for signs of impending demise a switch from Splenda to Equal suddenly heralds the apocalypse ...
But salvation often comes in the form of those who don't fear change and also are a restaurant's best friend: newcomers without baggage. Like me.
To date, Lazaron appears to have largely kept his word, save for a few entree additions to the lunch menu.
On two visits to Gertrude's, I found a near-empty dining room, clean with white tablecloths above polished hardwood and decorated with accomplished plein air and landscape works by neighboring artist Laura Reilly. The service on both visits matched the fine atmosphere as did ticket times and dish presentation.
For lunch, my party of three shared two popular Gertrude's entrees, the spinach walnut tortellini with Gorgonzola ($12.95) and curry chicken salad on a croissant ($7.95) as well as one newcomer, the stuffed portabello mushroom ($8.95). The sandwich, ordered with a solid, dill-rich potato salad, proved impossible to hate the kind of light, flavorful assembly reminiscent of yuppie country club fare. The three-cheese tortellini, heavy in a cream base for lunch scored likeable, but laughable when considered with an upgrade of $4.95 for chicken and $5.95 for shrimp. Seriously? An $18 or $19 lunch item?
The new red bell pepper-, asparagus-, spinach- and artichoke-stuffed portabella, topped in melted fontina and warm walnuts and served with wild rice and sauted veggies, won us over with an interesting fusion of textures and flavor combinations. The outstanding dish also arrived heated to perfection, with no ingredients soggy, and it held its heat well until consumed.
Such cannot be said, unfortunately, for the entrees we ordered at dinner. Following a delicious but expensive appetizer of three large tiger shrimp, served atop a thatched bed of green onions next to a superb sweet-hot coconut dipping sauce ($9.95), we opted for a rack of Colorado lamb ($29.95) and the special for the evening, a pesto-stuffed trout over the same wild rice and veg setup as lunch ($23.95). And I do mean the same setup. The rice was dry and semi-hard, and the veggies were slightly rubbery. Both were lukewarm upon arrival, evidence, it seemed, of no fresh night-prep.
Luckily, both proteins were hot and flavorful, as the story with the lamb's potato wedges and veggies was the same. Otherwise, the herb and crumb dusting gifted the lamb a good, clean flavor, but I found myself longing for a sauce to dip everything in: less French, more fusion!
I didn't make it in for Gertrude's breakfast but did sample desserts. At a steep $7, the flourless Chocolate Oblivion cake over crme anglais was overshadowed by a steeper $8 butterscotch crme brle. At $4.95, a scoop of neighboring Colorado City Creamery ice cream may be better had for half the price on a post-dinner walk.
Under Lazaron, Gertrude's continues to offer fine dining worth a visit definitely at lunch. But to match the price, especially at dinner, the core basics such as food temps must be mastered and plates must arrive not just looking pretty, but following through with full flavor. Loyal clientele deserve that and new clientele will demand it.
2625 W. Colorado Ave.,
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Tuesday-Sunday, 5-9 p.m.