Monument's renovated Sundance Lodge takes shaky, unusual aim with Oakley's Café

Step into Oakley's Café & Bistro at the Sundance Mountain Lodge (formerly the Falcon Inn), and you'll discover a western theme tastefully carried out with hearty wood tables and iron chairs. Bright blue and yellow paint and decorative light fixtures are enhanced by a wall of windows looking out onto the pool area, fire pit and the Front Range.

Then, confusion.

Just off the café entrance is a dark room with tube lighting. In this somewhat retro-hip lounge, low-slung couches sit below Thelonious Monk and George Gershwin album covers. When I inquired about this space, I was told it's the "bistro."

Cool, no doubt, but given that both spaces work off the same menu and bar, having a seating option between such disparate décor is just odd.

Unfortunately, it's not the only head-scratcher you'll encounter at Oakley's, a work-in-progress where exciting highs are numbed by disenchanting lows.

In August, we learned the place was in the process of redesigning a menu that would be basically completed by September; but in recent visits, I was told the menu and dining areas are still in transition.

On the menu at present, you'll encounter one of my pet peeves: fancy verbiage designed to make dishes appear more upscale. When did the word "appetizer" become a bad thing? Why "tapas"?

I can assure you, the rich, salty, crispy mountain of waffle-cut fries ($9.50) with sprinkled bacon, bleu cheese and green onion, drizzled with ranch dressing and a tangy, spicy buffalo sauce, looked nothing like a tapas plate (traditionally a small side dish). High point: They tasted damn good and would have made a great accompaniment to a cold beer and a game. Low point: They arrived with the entrées, leaving us eating triage style, prioritizing our bites before room temperature claimed them.

Word games continue across the Oakley's menu. My overpriced Sundance "Piccatta" ($15) with a caper, lemon and tequila cream sauce, didn't bear any resemblance to a true piccata. Instead, I received a small bowl of bland penne with a dry, unbreaded piece of chicken that had been cut into strips and placed on top, nary a caper in sight. I'm all for creative license, but there's a point at which you can conceptualize yourself out of the right to define your dish in traditional terms.

The Reuben ($9.50), though sporting a delicious green chili Thousand Island and overall good flavor, required a fork and knife to cut through tough meat. At breakfast, the Colorado Benedict ($8.95) proved stellar, two perfectly poached eggs topped with chopped avocado and tomato, accompanied by crisp fried potatoes. But the menu describes a green chili hollandaise, and ours had no green chili or spiciness. Finally, a soggy center diminished the otherwise tasty Hawaiian sweet bread French toast ($6.95).

I do remember one moment of true delight: Eating a brightly colored Italian peach and mango sorbet ($3.95), I found it so tangy and sweet that my jaw tingled.

Since the lodge and restaurant are admittedly still in a growing phase, I'll take that memory, and a few others, as signs of good things yet to come. Once the staff solidifies its menu and milieu, its sense of style should shine through.


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