When a menu has enchiladas, tacos and guacamole, it's a pretty sure bet you're in a Mexican restaurant. But not at Sonterra Grill in Colorado Springs.
Yes, Mexican classics are offered at this lively downtown restaurant, but so are entrees that typically don't share the same bill of fare.
Sonterra has a distinct Latin influence, but to call it Tex-Mex, or a variation thereof, would be disservice. It's probably best to use Sonterra's own lingo: "innovative Southwestern," bearing in mind that the region is expansive to the south and west.
Even the classics represent creative variations, such as red chili mushroom spinach enchiladas ($13) or ahi tuna tostadas ($14). A lot of Mexican staples have their roots as street food. It's unlikely you'll find a wonton as the base for a food-truck tostada, though.
The saffron and herb grilled beef tenderloin ($30) and jumbo seared scallops ($27) also are far from the casual street food category. The scallops surprised me so positively that I would readily order this dish again - and again.
The caramel hue of the scallops was a veneer concealing the milky white, buttery smooth interior. The entrée is served with coconut risotto. The creamy arborio rice cooked with pieces of coconut is served on a plate drizzled with lemon basil pepita (pumpkin seed) pesto. The slightly al dente risotto struck a balance on the sweet and savory scale. The menu is undergoing a few changes, and the scallops now will be served with pieces of crispy pancetta and basil foam.
Our server proclaimed the scallops his all-time favorite item in the restaurant. It's easy to understand why. There were a few slip-ups, however, that had nothing to do with the fine cuisine.
The evening we visited was a precursor to winter, but we didn't expect it to follow us indoors. We were seated in the front of the restaurant near the wall of glass facing the street. A portable heater meant to take off the chill didn't. We ate wearing our coats. A group at a nearby table was similarly bundled. This detracted from our overall experience. The rest of the restaurant is well-appointed and comfortable.
A cup of house-made tortilla soup ($4) temporarily took the nip off. Thick chunks of grilled chicken, cubes of avocado, copious amounts of cilantro and thin strips of crispy tortilla chips enhanced the chicken broth that boasted piquancy, but not so much as to overwhelm the taste buds. The variety of textures made this a pleasing way to begin the meal.
Carne asada with rice and black beans was our second entree. The marinated, thinly sliced skirt steak was remarkably tender. Chimichurri sauce and caramelized onions were tasty additions to the dish.
Having fried ice cream ($8) for dessert didn't make us any colder but did add to our waistlines. The treat is actually chocolate chip cookie fried ice cream and earns an award for creative decadence.
A large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream is covered with cookies to form a ball. This is quickly fried, covered with fresh whipped cream and dusted with cinnamon. It's sweet, rich and too much for both of us.
Later, we overheard our server describe the evening special, which he never revealed to us. We also would have liked a cup of coffee to accompany dessert, but it was never offered. By the time we were able to catch anyone's attention, we were ready to leave. These are not major issues, but they did cast a literal and figurative frostiness, due to the seating. Thankfully, the margaritas and food, especially the scallops, made it worthwhile.