The décor, cuisine and name leave no doubt what to expect at the Swiss Chalet in Woodland Park, and the mountain view adds an exclamation point.
This venerable restaurant has been serving residents and tourists for 56 years. A couple sitting near us on a recent visit said their first meal at the fine dining establishment was in 1982. The City Above the Clouds probably bore little resemblance then to its current appearance. Yet by all accounts, the Swiss Chalet has largely maintained its charm and an impressive menu. A few things are less than stellar, but good food helps cover most flaws.
We were warmly greeted upon entering, and our reserved table was ready with filled water glasses. Large chalkboard menus on easels are moved from table to table, so a diner has no individual bills of fare to handle except for the laminated sheet on the table identifying the nightly specials. Although asked if we wanted to order drinks, we never were offered a wine list.
When the price for entrees averages $26, certain expectations surface, and it's easy to get picky. We didn't start our inventory of slights until after we'd eaten, though. All entrees come with a choice of house-made soup or salad. The cream of asparagus soup was flavorful. The colorful salad featured the usual ingredients and one thinly sliced piece of watermelon radish. It was less pungent than most varieties and fun to try once it was identified for us.
Our server did an outstanding job answering questions and describing some of the dishes. She sold us on the almond rosemary salmon ($26.50) and the tournedos of beef ($36.50). The Saturday night special ($25) was a 6-ounce lobster tail served with clarified butter and house-made spaetzle, short, hand-rolled noodles. On weekdays, the $19 specials include such possibilities as prime rib, lamb baby back ribs and rainbow trout.
The salmon featured a generous crust of toasted almonds that complemented the flaky fish in a tantalizing balsamic vinegar and honey sauce. The portion was surprisingly large, but even more astounding was the fact that I ate all of it. It was too good to stop. The sides of wild rice and al dente broccoli and carrots were easy to leave on the plate.
The tournedos, medallions of tenderloin, are coated with a dark brown gravy, cracked green peppercorns and mushrooms. The perfectly cooked medium rare, pink and warm in the middle, soft-as-butter beef didn't really need the rich sauce, but we're glad it was there. We lamented not having a spoon to scoop up every last drop.
When we had the servers' attention, all was mostly well. But once that waned, the gaffes were more apparent. After finishing our meals, we waited for plates to be cleared and to order dessert. The longer we sat with the remnants of our meal, the more obvious the evening's intermittent slip-ups became. In addition to not being offered a wine list, for example, there was no fresh ground pepper for the soup or salad, no replacement fork when the salad plate was removed, no one inquiring to ensure the food was well prepared.
Finally, dishes were cleared and our dessert order was taken, so all was well again at the chalet. The creme brûlée ($8.50) cracked with the first tap of the spoon, and the creamy custard was velvety with vanilla overtones.
When spending a certain amount on dinner, you expect everything to be far above average - not just the food.