I didn’t know what to make of Cheyenne Mountain Resort’s new braised buffalo short ribs with an ancho chile-coffee rub. After all, this sprawling golf and conference center is not known for its by-the-plate fine dining.The busy business retreat has a reputation for a pretty good champagne brunch and prime rib buffets, and for being able to feed large numbers of PowerPoint-fatigued conferencegoers. But doing justice to big, banquet-style seatings and small party fine dining involve such different skills that few places can do both well.(The Broadmoor is an exception, but then The Broadmoor is exceptional in many ways.)The Gazette’s food editor, Teresa Farney, had raved about the resort’s recently added upscale a la carte dinner menu, with such offerings as buffalo ribs.She pointed out that the resort’s executive chef, Brother Luck, had become a real player on the local culinary scene.But halfway into an a la carte dinner, it was clear: Cheyenne Mountain Resort has made an honest, creative effort at fine dining, but still relies on techniques and staff better suited to buffets.When three friends and I sat down in the spacious, busy dining room overlooking Cheyenne Mountain, we were the only diners I could see without name tags on lanyards and the only ones ordering from the a la carte menu.Our server, who steered us toward the weekend Prime Rib Buffet, seemed a bit surprised when we ordered from the menu — so surprised he did not even write down our orders, and had to return five minutes later to clarify.The menu reads like a winner. It’s full of Mexican and Southwestern-flavored dishes, such as salmon and avocado tartar with a fresh salsa or a meaty poblano chile stuffed with a spicy ancho chile potato and corn hash, that the chef describes as Colorado Fusion.But, in practice, the service and the seasonings stumble again and again.The cubed raw dice of avocado and fish in salmon tartar was a good concept, it just wasn’t a good salmon. The kitchen did not trim the gray, fatty, strongly flavored outer flesh before chopping the fish, and the whole dish had an off flavor, suggesting is was cheap or old or both.No one at the table had more than one bite.A wild-mushroom paté appetizer was runner up in the failure department. It was a slice of what seemed to be mostly minced portabellas suspended in a sort of onion Jell-O and drizzled with a dash of truffle oil to offer a hint of wild-mushroom flavor.Again, everyone at the table tried it, but no one tried it again.The main dishes arrived somewhat staggered and with one of the dishes wrong. When we pointed out the mistake, the waiter did not immediately offer to remedy the situation — the staff is just not used to serving (or fixing) a la carte.Once the dishes arrived, there were some nice surprises.The braised buffalo ribs ($18) had a yielding tenderness matched well with the earthy sweetness of a brown sugar or molasses rub.The stuffed poblano chile ($14) had a hearty, smoky heat from what seemed to be a dash of adobo, and the corn and potato innards were firm and well seasoned.Other dishes missed.Chicken ($15) that the menu said came seasoned with achiote — a nutty ground seed from a tree that grows mostly in the Yucatan — had no hint of the seed’s mild paprikalike flavor. Instead, it just tasted like a favorite of banquet cooks, the over-salted skinless, boneless breast.The steak, too, had a perceivable banquet-ness. Though it was tender and generally good, it had a lack of sear that suggests it was slow-cooked in an oven, banquet-style.Calamari poppers that came with the steak on the surf and turf plate ($30) were so stuffed with cheese and heavily breaded and fried that the squid was unnoticeable.I have sat through a lot of dull banquets with rubbery food. If, at one of them, I had been served the dishes at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, I would have been pleasantly surprised.But white-tablecloth, special-occasion dining, it is not.
MOUNTAIN VIEW RESTAURANT AT CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN RESORT2 STARS out of 5(Not up to snuff)Address: 3225 Broadmoor Valley RoadContact: 538-4000 or cheyennemountain.comHours: Breakfast daily 6:30–10:30 a.m. (Sunday till 10 a.m.); lunch daily 11 a.m.–2 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10:45 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner daily 6 p.m.–10 p.m.Entrees: $15-$29Vegetarian: PlentyAlcohol: Full barCredit cards: Yes