Death Match: King’s Chef Diner vs. Penrose Room

Posted in Travel at 14:41 by RjZ

It’s all about the experience. At least it better be, because it ain’t cheap.

It was raining on and off most of the day so we didn’t spend much time exploring Colorado Springs. Which left plenty of time to study the menus. The historic Broadmoor hotel has five different restaurants on the property and one of them is the only AAA five-diamond restaurant in Colorado. We were studying the menus, trying to decide if it would be worth it.

The choice was more even more difficult because of breakfast. The quirky King’s Chef diner in downtown was full when we walked in, and the hostess sat us at two open counter stools without even asking if we wanted a table. The menu had various detailed descriptions, which can all be equally summed up as a multi-layered pile of fatty nourishment. Except it was deeee-licious nourishment. Really friggin’ delicious. The cooks, easily visible from the counter would squirt an unidentified butter substitute from clear plastic bottles onto the grilles with regular frequency. I assume the bottle is laced with crack, because this was one damn tasty stack of food.

Normally, when I travel for business I am almost as cheap as I am for personal travel, but I do sometimes have to entertain clients or be entertained by those who hope the company I am working for will actually listen to any opinion I have and become their client. That’s how I have the pleasant fortune to have eaten in some fantastic places. Between my Belgian colleague’s best friend the chef and the Parisian gourmand, to name a couple, I’ve had no shortage of fine dining experiences.

But it was breakfast I kept coming back to while studying the menus. Was the food in the Michelin three-star in Paris really that much better than the diner this morning? I wasn’t so sure. Worse, at the Broadmoor, none of it was all that cheap, and, it turns out, the selections at the other restaurants were a tad uninspired. Let the battle between Penrose Room and King’s Chef Diner begin! You only live once, they say. Oh, and I was spending a generous gift certificate….

Was the food at the Penrose Room better than King’s Chef Diner? Sometimes. Not always, but sometimes, and that’s saying something. Remember, the cooks at the diner were clearly using intoxicants in their food. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The dining room, and lake and mountain view was top classs, as one would expect from the constant reminders while making and confirming my reservation that a jacket is required and no jeans please. The service, too, was impeccable, but not stuffy. A cadre of people were there to help us to our seats, provide pillows for our backs (really) and guide us through the wine list filled with landmines $300 – $1,400 bottle of wines. (actually, there was one on there for about $9,000, but that’s just silly.)

I’ll spare you a play-by-play and jump to dessert, or in my case, a selection of cheeses. (I can’t seem to shake the German saying “cheese closes the stomach.”) We’d already been offered a variety of glasses of wine to taste in our quest to have a cheap good value glass with our meal and the sommeliere (is that plural for sommelier? Because there were several of them…!) had been knowledgeable and helpful. So instead of dessert I selected three cheeses and asked for a suggestion of a port.

Our level I  sommelier (there are other levels?) was stumped and called in for reinforcements. Mr. Level II arrived and explained that he knew the perfect port to go with all three of these difficult to match cheeses, but, alas, they were all out of it! (What kind of place is this?!) With my permission, he would like to bring a few out for me to try.

Couldn’t be better for me! If given the choice to try ten different samples even at the expense of one really good choice I’ll line ‘em up. Three port glasses are arranged on the table and Mr. Level II proceeds to introduce us to three different bottles and describe how and why these will go with the selected morsels of cheese. One of the selections, for example, is the 30 year old vintage port I’d already crossed off my list of potential choices due to cost. (A single glass will cost more than breakfast for two at the King’s Chef.) While I’m still too dazzled at my flight of after dinner drinks to begin trying them, he returns with another glass and a tiny, dusty bottle of something too rare to be on the menu. He pours a small sample of that as well, saying that this won’t really work with the cheese, but we should make sure to have it with the chocolate dessert also on the table. (Just in case there are any gaps in the stomach that cheese can’t close…)

At this point, I am pretty sure that I’ve over spent my gift certificate on this spread so I endeavor to get everything out of the port and cheese pairings. I try nearly every possibility of this Madiera or that vintage port before and after that blue or this soft ripened cheese and at the end I am flabbergasted. The pairings are perfect. The port he wanted to recommend, he described as between one and another, but closer to the other, and after trying everything, um, that’s exactly it. And this imaginary beverage is the only one that could have worked with all the cheeses. Now how long do you have to study (fun study to be sure) to know that? And to remember that? Come on?

The bill finally arrives and I am busy working the complex equation of (experience + service +  food)/ (value + having to sit up straight). Maybe because I didn’t lie about this being some special occasion, or just because I was so enthusiastic about flight of ports, but the extra samples of wine, and all of the ports except the cheapest one were no where to be found. Whew! Still, dining at the Penrose isn’t cheap. But like the Belgian chef carrying a jar of truffles around the dining room for everyone to take a whiff before the rare fungus made it to my plate, it most definitely is an experience and in the end, worth it. Just make sure not to skip breakfast at King’s Chef.


  1. nancy said,

    April 28, 2009 at 22:06

    “multi-layered pile of fatty nourishment”. Mmmmm!

  2. Tim Rohrer said,

    May 4, 2009 at 22:38

    One of your funniest and best entries ever… if you ever retire from physics, you have a future as a food writer–the tack of comparing food at a dive v. haute cuisine would be an awesome regular feature.

    One typo flourish I enjoyed was the alst line: King Chef’s? Or King’s Chef?

  3. RjZ said,

    May 25, 2009 at 19:03

    Typo is corrected, even if it was somehow humorous.

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