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The Leonid meteor shower shows itself every year in mid-November, and while the display is spectacular only every 33 years or so, even on an off night, the Leonids provide an eye-opening experience. They give us a glimmer of what's beyond our limited understanding, some insight into life's eternal glories.
1 Lake Circle
Colorado Springs, CO 80933
Region: Southern Colorado
Mushroom terrine: $11.50
Seared Strasbourg foie gras: $17
Penrose salad: $6.50
Lobster bisque: $7.50
Sturgeon caviar (30 grams): $35
Fillet of English Channel Dover sole: $32
Tenderloin of veal Florentine: $29
A variety of factors both in the sky and on the ground can affect the Leonids' star power, including changes in the orbit of the meteor shower's origins (the Tempel-Tuttle comet) and how close the comet is to the sun, as well as the phase of the moon, the observer's location on Earth, the cloud cover and ambient lighting. And then there's the matter of how much Champagne you consume before you attempt to haul your butt out of the hotel-room bed to catch the meteor shower's peak at 3 a.m.
Still, what better place to observe such celestial happenings than Colorado's very own Mobil five-star hotel, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs? Especially if the meteor shower serves as the chaser to an elegant meal in the hotel's five-star restaurant, The Penrose Room, considered not just by Mobil (41 years running) but also AAA and every other guidebook on the planet to be one of the most impressive restaurants in the country.
But like the Leonids this year, our Broadmoor experience fell far short of our expectations. From room problems -- let's just say that apparently only important people get king-sized beds and bathroom telephones in working order -- to food that was badly timed and prepared even worse, we were seeing stars, all right, but not the five we'd anticipated.
Built in 1891 as a casino, the Broadmoor was purchased in 1916 by a star of local society, Spencer Penrose, regarded by many as the "godfather of Colorado Springs" because he put so much of his vast fortune into public works. After Penrose died in 1939, the offspring of his partner, Charles Tutt (remembered in the Charles Court, one of ten other dining opportunities in the massive, multi-building Broadmoor complex), took over until 1988, when the Oklahoma Publishing Company bought the place and began a $75 million upgrade. Oklahoma Publishing, by the way, knows about stars: Among many other things, OPC owns the Grand Ole Opry and the Gaylord/Opryland hotels -- neither of which has attained even four-star status.
According to the Mobil Travel Guide, five stars denote a restaurant that is "one of the best in the country," and provides "a rare and unique dining experience." Twenty-six "characteristics" are listed as essential for the five-star designation, including top-quality china, an "ideal" noise level, linen towels in the restroom and no pretension or attitude from the staff. Service should be "marked by true hospitality" that is "seamless from the first phone call to the end of the meal," and the food must be "extraordinary" and delivered with "flawless execution." The guide's explanation concludes with this statement: "Suffice it to say, when you are having a meal in a Five-Star restaurant, you know it. And upon departure, the memory of the fine dining experience lingers."
Well, it does linger, but not in the way we -- or Mobil -- had hoped.
The Penrose Room's decor was undeniably impressive. An elegant foyer opened up into the main dining room, where a spectacular chandelier hung in front of a small stage, which was occupied throughout the night by a strong-voiced jazz singer doing justice to assorted standards while couples glided smoothly across the dance floor. Glittery and elegant, the rest of the big room was plush, with velvety-soft upholstery and the kind of muted colors that give a subtly glamorous feel while still fading into the background. We weren't seated in the main room, however; instead, we were taken to the long, narrow dining area behind it, where banquette-style booths lined one wall and four-top tables the other, both with twinkle-twinkle- little-star views of the night sky and the silhouette of Cheyenne Mountain. It was all so romantic, so big-sigh charming, that we settled into our luxurious chairs and obediently used the cute little flashlight offered by the waiter to peruse the opulently worded menu.
That menu is the work of chef Siegfried "Sigi" Eisenberger, who boasts thirty years in the business, many of them spent in important places like Austria, Holland and Nashville, Tennessee. Eisenberger is only the fourth chef in the Broadmoor's history, and as a member of two gold-medal-winning U.S. culinary teams, he made his mark as a savvy, innovative creator of classic foods with a contemporary touch. He lived up to his reputation with our first taste of his cooking, an amuse bouche, listed by Mobil as one of the nicer touches at a five-star establishment. A spoon cradled the half-liquid concoction, an almost Asian-style taste tempter of sweet and sour that had us rolling our eyes and moaning. Once the sauvignon blanc we'd ordered from the friendly wine steward arrived -- one of the best values on an extensive wine list backed by a 3,000-bottle cellar that alternated between obscenely expensive and reasonable -- we toasted and settled back, anticipation growing by the minute.
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