After four meals at Decisions, I still can't decide if this restaurant knows what it's doing.
The basics are there: Decisions serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in an area that's lacking in good options for all three meals, it's in a good location for downtown business crowds, and it offers a straightforward menu with a little something for everyone.
What's missing is any attention to detail. Wilted lettuce, unbalanced dressings and food that was either undercooked or overcooked were just the start of the kitchen's problems. In the dining room, servers spaced out refills, stopped too long to talk to buddies and handled glasses by the rim before depositing them in front of diners, significantly reducing the charms of an otherwise appealing space.
Owner Michael Thomas certainly knows how to work a room. Manager of the Cherry Creek Le Peep for six years, he honed his hospitality skills over skillet breakfasts and omelettes before heeding the advice of a friend, who'd grown tired of listening to Thomas's dreams of opening his own place and finally told him to "shut up and do it." He did it in the spot on East Colfax Avenue that had been occupied by Chloe for about three months, an all-gray space that needed some work to cheer it up. And cheer it up he did: Thomas painted the inviting bar a deep red, the ceiling plum to match the upholstery on the black metal and dark-wood chairs, and the walls a deep, mottled yellow in the trendy Tuscan style. Locally produced art, all for sale, hangs on the walls, and a fountain-based wall sculpture adds a Zen calmness to the entryway.
To come up with the menu, Thomas worked with chef Matthew McGovern -- formerly of the Metropolitan Club in the Denver Tech Center -- to create a fun lineup that covers all the bases, from crêpes and eggs Benedict to classic sandwiches and pasta. Although Thomas provided the concept, the recipes are mostly McGovern's, and they tend toward standard American fare that's pretty uncomplicated yet still boasts savvy ingredient combinations. Unfortunately, the kitchen fails to competently execute many of those dishes.
Breakfast, which is served daily until 4 p.m. and was our Best of Denver pick for its Power Breakfast clientele, is Decisions' most successful meal, perhaps because of Thomas's Le Peep experience. Pancakes, plain or with fruit and other fillings such as walnuts or granola, were fluffy inside and lightly crisped on the top and bottom; the warm syrup on the side had a good maple flavor and was too thick to have been the truly cheap stuff. Properly cooked three-egg omelettes had been folded over our picks from a list of seventeen items -- including hollandaise, shaved ham, grilled tofu and green chiles -- as well as cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. An order of crêpes brought two slightly eggy French pancakes filled with ripe bananas and blueberries and topped with canned but still tasty whipped cream. So far, so good.
Then came the steak and eggs, a real eye-opener: The six-ounce rib-eye was shoe-leather tough and well beyond my request of medium-rare, while the eggs over easy arrived over queasy, the whites still fluid over yolks that had never felt the heat of a grill. And the breakfast bagel sandwich consisted of a bagel that had been fresh about a week before, dried-out scrambled eggs, and bacon that was limper than a wet piece of paper towel.
Lunch was even rougher, starting with that server who couldn't keep her mitts off the edge of our glasses. The potstickers had been steamed until they looked as though they'd been hosed down; they were packed with pork, cabbage and carrots that had absolutely no flavor, and the accompanying "teriyaki" soy sauce was all soy. But our other starter was a marvel, a martini glass full of deep-fried olives that earned Decisions its second Best of Denver award. Thomas says the concept came from a food rep, who thought it would be a good idea to stuff black olives with Asiago cheese, coat them in breadcrumbs and then deep-fry them. And it was, although the tasty little suckers didn't benefit from a side of too-thick and too-sweet ranch dressing.
Much worse was the "vinaigrette" on a grilled-salmon salad, which proved to be nothing but oil. And while the large fish fillet was just fine, the greens beneath it were slimy and wilted. The citrus-marinated chicken sandwich -- described as "served on grilled sourdough with melted Monterey Jack, lettuce, mayo, tomato and pineapple" -- had sounded delightful, but was really just a breast of grilled chicken, with no sign of either the citrus or pineapple. The icing on the cake of this meal: a slice of chocolate cake that was so frozen, it was like eating bad ice-cream cake -- without the ice cream.
A second lunch was even more disastrous. The Caesar dressing contained so much vinegar, I thought I was eating pickled romaine, except that real pickles would have been crunchier than these lukewarm, lifeless leaves. A BLT's thin slices of wheat toast could hardly hold in the L and T but had no problem with the stingy two slices of flubby B. The final insult was delivered by our server, who informed me that the kitchen had run out of desserts on Friday (this was Monday) but still had a few crème brûlées, the only item made in-house. I wound up with a ramekin filled not with "burnt cream," as the name implies, but a curdled custard the texture of cream cheese topped with a sugar-syrup garnish so sticky it seemed like someone had licked the dessert before sending it out. And instead of burnt-sugar topping, I got fake whipped cream that was obviously from the bottom of a can, since the piping was as blobby as a snowman on an 80-degree day. To the server's credit, he took the dessert off the bill.
Dinner was another split decision. A starter of Thai peanut shrimp had potential, since it simply called for shrimp sautéed with garlic in olive oil and topped with chopped roasted peanuts. But the garlic had been overcooked, giving the crustaceans a burnt, bitter taste. An order of calamari had been cooked just right, however, with the "tubes and tentacles" lightly breaded and fried. Too bad the squid was sided by a dollop of Cajun aioli so old that a skin had formed around the edges.
More breading and deep-frying made the most of our eggplant parmesan entrée: The eggplant medallions glistened gold, with plenty of cheese and a thick, tomato-pastey red sauce adding extra flavor. The chicken Oscar paired a tender, pan-seared breast with crabmeat and asparagus, all drizzled with real, lemon-kissed hollandaise, but the side of rice pilaf was dried out and actually crunchy in spots. The linguini Romano was another loser: too much pasta tossed with oil-sogged zucchini, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and more improperly cooked garlic.
Based on previous experiences, skipping dessert wasn't a tough decision.
Can this restaurant get it together? If Thomas puts his mind -- and his staff -- to it. Decisions, decisions.
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