October 2005

A Primo Pizzeria
By Carol W. Maybach

The Oven Pizza e Vino
7167 W. Alaska Drive, Lakewood

The Draw
A major culinary talent arrives in Denver; local, organic produce; reasonable prices.

The Drawback
Limited menu leaves diners begging for more.

Don't Miss
Any of the wood-fired pizzas, oven-roasted vegetable salad, oven-baked doughnuts, fresh apple pie.

Vegetarian Options
Margherite, fresh tomato, smoked portobello, white, and build-your-own pizzas; breads and spreads; three salads; bowl of housemade mozzarella with bread sticks.

Where More is More
By Elisabeth True

2500 E. First Ave.

The Draw
Sleek steak house, excellent steaks, plenty of people watching.

The Drawback
Slightly choppy service, dated menu, over-the-top experience.

Don't Miss
Bone-in filet, New York strip, prime rib, smash burger.

Vegetarian Options
You're out of luck if you're a vegetarian, although the grilled artichoke is delicious.

Two Bentleys, one Porsche, a muscle car, a sprinkling of celebrity athletes, and girls with long legs and swishy hair are the eye candy at Elway's, No. 7's year-old steak house in Cherry Creek. Once you've rubber-necked your way past the parking lot and the loud, masculine bar, you face a wall of granite with water splashing artfully across its overlapping surfaces in front of the entrance. The sound of water is a soothing antidote to the bar's pick-up atmosphere, and the huge slabs of granite are further indication that Elway's is a place for power dining.

The decor has Arts-and-Crafts touches, such as hanging amber lamps, organic features (water, stone, etc.), and stone colors, but with a lot more grandeur than your average bungalow. There's also an Asian influence in the stark flower arrangements and wood walls rippled to pick up the water feature. But the clientele and the food override any attempts at minimalist elegance. The diners range from 28 to 50 years in age, with the women tending to be younger and the men older. The age differences are big—which goes right along with the size of everything else: the hair, the conversation, the steaks, and, of course, the check.

There's nothing understated about the food. The menu, like everything else, has some modern touches but otherwise is distinctly retro. The shrimp cocktail ($12) is served in an enormous goblet filled with dry ice, roiling and frothing with steam cascading across the tablecloth. The lamb fondue appetizer ($12) is a near-entrée-size portion of superbly cooked but fatty lollipop lamb chops. The chops pack quite a wallop on their own, but are too greasy when paired with the Sonoma pepper jack cheese dipping sauce. Served in a piping-hot, miniature cauldron, the cheese is a little bland and too viscous to adequately coat the lamb. If Elway's is really striving for retro, then the cheese sauce should be thin, creamy, and cut with Kirsch

A fondness for things that steam and sizzle at the table extends to the desserts. The s'mores ($8) come with a little cast-iron cauldron filled with Sterno for cooking the marshmallows, before dipping them in a lustrous chocolate sauce. Usually s'mores have the added enhancement of a campfire, and in this indoor setting they lose something. The dessert, like many of the items on the menu, just isn't witty enough. Items such as the lamb fondue or the Oscar Elway's style (mounds of crab and bread crumbs in a béarnaise sauce) are actually pretty straightforward. I can't quite figure out whether Elway's is engaged in sophisticated humor or if the restaurant is taking its role as the big, flashy newcomer to Cherry Creek North very seriously.

Perhaps there's a clue in the service, which can be acutely earnest. Servers work in teams of two and overwhelm diners with a flood of canned patter at the slightest provocation. Despite the rehearsed professionalism, there were a few missteps: Entrées arrived before appetizers were cleared, which made me feel rushed; one server got the drinks orders wrong, twice; and one of my servers, although charming, was utterly clueless when it came to the menu. But all was forgiven when I met Maggie, an endearingly fresh-faced Midwestern transplant who answered my questions with the just the right amount of information. Rather than a torrent of memorized sales talk, her refreshing approach was entirely helpful.

Maggie isn't the only thing to recommend at Elway's. The steaks are superb. My favorite is the bone-in filet ($36). It's a perfect 13 ounces (including the bone) of steak served unadorned on a white platter, seasoned with just the right amount of salt to bring out the meat, cooked to perfection, and so tender you can almost eat it with a spoon. Every cut of meat I tried, from the massive prime rib ($26) to the New York strip ($33) was skillfully cooked, juicy, tender, and flavored with the same intense dry rub. Although the cuts of beef are gargantuan, that didn't stop us from topping them with the Oscar Elway's style ($6), the béarnaise ($3.50), and the hollandaise ($3.50) on various occasions. The sauces are silky treats, but the steaks were actually better on their own.

The smash burger ($10) is another successful entrée. The "smash" means it's pressed down on the grill, but the meat isn't dry or compressed. In fact, the beef is almost in shreds it's so juicy. A dining companion who grew up in Ohio with an Italian butcher for a father claims this is the best burger she's ever had, and I tend to agree.

Unfortunately, the seafood dishes don't measure up. The Alaskan king crab legs ($28) were mushy and too marine, nearly fishy in flavor. The Elway's salmon ($28) comes heaped with shrimp and crab with a miso beurre blanc sauce, and although Maggie correctly billed it as light, it's almost too light. It needs lemon, butter, and seasoning to ratchet up the flavor. The fish is firm and plump, but the dish isn't tasty enough

But diners don't come here to be amazed on the culinary front—unless it's by the flash and excess. Hence the old-fashioned menu; there's nothing safer than something you've tried before, and you've probably seen all this before. If you can overlook the overtones of soap opera chic, there's enough here to recommend itself; you'll just have to navigate the shiny to find what really shines.