(out of 4 stars)
226 Union Blvd., Lakewood, 303-985-4151, www.cafebisque.com
Must-try New Dishes Pork tostada, Kobe beef burger
Old Favorites Lemon poppy seed pancakes, sesame-seared scallop salad

In the summer of 2003, when 5280 restaurant critic K. Courtney DeWinter dropped into Lakewood’s Café Bisque for bistro breakfasts and lunches, she declared it a hotspot in the making. Indeed, in the following months the cafe developed a reputation as a go-to breakfast choice. The success inspired chef-owner Alex Gurevich to add dinner and eventually open two new restaurants: Uptown’s Limón, a Peruvian restaurant, and Arvada Grill in Olde Town Arvada. Though the other ventures have pulled Gurevich away from Café Bisque, he has once again turned his attention to the cafe. He has recently renamed it Bisque: A Chef’s Kitchen and hired Isaac Layzod, formerly of 240 Union, to lead his kitchen.

Every good restaurant critic is also an excellent eavesdropper, bending her ear to hear what the neighboring table says about the pork, the wines, the server. And on this particular Monday morning my job was easy. Only one other couple sat in Bisque’s comfy-causal dining room. I didn’t even have to strain to hear them tell the server that after a breakfast of ham-laden croque madame ($10) they were headed to Vail. Brilliant plan, I thought, since Bisque’s creamy lattes, perfectly poached eggs, and accessible location off Highway 6 present an ideal way to start a trip to the high country.

The mountains weren’t in my cards, but as I dipped forkfuls of the fluffy lemon poppy seed pancakes ($8) into syrup, I realized why for most of its diners Bisque is a regular stop. The food is fresh, flavorful, and comforting. As my pancakes disappeared, my dining companion broke through the crispy corn tortilla of her breakfast tostada ($9.50), scooping up tender bites of shredded pork, black beans, and spicy green chile. We agreed that Gurevich and Layzod made a savvy move when they decided to leave Bisque’s breakfast menu largely the same; it’s the restaurant’s foundation. (Note: The complete breakfast menu—and the lemon poppy seed pancakes—is only served weekdays and Saturdays before 11 a.m. and during Sunday brunch.)

When Gurevich expanded into dinner, he used his contemporary international style to mold the menu. A weeknight found a friend and me at Bisque sipping Sauvignon Blanc and nibbling lightly seared sesame scallops ($13) and a Kobe beef burger ($17). Between courses, Layzod stopped by to ask after the food and drop off two amuses-bouche. The kitchen certainly didn’t lack skill or finesse because of Gurevich’s backseat role in daily operations.

This morning, though, turning back to the Vail-bound couple, I recognized that what Bisque lacks is a unifying charisma. While the server had genuinely listened to the other table, she’d hardly given us the time of day. When we walked in, she greeted us with “Two? Over there,” gesturing toward a table in the corner. Other mornings indicated that bumpy service wasn’t unusual. Unattended checks were left long at tables where diners were itching to go. Cold coffee was delivered only to have the server disappear. While touch-and-go service darkens any dining experience, it’s particularly disappointing at Bisque, where the space—boxy from its strip-mall setting—needs a warm vibe to ease its rigidity in the mornings and dress up its breakfast-nook feel in the evenings.

So, despite its notable breakfast menu, Bisque is a once-in-a-while stop. The pancakes and burger are worthy of a foodie’s must-try list, and as Layzod implements more seasonal changes to the dinner menu, other items might be, too. But Bisque’s service needs an infusion of friendly professionalism—beginning first with its demeanor and then its client interactions. Because no matter how good its food, Bisque will only be truly successful if it treats its diners with efficiency and grace. Fortunately for Bisque, Layzod’s influence in the dining room is a step in the right direction.