Dining out: Elevations

Published: Friday, Sept. 24 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sometimes, I just wing it.

Though I like to visit restaurants recommended by readers, on occasion I'll just stop by a place. Maybe I've driven by and thought it looked interesting. Maybe I've seen an ad in the newspaper or read about it in a story.

Sometimes that yields great results. For example, that's how I found Boulevard, the excellent Holladay restaurant I visited a few weeks ago.

But sometimes, it doesn't work, like last weekend, when a friend and I visited Elevations, a restaurant just off the lobby of the Marriott Hotel Downtown.

Elevations has a major apres-ski vibe going on in its sizable dining space, with colorful vintage ski posters, fringed throw pillows, chandeliers made of antlers and cozy seating. Much thought and care has obviously gone into the decor.

If only that were true of the service and food. The best I can say is that they were adequate. If you were staying at the Marriott and wanted a bite to eat, you wouldn't hate what you had at Elevations. But you probably wouldn't love it, either, and that's too bad.

The service was similarly adequate, but not exactly good. Our server did fine, but the hostess and other staff were a little abrupt and seemed confused at times, as when I asked for some kind of parking validation and was told that the staff member didn't think Elevations offered them. When I asked at the front desk, the staff assured me I wouldn't have to pay for parking and quickly phoned over to the restaurant to rectify things.

That's the strange thing about this restaurant. I've stayed at many Marriott hotels over the years and have generally found their service to be very good, if not superlative. Just average service at a Marriott property is a surprise.

Our meal actually started nicely, with the shrimp-and-crab martini and the Cache Valley quesadillas. The martini is a vibrant layered salad of greens, mango, papaya, shredded Dungeness crab and diced shrimp, served in a martini glass with two jumbo shrimp hanging off the top, cocktail-style. There's a cup of decent cocktail sauce on the side.

We also liked the quesadillas, a simple but well-cooked blend of cheeses, squash, peppers, onions and tomatoes between spinach and tomato tortillas. They tasted both rich and fresh, especially with dollops of the accompanying guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

We looked over the entree menu but ultimately decided on Elevations' buffet, which featured a couple of entrees — pork loin and seafood Newburg — as well as side dishes, salad, soups and a made-to-order pasta bar.

Let's talk about the best first: My friend and I both enjoyed our pasta selections. She had the cheese tortellini in a standard but well-spiced and chunky marinara, and I had the penne pasta with sweet little whole shrimp and Alfredo sauce. The Alfredo tasted fresh and milky, and the pasta was not overcooked.

The seafood Newburg was not bad, either, though its pink sauce was a little too thick for my taste, and its veggies a shade overcooked. Things like that can be forgiven in a buffet.

But the pork loin was a disappointment, despite its tantalizing appearance, in a dark sauce with sliced cooked apples. The meat itself was overcooked and dry, to the point that neither the apples nor the earthy sauce could make it taste juicy. I know cooking pork for a buffet is a delicate business, but if it can't be managed well, it shouldn't be offered.

Several sides were available, as well, and they, too, were a mixed bag. The mixed baby carrots and broccoli were crisp-tender and lightly buttery, but the long grain and wild rice, though it had a nice texture, was dry and too salty.

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