(out of 5)
If you go
What: Cafe Diva
Where: Located in Torian Plum Plaza in Ski Time Square
When: Opens nightly at 5:30 p.m.
Contact: 970-871-0508; www.cafediva.com; reservations are recommended
Cuisine: A blend of nouveau and classical cuisine using fine ingredients
Cost: Expect to pay about $50 a person, excluding alcohol and tip
Cafe Diva — or just Diva to locals — has become Steamboat Springs’ favorite fine dining experience for a reason: consistent quality. It’s really that simple. No pretentious menu designs or food that is so difficult to pronounce that a Frenchmen would be tongue-tied. Just great food and spectacular service.
The contemporary atmosphere of the restaurant’s quaint Torian Plum Plaza location at the base of Steamboat Ski Area pairs perfectly with the food. The restaurant is clean and attractive. The welcoming staff and ownership team also make it comforting. It’s obvious to most that Cafe Diva employees care about the clientele who pass through their doors.
During a recent dining experience there, we were greeted immediately with a smile and a friendly Steamboat welcome. An extensive selection of wines is displayed in a beautiful custom wine case visible from the entrance, inviting you try a fine vintage. Your coat is taken, and the dining experience begins.
After a personable introduction with a well-rehearsed server, you are assured that time is not an issue; enjoying your dining experience is the priority. My guest and I were well cared for by our server, and every detail of good service was attended to. He was knowledgeable, friendly and professional. Paul Underwood, Cafe Diva’s owner, knows how to make diners feel special. His wine expertise is a talent that puts your mind at ease when pairing wines with your meal. Executive chef Kate Rench and her staff take care of the rest.
We started with crab and shiitake dumplings, a starter featured on the restaurant’s fall menu. They were fantastically crisp and flavorful. The hand-filled wonton was fried to perfection and filled with woody shiitakes and seasonal vegetables. Served on contemporary polished plateware, the dumplings were prepared sweet and sour with a nouveau presentation. The complementing cilantro crème fraiche reduction, however, was somewhat overpowering and salty.
On to the entrées. California sea bass is not an easy thing to purchase in the Colorado mountains. After all, Steamboat is a meat-and-potatoes kind of town, and there are plenty of cattle ranches throughout the Yampa Valley to prove it. But when you taste a fish as clean and savory as Diva’s sea bass, you know care was taken in flying it straight to your plate. The fish was tender and flaky, seared perfectly with a high moisture content and plated on a well-blended black barley and seasonal squash broth. The dish was delicate, fulfilling and nicely presented.
Colorado has beef in its blood. Whenever you have a chance to enjoy a filet at its finest, you should take it. The dish is as Western as it gets. At Cafe Diva, it was prepared to perfection and placed with mushroom stuffing and crisp Brussels sprouts — both comforting and classical while also delicious and satisfying. The filet exemplifies Diva’s philosophy of being in tune with Western ski town appetites and fine cuisine.
For dessert we enjoyed a wonderfully rich and smooth crème brulee. Crusted with caramelized sugar and topped with fresh berries, it was a perfect ending to a great meal. And at Cafe Diva, we’ve come to expect nothing less.
The Steamboat Today’s restaurant reviewer is a full-time Steamboat Springs resident with extensive professional experience in culinary arts and the restaurant industry. For questions or comments, e-mail food@steamboat pilot.com.