Valentine's Day: Neighborhood date 

After 13 years, Paseo Grill remains the district’s best dining option.

The blackened trout is topped with an avocado kiwi salsa that is like a sweet guacamole. - PASEO GRILL / PROVIDED
  • Paseo Grill / provided
  • The blackened trout is topped with an avocado kiwi salsa that is like a sweet guacamole.

As a kid watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie, I always wondered what it would be like to lounge inside the bottle full of pillows and colorful curtains.

I was immediately transported back to those memories the first time I sat in a booth with curtains at Paseo Grill, which is definitely one of the best date night locations, be it Valentine’s Day or otherwise, in the city because of its unique setting and its perfectly sized menu that is well-executed.

Celebrating its 13-year anniversary this year, Paseo Grill is credited with leading the current Paseo Arts District Renaissance, and it remains a standard-bearer as more dining options enter the neighborhood with the recent Pueblo development (Scratch Kitchen & Cocktails, Buttermilk and Oso on Paseo) and upcoming Frida Southwest.

Paseo Grill co-owner Lesley Rawlinson said that the now-signature curtains started with only about three booths.

“It just took off over the years,” Rawlinson said. “We added more and added more, and at this point, it’s almost a monster sometimes because everybody wants to sit in the booth. We didn’t set out to be known as a romantic restaurant, but it’s definitely evolved into that. [The curtains weren’t] about the romantic part of that, but it was more about being able to have a conversation.”

She said the restaurant is usually booked solid on Valentine’s Day, as it is this year, by mid-January but noted that when it falls in the middle of the week, it usually means increased reservations the weekend before and certainly the following weekend.

“It’s like having an extra Friday night; it’s definitely a bonus,” Rawlinson said of a Thursday night Valentine’s Day.

Paseo Grill doesn’t offer a prix fixe menu on Valentine’s Day, instead featuring a daily special in addition to offering lobster tail and lobster bisque. The restaurant uses a consultant chef — a position most recently filled by Josh Valentine, and a new consultant will be announced in March — to handle its daily specials, wine dinners and private catering. Rawlinson said it has developed a solid menu that is not too big and not too small with a consistent kitchen staff. A consultant chef position is purely creative, without having to deal with the day-to-day headaches like schedule management and cost spreadsheets.

The seared duck breast is co-owner Lesley Rawlinson’s favorite dish on the menu. - PASEO GRILL / PROVIDED
  • Paseo Grill / provided
  • The seared duck breast is co-owner Lesley Rawlinson’s favorite dish on the menu.

Some of its longtime favorites include cream of mushroom soup, Southwest meatloaf with smoked cheese and chipotle demi-glace, and the fresco farfalle pasta with chicken breast, hearts of palm, prosciutto, mushrooms and artichoke hearts in a champagne cream sauce.

“The cream of mushroom is something we’re known for; it’s luscious and silky,” Rawlinson said. “We’ve talked several times about replacing [the farfalle] with something else, and people are just like, ‘Oh no; it’s too good.’”

Over the years, Rawlinson said she is surprised at the amount of seafood Paseo Grill sells. Grilled salmon with beurre blanc and smoked jicama and pepper confetti, blackened trout with avocado kiwi salsa and miso sea bass with a fried potato cake were elevated from features to full-time menu options.

“We didn’t forecast selling the amount of seafood we do at the beginning, but we have great product and the staff cooks it well,” Rawlinson said.

I ordered the blackened trout ($24) on a recent visit, and it was excellent. The trout was cooked evenly well with a good amount of spice, and its toasted pine nut orzo was nice and al dente with a good finish. The avocado salsa resembled more like a faintly sweet guacamole, but it was a great complement to the spicy blackened seasoning.

About a year and a half ago, the restaurant retooled its menu to, among other things, add more vegetarian options to the menu. The final result can be found on the lunch menu in a falafel sandwich ($9) and a Singapore street noodle bowl that can easily add chicken or shrimp.

I ordered the falafel sandwich during a lunch visit, and I enjoyed the flavor of the patties and the accompanying hummus. I was expecting a little more crunch on the patty, but Rawlinson said they didn’t want to overcook the falafel. The cucumber side salad was heavy on the pepper in the marinade but tasty nonetheless.

The falafel sandwich is a recent addition to add more vegetarian options to the menu at Paseo Grill. - JACOB THREADGILL
  • Jacob Threadgill
  • The falafel sandwich is a recent addition to add more vegetarian options to the menu at Paseo Grill.

“It is a little more of a soft patty even though it is fried,” Rawlinson said. “Falafel can be hard sometimes and quite crunchy. That definitely came up in conversation when that item was developed. It’s not what your normal falafel would be. Our little tagline is ‘American cuisine with international flair,’ so it’s just taking that dish and putting your own little twist.”

Another vegetarian option on the lunch and dinner menu is the vegetable moussaka, which Rawlinson was inspired to add after a trip to Greece eight years ago. Instead of traditional lamb, Paseo Grill uses green lentils and chickpeas that are layered with eggplant on top of red potatoes with mushrooms, tomatoes and artichoke hearts topped with champagne cream sauce, bread crumbs and arugula.

It’s definitely one of my favorite vegetarian options in the entire city; the combination of spices was perfect, and the dish is very hearty with the cream sauce, lentils, mushrooms and chickpeas.

For dessert, I finished one of my meals with an excellent piece of Key lime pie. I don’t always order dessert, but it’s difficult to pass up a well-made Key lime pie that has a cinnamon, pecan, walnut and graham cracker crust.

Not only is Paseo Grill is excellent date night option, it should be considered for lunch, when it serves smaller entrée portions like its famous chicken pot pie at a lower price in addition to fun sandwiches like a burger topped with basil pesto mayo, pickled fennel and red onion and a beef stroganoff sandwich. 

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