November 11, 2022 | CULTURE | By Lorelei Smillie | Illustration by Rowan Kempen
Located in downtown Colorado Springs, the restaurant Ephemera is one of the area’s newest culinary gems. It began in 2018 as a series of pop-up dinners hosted in apartments and on small farms. Now, the chefs cook for a small dining room inside COATI, an event space housing several other delicious food stands and a brewery.
Ephemera is the first restaurant in Colorado Springs to offer a tasting menu: a selection of courses designed to represent the best the kitchen can create. In addition to this multi course option, there is a regular menu with shareables and entrees as well as a long, excellently curated wine list.
Ephemera brands itself as “punk rock fine dining,” which comes through the small eccentricities like plants lining the bar and the industrial-style ceiling. The napkins are bright yellow, blue, and red, a palette of whimsical primary colors evoking a sense of childlike wonder. The dining room is small and cozy, elements of an expensive restaurant blending with COATI’s edgy, warehouse vibe. The bass from the nightclub next door thumps quietly and fades into the clinking of glasses and quiet voices inside the restaurant.
The tasting menu consists of seven courses. Each is small, delicately plated and plays with color and design well. There is a sense that the kitchen is trying to de-center meat: many of the courses highlight vegetables and vegan alternatives. Upon setting the food down, the servers launch into an extensive explanation about the preparation of each ingredient on the plate.
Without spoiling all the courses, there are a few highlights. One of the first dishes is a warm corn soup. It’s prepared to resemble a flower, with petals of pickled bell peppers and radishes, a reduction of dill forming the green stem, and a pumpernickel crumb soil. The acidity of the peppers cuts through the creamy, sweet corn as notes of dill land on the palate with grace. The dish contains no dairy but is surprisingly rich and creamy.
The best dish blurs the boundaries between salty and sweet: a fried spring roll filled with rabbit, cabbage and shaved carrot served with a scoop of soy sauce ice cream. The faint sweetness in the ice cream is not overpowered by the umami flavor of the soy sauce. The hot, salty crunch of the fried dough is elevated by the cold, thick ice cream. This flavor combination leaves the tongue surprised and amused. It is a marriage of opposites which impossibly attract and each part of the dish is incredibly well balanced.
Only one combination leaves something to be desired. The fish course is a perfectly poached mackerel resting on top of a rich, buttery risotto and a splash of a banana sauce. This is where the punk rock aesthetic could be tamed a little bit– the banana’s sickly sweetness feels wrong and out of place. The idea of a sweet glaze to accompany the mackerel makes sense, but the execution could benefit from a little bit of tweaking.
Information about where the ingredients come from is lacking. If the restaurant wants to claim the label of sustainability in the future, it would do well to source local produce and put that information on display.
On the whole, however, they are doing something magical. It is never easy to conceptualize a seven-course menu which flows with ease, much less to do so with some sense of originality. On that level, they are truly succeeding: the food at Ephemera feels unique. It’s worth a try.