By Shari Valenta
Want to cook a romantic dinner for your honey this summer but it’s too hot in the kitchen? There’s an unusual restaurant choice right here in Centennial and your sweetie will be in for a surprise when they find out it’s at an airport! Nevertheless, if you’re a hopeless romantic that likes to lie on the roof of your car while watching planes fly overhead, then you will enjoy the Perfect Landing Restaurant.
While customers are mainly airport or business park employees during the day, in the evening, clientele are mainly residential, off-airport friends and families watching the airplanes for fun. Leave the feather boa at home and dress casual. This is a place to talk about great travels, hold hands and watch Learjets speed off into the sunset. Relax, let the wine breathe and enjoy premier seats to watch airplanes landing on the tarmac. You can enjoy all this and great food at the Perfect Landing.
The restaurant is challenging to find if you’ve never been there. From South Peoria Street and East Arapahoe Road, enter Centennial Airport, head southwest and follow the signs to the Denver jetCenter building. Park in the lot and go up to the second floor of the building. After all that navigating you may need a drink (pilots, please make sure you’re off for the day first). I recommend taking advantage of the competitively priced wine list. The selection is a good deal as far as restaurants go. All wines served by the bottle are also served by the glass. I selected an entry level 2003 Chilean Cabernet called Rio Bueno. The price was right, only $15 a bottle, and it wasn’t too strong, making it a well suited summer pick.
Sean Carter, one of the owners, goes out of his way to seek out unique but inexpensive wines. He still stocks some mainstream brands such as Kendall-Jackson. Also on hand are some established vintages such as Californian Cabernet, Silver Oak, from 2000 for $85 a bottle. He says he wants to allow people to experiment and try different varieties while sitting at his newly renovated bar. In the near future, the bar itself will be a good reason to fly in. It will display not only wine, but the panels in the cupboard are going to have—etched in glass—the history of aviation. From the first Montgolfier hot air balloon flight in France during 1783 up to today’s Space Shuttle Discovery, this bar will have 28 images of aircraft to feast your eyes on.
After feasting your eyes, how about your stomach? I hope you like seafood as much as I do, because there’s a great deal of it on the menu. I know we live in a dry dessert prairie thousands of miles from the nearest ocean, but we can still enjoy seafood (as long as there are airplanes to bring it here!). Sean and Jim Carter co-own the restaurant. They lived in coastal seafood havens such as Seattle and Vancouver so they really know how to prepare these fruits of the sea.
I tried the moist and delicious grilled halibut and found it to be perfectly cooked and not over seasoned. It also had something you may not find in other towns, a southwestern flair of mango salsa. With an unusually tasty surprise—slices of fresh kiwi! Vegetables plus a potato or rice selection come with every entrée. I recommend the twice baked potatoes if you enjoy a hint of bacon flavor in your spuds. Another good choice is the garlic mashed potatoes.
I also hear the San Diego shrimp tacos, grilled and rolled with guacamole, cabbage and chipotle aioli, are also very popular. For a taste of Asian fusion, try the sesame crusted tuna seared rare with soy, wasabi topiko and ginger. Besides seafood, steak, pasta and pork chops are also on the menu. If you’d like to save money, arrive before sunset when entrees are at a discounted price. If money’s no option, try the crab. It’s Sean Carter’s favorite and he just ordered a large batch of Alaskan king crab for folks to crack open and dip generously in melted butter.
“It’s a crab that lives in deep water and hasn’t been available for about10 years,” said Carter. “It generally has four to six pieces per pound and we’ve one leg that weighed as much as two and a half pounds; it was a monster!”
Carter plans to continue stocking the crab throughout the summer and as long as it’s available. He also plans to continue creating sumptuous desserts. Making sweet treats allows him to show off his creative and culinary skills.
A graduate of the Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Providence Rhode Island, he has experience working in five-star eateries in Southern California. He makes, by hand, almost all the desserts (with exception to the Häagen-Dazs ice cream, of course). I tried the rich and heavenly flourless chocolate torte decorated with chocolate syrup and topped with raspberries. This sinful dessert was something you only see in dreams: a huge truffle. Chef Carter always changes the desserts serving up anything from simple treats such as Key lime pie to fanciful ones like bananas Foster creme brulee.
I find dessert usually the part of the meal that’s the most striking. However, this time it was actually the shrimp cocktail appetizer. The presentation was chic and fun. It consisted of good-sized shrimp and avocado slices plunged in salsa, presented in a large martini glass and garnished with colorful tortilla chips to top things off. It was delightful to the eyes and the palette.
The part of the meal that was not so delightful was the bread. It was a bit on the dry side. Another thing the restaurant might improve upon is adding more options for the vegetarian crowd. I realize the restaurant, for the most part, has been a breakfast and lunch place; however, for the moderate price they’re charging for dinner ($16-$30 per entrée) to set out linen napkins and candlelight, they should upgrade the cafeteria style tables and chairs.
I’m sure that the Carters are well aware of these things being that Jim Carter has 45 years experience in the business. Despite its hidden location, the two have successfully kept Perfect Landing in business for just under 13 years. The space used to be a Pour La France but had trouble staying afloat. The Carters found that supplementing their restaurant with corporate and aircraft catering helps out a lot. In fact, catering makes up a little more than half of their business. Jim Carter’s business smarts come not only from being the former president of Village Inn, but in the past he also ran a chain of steakhouses and owned an Italian restaurant. Jim Carter found out the location was for sale though a Village Inn board member. Today, the Carters have no plans to open more Perfect Landings but instead continue to create innovative menus, make renovations and make the landing as “perfect” as it can be.
When asked why he likes the restaurant business, Chef Carter chuckled happily, “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing now aside from running a restaurant on a beach somewhere!”
The Perfect Landing Restaurant is located at 7625 South Peoria St. Hours are from 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Mon. – Fri. and 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Sat. – Sun. For more information and reservations, call 303-649-4478.