Jay Fox's Dining Guide
Where are you spending your dining dollars?
“Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” – Mark Twain
WHILE PREDICTIONS OF DOOM AND GLOOM ARE PREVELENT, the restaurant trade is certainly an indicator of the economy in general.
There have been numerous restaurant closings in the past year, but a good many of those deserved to close. Some of my favs closed and management blamed it on the economy, yet others in similar style and price ranges are doing OK. Most that I talk to say business is down some, or flat, but they will hang in there and hope for the best. Then there are goodly shares that are doing well. They offer value and good food and good service. I’m curious which of your favs are gone, and which are doing OK. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
G and I celebrated our anniversary twice last week at the Capital Grille (1450 Larimer St, Denver, 303-539-2500; www.capitalgrille.com). Our anniversary is on January 25th, but I was in Boston that day, so we rescheduled for Saturday nite following. Due to the miserable weather in Boston, I caught an earlier flight so G and I had a late lunch at the Grille. And of course we couldn’t cancel our Saturday nite plans, so we took G’s niece and her husband who were visiting from Kansas City.
There were no signs of financial difficulties Saturday nite; the place was packed. As in there was SRO in the bar, and every table was full, GM Charlie Stauter was turning them away at the door and on the tele. It was so busy that the hostess staff was bussing tables and the managers were seating guests and bringing out food. But that’s the Capital Grille and that’s one of the reasons it’s muh favorite eatery in town. The food is consistent as can be, and the service is first class; never intrusive but there when you want it. And if something ever goes wrong, which it will happen, even here, they make it right.
Haven’t had a chance to eat at Shanahan’s (5085 S. Syracuse St, Greenwood Village, 303-770-7300; www.shanahanssteakhouse.com) but am told reservs are darn near impossible to get. Since genial host Marc Steron is running the place, there’s no question that service and food are excellent. The menu is similar to all the other top end steakeries including the aforementioned Capital Grille, with a mix of prime and high-end choice steaks, fresh seafood and the like. Bring Bucks. Oh, you want to know why I haven’t been? Was I not invited? Being invited has nothing to do with it, altho I wasn’t invited, but I don’t go to new eateries until they’ve got three or four months under their belt. Generally the menu and preparation will change as the kitchen staff determines what customers like and dislike and the wait staff will ultimately figure out where the kitchen is in relation to the restrooms. Not a good idea to create false impressions.
BEEN TO BOSTON LATELY? As most of you know, I grew up in New York City, so it was a surprise to G when I told her that I had never been to Boston. After all, it’s a few hours by car or train, and loaded with fine restaurants. It was even surprising to me that, as I went thru the list, the only states I had not been to in my 23,000 plus days on this earth, were the New England states and North Dakota. I can see good reason to never have been to North Dakota, but New England? Anyway, we decided to take a trip with Fav Cuz A and his bride, R. That was the fall of 2001, the hottest summer in many years in all of New England. We spent several days in Providence, temperature 106°, and then cooled off in Burlington, VT, temperature down to 98°. But we loved it. Every morsel of every bowl of clam chowder, and every bite of every kind of seafood we could find. On this trip we discovered two great chains: Capital Grille (Providence) and Legal Sea Foods (Boston). Since then I’ve dined at Capital Grille many times, probably in the hundreds, since it opened here in November 2003. Unfortunately, Legal Sea Foods has about 30 stores, but they are all on the East Coast.
Well, last week I got to dine at Legal Sea Foods four times. As in four consecutive meals at one of their stores in Cambridge, Mass. Oh, my, it was pure heaven.
Having grown up on the East Coast, I knew that the humidity there can cause great pain even when the temperatures are about the same here. In Denver, if its 30° outside, even tho it’s below freezing, a light jacket is usually all that’s required. Well folks, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. With temperatures at the same 30°, I wore a heavy woolen sweater, a warm cap and a fairly heavy leather jacket and I thought I was going to freeze to death. I had to buy another cap to go under the first cap to keep my ears from freezing!
Fortunately, Legal Sea Foods (5 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, 617-864-3400) had a store in Kendall Square (not to be confused with the store in Charles Square) and it was a mere one and half bone-chilling blocks away from our hotel. But the food was maaavelous.
If you think you’ve had scallops, you’re wrong. I never knew what perfectly prepared scallops were until Legal Sea Foods. I thought that all crab cakes had tons of filler in them — save for a few fine eateries — until Legal Sea Foods. And there’s the chowder. Folks, the crap that you buy in Costco and other stores that have the LSF name on it, is NOT the same chowder you get in their stores. And, FYI, the chowder that is in their published recipes, is also NOT the same chowder you get in their stores. Unfortunately, the service left something to be desired. It was not warm and friendly, but it was professional.
After four consecutive meals, Cuz and I went looking for one of our favoritist types of eateries, a Jewish Deli. We found two, one in downtown Boston, and the other in Cambridge. The latter was convenient when we took a cab, but when Cuz R decided a walk back to the hotel after brunch was a good idea, I damn near froze my too toos. When we returned for dinner, it was via cab both ways — .9 miles, $7 including tip was a good deal.
The Boston deli, Sam Lagrassa’s (44 Province St, Boston, 617-357-6861) served terrific deli and non-deli sangies, albeit the bread was not real rye, and they squeezed 47,003 diners in 550 square feet. At lunch time, the line was out the door and half way down the block, but they shoved us thru: in, order, pay, gawk at the pretty girls, eat and out, in under 2 minutes. Unless you got a kosher pickle and fries and that took an extra 45 seconds.
S & S Restaurant (1334 Cambridge St, Cambridge, 617-354-0777) was located in Inman Square. Now you might think that would be easy to find, cuz not too many cities have “squares.” Except metro Boston. Thousand of the damn things, and there isn’t anything square about them. In the 18 blocks we walked from S & S back to our hotel, I counted twelve squares. But to the food.
It was OK. Some things were very good and some were not so. Our brunch server was terrific and the bagels and lox were good. Not great, but good. We went back for dinner and the corned beef sangie was OK, the meat being too lean and the bread not so New Yorkish. The to-go sangie that Cuz A ordered didn’t come with what was ordered and the bread was stale. But we’d go back again just for the black and white cookie and the cheesecake. And the Boston Cream Cake. Oh my, the very same cake that the four of us devoured eight years ago at a restaurant in Providence. Not the same cake, but the same… you understand.
GET READY FOR A PAGE TURNER. I’ll have an interesting read in the next few weeks entitled, "The Case of the Confiscated Tuna,” reminiscent of muh favorite childhood author, Earl Stanley Gardner. Look for Perry Mason to make a cameo appearance.
Jay Fox is our dining guide here in Colorado and also in such faraway places as Hahvahd Square. You can reach him at Jay@coloradostatesman.com.