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Doubling the Steaks

Some dead guy once said (before he died) that "great eaters of meat are in general more cruel and ferocious than other men." So it was fitting that three journalists and two music-industry insiders gathered one recent night to consume as much meat as possible at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House. The cruel quintet's most ferociously debated topic of discussion? Who serves the best steak in town.

Romantics probably will find Morton's to be quieter, more soothing and more refined than Del Frisco's; those who like to spend their dollars locally will find Brooks to be comparable price-wise and not that much lower in quality meat-wise. Socialites may think the Del Frisco scene isn't quite as self-important as the one at the Palm, and the side dishes here aren't the size of small mammals, as they are at Ruth's Chris.

But if flavor is the only thing that matters, Del Frisco is your man.
And there is a Del Frisco, born Dale Frances Wamstad. Since Dale Frances's Steak House just wasn't going to cut it, he used the next best thing: his nickname. And though Wamstad never legally changed his name, to this day he's called Del Frisco by everyone he meets.

When he met a dynamo named Dee Lincoln in New Orleans, he was still running his first namesake restaurant; he hired Lincoln to do marketing and advertising for the steakhouse. She continued in that capacity until 1985, when Wamstad closed the New Orleans shop, and then she came back on board when he opened a new Del Frisco's in Dallas in 1990. After a year, though, he was so tired of all her lip about how to promote his restaurant that he challenged Lincoln to run her own Del Frisco's on the other side of town. Which she did, successfully, until the duo closed the two small Del Frisco's and in 1993 opened one big Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House--which, of course, is the infamous Del Frisco's. After that, Wamstad retired, selling his empire to Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon. But Lincoln stayed on and helped the massive meat corporation open a Fort Worth location (in 1996) and the Denver link (this past January). A New York Del Frisco's is slated to debut in mid-1998, in the McGraw-Hill Building in Rockefeller Center.

Despite Del Frisco's chain status, it manages to transcend the usual chain trappings; the Denver incarnation has enough character that it doesn't make me cringe the way, say, the Olive Garden does. The reason for this may lie in the restaurant's simplicity: Rather than trying to offer all things to all people, it focuses on the things that matter to meat eaters. Things like meat, and jumbo, mostly fat-filled side dishes, and a dark-wood, gleaming-brass decor that begs for cigars and martinis.

And, of course, cruel and ferocious people.
One of the music-industry insiders was Barry Fey, who, for me, has become inextricably linked with steakhouses. He's been to all the big ones. He loves steak more than anything. In fact, he loves food more than anything, and I quote: "If I was told I could sleep with any woman in the world as often as possible, or I could eat anything I wanted or as much as I wanted without any ill effects, you could cut it off right now." And these days, he seems to love the food at Del Frisco's more than any other place, except for maybe Peter Luger's in New York, but he thinks it might be a tie between the two.

The rest of the group will remain anonymous, since we made the table rule that anything we talked about that wasn't food-related would be off the record. Which left a lot of room for cruel and ferocious gossiping, indeed.

But when there was food on the table, it was hard to talk about anything else. We quickly devoured the homemade, sesame-seed-studded bread and were stunned to silence by the shrimp sampler ($46.25, or $9.25 per person) featuring Del Frisco's three shrimp appetizers: shrimp cocktail, shrimp remoulade and marinated shrimp. The last dish was the least of the three, since the simple dressing left herbs lying across the perfectly chilled shrimp like lawn clippings along a curb. But the two other sauces proved that our group was serious about more than just meat: We were prepared to do battle for anything delicious, and that certainly described them. The cocktail sauce was sharp and tangy, with a raw-horseradish bite, and the remoulade was thin, more sauce than mayo, with a mellow Creole mustard nip. And even unadorned, the giant shrimp would have been superb.

To balance the shrimp, we'd ordered something from the opposite end of the steakhouse spectrum: onion rings ($5.50). Big, manly onion rings with creamy, juicy onion centers and a coating that looked like it could repel the forces of nature but, in fact, proved soft and fragile when bitten.

I'd asked for a glass of zinfandel to wash down the starters. No problem, said the waiter: "We have one from Charles Krug." Except, oops, I wound up with a white zinfandel, which I wouldn't clean my toilet with (as a PR gal I know once told me, "Friends don't let friends drink white zinfandel"). Wondering if the Krugster could possibly be making a white zin, I asked the waiter to bring the bottle over to the table (you'd be surprised how many times wine-inexperienced diners are given a glass of wine different from the one they ordered). "Oh, I'm sorry--this wasn't Charles Krug," he said.

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