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Mall Flounders

The lame Kansas City strip steak ($20.75) was another disappointment. I'm beginning to think the strip isn't the best cut to showcase the beauty of certified Angus beef, because I've had it elsewhere lately and found it lacking in flavor. This sixteen-ounce steak was so dull I teamed every bite of meat with a daub of the wonderfully pungent garlic mashed potatoes that accompanied the steak. More of those good spuds came with the Maine lobster ($25.95), but this perfect crustacean didn't need any help. It was filled with juicy, juicy meat, the likes of which I haven't found before in this town. Everywhere I go in Denver, kitchens steam, broil, bake and grill the flavor right out of the lobster. (When I asked how Marlowe's avoids that lobster trap, Bergstein said those other places must cut the shell before cooking it. Marlowe's, though, cuts the shell after cooking, and does so in convenient tear-apart spots, so all the diner has to do is rip the sucker apart and start slurping, with no need for autopsy-like utensils.) Another winner was the cheese ravioli ($14.95), made on the premises. The kitchen stuffed these pasta packages with enough ricotta cheese to make them look like little fat guys drowning belly-up in a lake of that outstanding marinara.

Marlowe's does not, however, make the menu item that turned out to be the most drop-dead fabulous: the chocolate cake ($5.55), a stunning cross between the moist, sweet, Duncan Hines version you got as a kid and the dense richness of today's flourless chocolate cakes that use better chocolate and less sugar. Four layers were glued together with a lush icing punctuated on the top with hundreds of chocolate chips. But Marlowe's does make its own blueberry cobbler ($5.45), a superior version with a toothsome pastry lid and super-sweet berries.

On two subsequent visits I encountered the same irritating mix of execution snafus and decent fare. Twice I ordered the onion rings ($5.50) and couldn't get past three or four of the slim, parsley-flecked onion strands, which left grease stains on everything they touched and made me a little queasy. There were enough of them in one order, though, to feed ten people who don't mind oily food. The BBQ ribs ($9.75), on the other hand, were dry and chewy, although their sweet sauce was quite good. And as an appetizer, the mussels ($7.95) tasted absolutely fresh and were well-matched with a broth sparked by black and green olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

At these meals, Marlowe's did better by its meats, too. A solid cheeseburger ($7.95) that came more rare than the ordered medium-rare still featured Angus at its best: moist, meaty and magnificent, presented on an egg-white-shiny kaiser roll and topped with cheddar cheese. The filet mignon ($23.95) was eight ounces of velvet, with Angus's distinct sharpness taking well to the tart bordelaise sauce. But the beer batter on the fish-and-chips ($9.95) was so greasy I could only eat one of the three fillets.

As consolation, I ordered the chocolate cake again. This time, though, the kitchen decided to cover it with strawberries and strawberry puree--yuck.

That unfortunate choice just reinforced my sense that Marlowe's isn't running as tight an outfit as it should be--especially considering that competing eateries will soon invade its home turf. For a long time, Marlowe's was the only real option for the drinking-and-eating crowd that erupts from nearby offices on Friday evenings, as well as the post-concert groups coming from the theater next door. (Marlowe's walls are covered with photos of famous types who've stopped by after playing the Paramount.) But soon Marlowe's will have to compete on its own merits. Of which, I must say, there are several: The location can't be beat; the space, with its open windows, outdoor seating and mismatched tables, is fun; the atmosphere is noisy and conducive to good times; and the service is exceptional. But the food has got to get better.

Because this is war, and it would be nice if our side could win.

Marlowe's, 511 16th Street, 595-3700. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5-10 p.m. Saturday.

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