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A Lobster Tale

A meal at Del Mar's is a real crab shoot.

You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

At an earlier lunch, I'd asked for a side of crab legs to go along with my shrimp po' boy. The waitress told me she wasn't sure whether the kitchen could do a side at lunch, went to check, found out that the galley was willing, then brought me two legs pulled off the Methuselah of king crabs, a crab so old that all the other crabs in Alaska were probably glad when he was finally caught so they wouldn't have to listen to any more of his stories about how much better life as a crab was back in the old days and how all these young crabs don't know how good they have it, with their rap music and their shells hanging halfway down their asses. The meat on this great-grandfather of a crab was shriveled, yellow and chewy. It tasted like an old boot dressed in aquarium water.

I know it's difficult to tell the age of a crab when all you have are its legs, and no cook can know the quality of the meat while it's still in the shell, but I'm pretty sure any cook who's spent more than, say, fifteen minutes on the line can differentiate between a good stalk of asparagus and a bad one. So why was it that on my surf-and-turf platter, I got three nice green stalks of asparagus -- along with one a little gray around the head, one that was emaciated and wrinkled, and one that was black and so far gone that the tip had already decayed to a rotten string? I can only conclude that Del Mar's galley has so little concern for the people they're cooking for that they think it's fine to serve rotten vegetables.

Down in the depths: Something's fishy at Del Mar 
Crab House.
Mark Manger
Down in the depths: Something's fishy at Del Mar Crab House.

Location Info

Map

Del Mar Crab House

1453 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Fine Dining

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

1453 Larimer Street, 303-825-4747. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Po’ boy: $8
Crab legs (side): $15< br>Lobster tail: Market
Traditional surf and turf: Market
Manila clams: Market
Seared ahi: $19
Crab- stuffed halibut: $18
Mahi mahi: $17< br>Grilled asparagus: $6
Creamed spinach: $5
Key lime pie: $8

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Smart move, fellas. Way to keep those food costs down.

The haricots verts were another waste, all skinny and withered and boiled to death. The creamed spinach tasted like a spinach smoothie, a godawful concoction like one you'd find at some old-school health-food restaurant where the cooks still believe that diners must suffer through their meals in order to gain any benefits from the vegetables being sacrificed. The garlic mashed potatoes had been turned to wallpaper paste in the steam table. And the romano potato "gratin" was really just the same garlic mashers browned on the flat grill and served tasting inexplicably of Swiss cheese.

I don't know what island Del Mar's "Island Style Mahi Mahi" was supposed to be from, but it's obviously one where the only cooking style is to crust something in macadamia nuts and then give it a good blast with a flamethrower. True, mahi mahi is a fairly resilient fish and will take a lot of mistreatment before it becomes inedible, and this piece had stood up to its defilement like a champ. But it still wasn't a dish I'd eat again unless I was being paid to.

And no one could pay me enough to eat another bite of Del Mar's key lime pie. I pray this slice was from a pre-packaged pie that someone on staff had picked up at some secret, back-alley discount pie warehouse down by the railroad tracks on his way in to work that night, because if someone in the kitchen actually made this, I can barely imagine what sort of terrible degradations he must have committed to make it this bad. Maybe if someone were to take a plastic bag full of limes, beat them with a pitching wedge, soak the resultant mess (bag included) in an ascorbic-acid solution for a week or so, then whip it up together with sour lemon yogurt, pour it into a damp pie crust and chill it in the fish cooler for a few more days -- that would come close. But it still wouldn't explain why the whole thing had the texture of the skin that forms on top of old pudding. Or why the whipped cream was chunky. That kind of awful takes real magic.

And speaking of magic, in the midst of all these terrible, lazy atrocities, every now and then the kitchen would put out something fairly good. Not great, but decent enough to imply that, if they wanted to, if they cared just a little, then Del Mar's crew might do all right. The crab-stuffed halibut -- although served with those nasty haricots verts and a stingy, loose béarnaise -- was tender, juicy and cooked just right, with the slightly greasy halibut meat acting as a nice complement to the fresh crab stuffing. While the fries that came with my shrimp po' boy were cold, limp and had obviously made at least two trips through the fryer before landing on my plate, the po' boy filling -- a creamy mix of fresh shrimp and sweet-sour pepper sauce set off with a spicy rémoulade -- was excellent, even if it did immediately soak through the bread and come tumbling out all over the table.

The wasabi mashed potatoes that came with a loin of seared ahi dressed in a restrained ginger miso were some of the best wasabi mashed potatoes I've had during my years of being forced to eat them every time a non-Asian restaurant wants to imbue a plate with a fusiony Tokyo kick. And there was also a bowl of well-handled steamed Manila clams swimming in a simple white wine and garlic broth, served with lots of lemon by a waitress who seemed bent on making sure my table had a good dinner experience despite the fact that plates kept going back half full. But she wasn't enough to stem the rising tide of horror. Nothing short of a time machine and reservations elsewhere could have done that.

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