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We argued right up to the front door about how I ought to dress for dinner. What shoes to wear. Jacket or no jacket. Tie or no tie. I'd climbed into the car wearing everything: white button-down and dress slacks, my best tie (meaning the pleasingly muted and abstract one, not the one with the little Tabasco bottles or the paisleys or the floating hula girls), nice watch, uncomfortable shoes, a sport coat. I'd foregone top hat, ascot and monocle, but was otherwise fully girded for a night out on the town with my best girl, because we were going to Bob's Steak and Chop House, and I knew exactly two things about the place.
Shrimp cocktail: $13.95
Stuffed tomato: $8.95
Tomato and mozzarella salad: $9.95
Creamed spinach: $7.95
18-ounce KC strip: $45.95
13-ounce lobster tail: $64.95< br>Crème brûlée: $6.95
Cigars: $9- $39
First, it's in Cherry Creek (the new Clayton Lane mini-neighborhood, in particular), and Cherry Creek -- though essentially a game preserve for foodies, restaurant critics and Williams-Sonoma types, a protected environment where every street corner offers another wallet-emptying opportunity to sample the bounty of the smart set's truffle-and-bubbly-wine lifestyle -- has never been my most comfortable stamping ground. I'm no class warrior, but my frequent forays into the Creek still feel more like anthropological excursions than recreation. I always feel like I should be wearing a pith helmet and hiding in the bushes, whispering notes into a micro-recorder about the native costumes and mating habits of the 21st-century swell.
Second, Bob's is expensive -- seriously expensive by Denver standards. I imagined a room full of Monopoly men and frosted ladies with fur wraps and opera glasses like Margaret Dumont, who always played the heiress or the rich widow in the Marx Brothers movies. I pictured the men all smoking cigars and discussing petroleum futures while their wives got delicately plastered on glasses of Lafite-Rothschild and tottered off to barf in the ladies'. Essentially, I conjured up the original Palm in New York circa 1950 (or 1970 or 1995, minus the white-collar dot-com jet trash), because that has always been my vision of the ninth level of restaurant hell, an orbit occupied almost exclusively by high-end steakhouses and the restaurants of Sirio Maccioni.
Before we'd parked the car (forgoing the valet, because valets make me itch), I lost the jacket. It was warm outside, and I'd bought the thing at Old Navy, anyway. I wasn't fooling anyone. On the short walk to Bob's, Laura had tried to talk me out of the tie as well. Naturally, she looked gorgeous, effortlessly suited to whatever we were walking into in basic black on black on black. I looked like a fat kid in rented shoes. But I wasn't taking off the tie. I remembered that one time in New York when I'd been forced to wear the house's loaner jacket, and how, every time I got up to take a leak, people would try to give me their drink orders. It wasn't quite Scarlett O'Hara vowing never to go hungry again, but I was keeping the tie because I didn't want to be the only shmuck on the floor looking like I'd just come from an afternoon of huffing paint thinner and watching NASCAR. That's happened before, and while I'd like to think I'm not the kind of guy who's affected by such a thing, I am.
But sometimes a brother can't catch a break, and as we walked into dining room, I spotted more than one cowboy hat, plenty of blue jeans and not a single ascot. Pinkie rings, yes. Rolexes, sure. Bad toupees, absolutely, and a lot of West Coast tourist tans. But no tuxedoes -- not even on the servers or the girl behind the bar -- and I was the only one wearing a tie. Bob's looked far more clubby and convivial than I'd been led to believe by my own paranoid fantasy life, and as Laura and I were whisked back to the worst table in the house (which was the best still available on a Saturday night, so I can't fault the hostess) and folded easily into the comfortable flow of the night's understated service, I felt an undeniable sense of profound relaxation wash over me.
And deliberate or not, that's a neat trick for a steakhouse. Any restaurant where the menu starts in the thirty-dollar range and tops out near a hundred tends to overdo it in terms of glitz and fawning obsequiousness, hoping to make up for the price tag with a dining experience rather than just with dinner. And once plates climb above the forty-dollar plateau, you're in the realm of string quartets, personalized silverware and that "Would madam enjoy another cocktail?" style of lockjawed third-person waiterspeak that I hate for all its fakery and offhand condescension.
But when our server came to the table -- armed with an easy grin, the score of the CU-Texas A&M game and a joke about how, after the Buffs inevitably whipped the mortal shit out of the Aggies, the entire staff was going to come to work the next day wearing CU colors to mock manager and native Texan Monte Morris, who'd taken his first day off since Bob's opened last February just to watch the game -- I knew this place was different. He'd brought a jar of pickles and told us to reach in and grab one. They were owner Bob Sambol's grandmother's recipe, he told us, made fresh every day (which is technically impossible, since a cucumber takes at least a week to turn into a pickle). And since we looked like we needed drinks, what could he get for us?
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