By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
There's one thing you'll never want for at Ocean: service. On a Thursday night, dozens of bodies are on the floor -- servers and bussers and runners in pale-blue chambray and black, captains in shirts and silk ties, managers of every description. Three tenders and a barback in the pit of the wraparound bar, all wearing black T-shirts with the Ocean skull-and-crossbones pirate logo; two white jackets behind the sushi/garde manger bar at the back of the lounge; two hostesses working the stand by the front door who -- with their stunning profiles, perfect hair, vapid smiles and ability to stand very still for a long time -- look to be on loan from a high-rent modeling agency. The hostesses sing along with whatever's playing on the house P.A. (Pussycat Dolls, Bon Jovi and the Ramones -- a very interesting club mix for Cherry Creek) when they think no one's looking, and pose in the spill of lights from the dining room when they think someone is. Standing with the hostesses, another manager watches the door, blue spotlights heliographing off his cufflinks and tie pin. He greets everyone who comes in while still keeping an eye on the valets jumping off the curb -- knowing that if Scooter wrecks up that brand-new Audi he's muscling out into traffic, it'll be his ass.
When I roll in -- late, underdressed and without a reservation -- I'm consigned to the bar for only ten minutes before I'm fetched by a model, thanked for my patience and whisked back to my table among the very rich, the terribly powerful and those who are eating on someone else's dime. Like me.
Life aboard a sailing ship was anything but comfortable. Seamen lived in cramped and filthy quarters. Food spoiled or became infested and fresh water turned foul. One staple of most ships was hard tack, which seamen often ate in the dark to avoid seeing the weevils that infested the square biscuit. Pirates restocked their food supplies by stealing from other ships' stores. Sea turtles were easily snared on land and were kept alive in the ship's hold until needed. They drank bombo a mixture of rum, water, sugar and nutmeg. When food was scarce, they resorted to more desperate measures to stay alive. Charlotte de Berry's crew ran out of food and purportedly ate two slaves and her husband to sustain them. In 1670, Henry Morgan's crew ate their leather satchels.-- Pirates and Privateers: The History of Maritime Piracy
Oysters: $2 each
Ocean roll: $10< br>Red roll: $9
Seafood ravioli: $8< br>Lobster tacos: $12
Lobster po’boy: $16
I eat a half-dozen cracked oysters, immaculately fresh and cold, tasting of iron and the sea. I eat rock-shrimp pot stickers that are exactly like those served in Vietnamese and Japanese strip-mall restaurants with more good intentions than money. If this copycatting was intentional, the kitchen hit it right on the nose. If not? Well, then the pot stickers seem just a bit cheap and common.
The 24-ounce delmonico ribeye is anything but: a pound and a half of beef done a perfect, blood-soaked rare and dressed in a toasted brandy-peppercorn sauce. It is a big meal for big men with big appetites. It's a king of a steak, royalty even beside the filet mignon (a boring softball of meat, insipid and pretentious), the bone-in Kansas City strip and the wagyu Kobe with which it shares the menu.
When I return early Friday evening, the place is jammed with investment bankers, futures traders and young captains of industries I have no names for who can use words like "annuity" and "fiduciary" in a sentence without sarcasm and for whom "pork" means something other than the delicious end product of raising a pig. They're drinking sherbet-colored cocktails and drinks in martini glasses that aren't three parts gin and one part olives, so I order beer and sushi and seafood ravioli and sit alone at the elbow of the bar, thinking about what I could have done in my life to make me more like them.
Less drugs and more studying, perhaps. Maybe if I'd balanced my checkbook more. Or ever.
My red sushi roll is just plain wrong -- flashy fusion run amok with sticky rice and red chile and tuna all out of proportion. But the seafood ravioli are a marvel: pillows of rough-chopped seafood paste, almost like a torchon, wrapped in thin, pliant skins and bathed in a thick cream sauce that tastes like lobster stock and velvet, punctuated with dots of infused oil out of the squeeze bottle. Served in a plain white bowl, the ravioli are delicate and filling at the same time, incredibly complex yet melded into a simple, seamless whole. This is an example of cuisine being used as cuisine is best used: as a set of rules and strictures and tradition out of which might be born something truly new. In this case, a ravioli -- Italian pasta with a vaguely Asian filling in a classically French sauce dotted with a touch of fancy New American chemistry.
I leave half the sushi uneaten, but the ravioli bowl is clean enough to be rotated right back into service when I finish with it. In the meantime, the crowds have begun to drift away from the bar and concentrate in the dining room and on the patio, where there are seats for the regular rich and special tents for the maxi-rich. They are set with couches and pillows and low tables like the den of a pasha or the pavilion of a particularly fashionable king. Seating in one of these tents costs a thousand dollars. And there is a waiting list. I get up from the bar, pay my bill and go across the street to the Village Inn for a cup of coffee.