Meat and Greet
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.
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?
Bob's has a wine list, of course, which not surprisingly runs the gamut from marginally expensive to murderous, with thirty-dollar bottles and fifteen-hundred-dollar bottles. The bar also has a fine spread of Scotches and whiskeys -- though the bartendress only giggled when asked what she could make with gin, saying she knew gin and tonic and gin and juice. (Snoop Dogg would be so proud.) Not wanting to make the poor girl dust off her bartender's guide just to make a proper martini, Laura and I went with beer. Our waiter said that was a good choice. But then, everything was a good choice in his opinion. I could have asked for a glass of Drano and fillet of underpants and he would have just wanted to know boxers or briefs, then complimented me on my taste and sophistication. But he didn't call my wife "Madam," didn't make me feel like I was sneaking in somewhere I didn't belong, and he was a CU fan. That was enough.
This Bob's is part of a chain, but a small one with only four locations, and a relatively young one, having been founded in 1993 in Dallas by Bob Sambol and his grandmother's pickles. Like all steakhouses, it has a theme -- in this case, racehorses, with gilt-framed paintings of, for the most part, the tail ends of racehorses, which forces you to eat surrounded by horse's asses done in oil on canvas (but that's still better than your standard night out in Cherry Creek, when you eat surrounded by horse's asses all talking on their cell phones and complimenting each other's Botox). And like all steakhouses, Bob's has a signature item. Here it's a carrot. A really big carrot, peeled and glazed and laid out on the plate like the Hadrian's Wall of vegetables, keeping the steak on one side away from the potatoes on the other.
Unlike all other steakhouses, Bob's has no chicken on the menu. There are pork chops and veal chops, crabcakes, fried shrimp and broiled salmon, even a roasted duck in green-peppercorn sauce as the menu's lowball option, at $22.95 (including starch and giant carrot). But not many people come here to eat salmon or crabcakes or duck. They come for steak, the best damned steak money can buy, and Bob's delivers.
A man after my own heart, Sambol has front-loaded his board with corn-fed American USDA prime-grade beef. With the exception of the New York strip, every steak on the menu is prime. Prime boneless ribeye and "côte de boeuf" cut, done bone-in. Prime T-bone, massive 28-ounce prime porterhouse, prime filet mignon and prime Kansas City strip, butchered with the bone-ends left sunk into the meat, which is a guarantee of tenderness and bloody, charnel-house juiciness. Prime is a rarity even at the best steakhouses, and certainly among the larger and better-known chains. Less than 5 percent of the total yearly production of American beef is given the prime stamp, and while some people might tell you that doesn't matter -- that there are so many different grades and breed-standards of beef these days that any classification above "cow" is meaningless -- those people are wrong. And stupid. And should be pitied, because they're probably the ones still taking out second mortgages to buy wagyu Kobe.
Prime means something. Prime means beautiful, deep-red flesh heavily veined with unbroken spiderwebs of pure white fat, a texture (if properly aged) that's soft and smooth, and a finish like good wine: meaty, strong and muscular.
Laura and I ate well at Bob's. We had shrimp cocktails with four shrimp so big they would have constituted an entree anywhere else; a Caprese salad deconstructed into fat chunks of tomato and cubes of good mozzarella swimming in a red-onion vinaigrette; stuffed beefsteak tomatoes capped with onions and crumbled bleu cheese; soft creamed spinach served under a shroud of melted cheese, spiced with just a hint of nutmeg; and a perfect, thirteen-ounce cold-water Aussie lobster tail. Still, when I took the first bite of my eighteen-ounce KC strip, I forgot everything else. The steak was amazing. Lightly touched with salt and pepper, perfectly grilled, rested, then presented simply on a white plate with potatoes and one large carrot, it was as good as any I've had in town. And more expensive.
All around me, people were name-dropping Peter Luger, Morton's, Sullivan's, the Palm, insisting to their servers that those places served the best steaks they'd ever had until coming here, until they saw the way the meat parted under the cheap, wood-handled steak knives, tasted the way it melted across the tongue. And they were right. My only regret was that I was not a fatter man. I had to take half my steak home, lugging it up to the bar in a doggie bag. But I was not alone: Bob's was doing a brisk trade in Styros and plastic bags, no one wanting to leave a scrap behind.
Laura and I had dessert at the bar, shouldering in among the stragglers of the second seating, ordering cigars from the humidor, a last whiskey for me, crème brûlée to share. Even the crème brûlée was huge -- more like a trough than a tart. The bartender clipped my Davidoff Short because I am not the sort of fellow who carries around one of those cigar-end-clipper doohickeys -- am obviously not even the sort of fellow who knows their proper name. But I wanted the whole experience, so I sat there puffing on the finest export of the Dominican Republic as though it were something I did every day.
Again, I wasn't fooling anybody.
Still, I was going to milk the evening for all it was worth. Three hours passed before we were through, passing more pleasantly and far less pompously than I would have imagined possible. Yes, Bob's is expensive, but it's got class enough not to show it off to guests. I'd put it solidly in the Ferris Bueller category of restaurants, an "If you have the means..." kind of place, where -- if money is not an object (at least, not the only object) -- you must go immediately, eat expansively and then waddle out knowing you've paid top dollar for one of the rare things in this world that's actually worth it.
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