Mouthing Off

High steaks: Steak places are stampeding into town faster than cattle getting a whiff of water. Of Denver's many meat-eaters, the truly fickle have already moved on to Del Frisco's (8100 East Orchard Road, Greenwood Village), but does Del Frisco's have that wide-eyed comic-strip boy Dondi hanging from a wall? I think not.

That's who I was privileged to stare at during lunch at the Palm Restaurant (1201 16th Street, off the lobby of the Westin Hotel, Tabor Center). This steak joint, a variation on a theme introduced in New York City in 1926, opened eight months ago to a suffocating amount of coverage--proof that if you put caricatures of the Denver dailies' columnists on the wall, they'll write about you ad nauseam. On this day, neither my luncheon companion nor I was much interested in eating meat--so why, you might ask, were we at the Palm? Because we wanted to be seen, of course. And in our Target best, we certainly stood out in the packed house of Denverites all wearing black and all with good haircuts. We were greeted at the door by Palm general manager Scott Fickling, who must be sick to death of hearing how he's a dead ringer for the president of the United States; he took one look at us and asked if we had reservations. No, we replied, all sheepish. Fickling let us hang there for a few hellish seconds before smiling charmingly. "No problem," he said, and led the way to a table.

The Palm's lunch menu includes something for everyone, even non-carnivores--as long as everyone is rich. We shared an exemplary lobster bisque ($4) that featured large bits of the flesh in a rich, creamy base, and fought over a half-dozen clams on the half-shell ($7.50) before downing a couple of salads. The tomato capri ($8.50) brought ripe, beefsteak-style tomatoes layered with slices of supple mozzarella garnished with fresh, fresh basil and drizzled with a high-quality olive oil; the grilled shrimp with field greens and roasted-pepper vinaigrette ($12) featured many shrimp with sweet, charred edges that balanced out the mildly tart, incredibly flavorful vinaigrette.

The food was fabulous, but the speedy service indicated that there might well have been a problem with our reservationless status and that the Palm was trying to turn our table quickly. Three people attempted to take the bisque bowl away while it still had several spoonfuls left, and the waitress handed over the check without even asking if we wanted dessert. I had to inquire if I was allowed to have a cup of coffee.

Other than that, our meal was flawless. We felt sated, but without that beefy, bogged-down feeling that doesn't go well with four more hours of work. And the beguiling woman at the coat-check desk said goodbye-and-please-come-again without the slightest hint of disdain for our frumpiness.

And I did come again. At my next Palm lunch, someone else was treating--so I dressed better and had no qualms about ordering the filet mignon ($14.50) with a side of lightly executed but rich-tasting cream spinach ($4). The beef was obviously prime, with that unmistakable buttery quality, and had been cooked to a textbook medium-rare. But while it was on par with Ruth's Chris, it wasn't as good as Morton's.

I'll need some time to digest all this before I try Del Frisco's.



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