“Have you ever dined with us before?” our server asked. She was penny-bright, scrubbed and polished in her house livery (black on black), standing with her hands folded in front of her and a spark in her eyes that bordered on fanaticism -- a glow of barely-contained glee at the possibility that we were new to the dining room, that we’d somehow wandered in blind, aching for conversion.
Warily, Laura nodded. Flinching inwardly, I allowed that no, we hadn’t yet dined at Black Cat, chef Eric Skokan’s restaurant.
Her smile, when it came, was like an artillery strike seen from above in one of those Vietnam documentaries on TLC: a small and distant flare of energy followed by the graceful blossoming of heat and light and fire that seems to go on forever, growing and widening and deepening just when you think it ought to go out. She seemed so happy that we’d come, so delighted that we’d chosen to spend our night in her care. And she wasn’t faking it, either. Meryl Streep couldn’t act this well. As our server swung into her spiel -- “organic…seasonal…powerful flavors of ingredients…right from Eric’s garden…from Eric’s house…from Eric’s kitchen…” -- I felt the fervor heat of the zealot baking off her: radiation in the Boulder frequency, equal parts lust and environmental stewardship. She said she’d give us a few minutes to look over the menu, to relax into each other’s company, Laura and I, sitting side-by-side on a black loveseat facing the open kitchen. It was a full-book Saturday night in a small house that, prior to being transformed into one of the Republic’s most rustic and focused restaurants, had been a Cold Stone Creamery.
Eventually, Black Cat would live up to the passion of its staff. Eventually, our food would come. Eventually, we would see through to the core of chef Skokan’s belief in the power of naked ingredients treated with respect.
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But it would take a long time -- three meals, one of which went on for more than three hours, and not because we were lingering over our food. It took that long to get there. While we waited, Laura and I joked and watched the kitchen. We talked about hookers (in relation to food, of course) and how the difference between a ten-dollar salad at Black Cat and a two-dollar salad somewhere else is like the difference between a two-hundred-dollar hooker and a twenty-dollar hooker -- mainly the price and the presentation. But what you really want is leaves to eat or a warm body to fuck, and after much debate, we determined that I was the kind of guy who’d go for the two-dollar salad almost every time—caring only for the food, not for the effects of beauty or philosophy that surround it—and, consequently, the cheap whore, too.
The expensive hooker would have to do something really special to make her worth the extra outlay of cash. The ten-dollar salad? It’d better do the same -- or else come garnished with eight dollar bills on the side.
Black Cat? It’s the two-hundred-dollar hooker of the Boulder restaurant scene. The one that’s worth it...most of the time.
IIn this week's Cafe review, I talk about what happened my first time at Black Cat, and in Bite me, I offer some explanations about how a kitchen can go wrong. Then it's on to French 250, which is in the process of changing from a two-hundred-dollar hooker to something more casual. But not as casual as Toast, the restaurant I revisit in Second Helping. -- Jason Sheehan