Cafe Society

A Lobster Tale

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We'd also ordered Alaskan king crab legs -- two of them for fifteen bucks, which strikes me as one hell of a markup even after watching that Discovery Channel special about the crab fishermen who are killed or crippled every year fishing for these monsters. But considering the amount of trouble people go to in order to catch them, package them up and ship them all the way to Colorado, you'd think that Del Mar's kitchen crew might take a little more care -- might keep an eye on the steamer between bong hits or brainstorming new ways to ruin potatoes -- and pull the crab legs out before the meat becomes so limp and waterlogged that it tastes like crab Jell-O.

You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

At an earlier lunch, I'd asked for a side of crab legs to go along with my shrimp po' boy. The waitress told me she wasn't sure whether the kitchen could do a side at lunch, went to check, found out that the galley was willing, then brought me two legs pulled off the Methuselah of king crabs, a crab so old that all the other crabs in Alaska were probably glad when he was finally caught so they wouldn't have to listen to any more of his stories about how much better life as a crab was back in the old days and how all these young crabs don't know how good they have it, with their rap music and their shells hanging halfway down their asses. The meat on this great-grandfather of a crab was shriveled, yellow and chewy. It tasted like an old boot dressed in aquarium water.

I know it's difficult to tell the age of a crab when all you have are its legs, and no cook can know the quality of the meat while it's still in the shell, but I'm pretty sure any cook who's spent more than, say, fifteen minutes on the line can differentiate between a good stalk of asparagus and a bad one. So why was it that on my surf-and-turf platter, I got three nice green stalks of asparagus -- along with one a little gray around the head, one that was emaciated and wrinkled, and one that was black and so far gone that the tip had already decayed to a rotten string? I can only conclude that Del Mar's galley has so little concern for the people they're cooking for that they think it's fine to serve rotten vegetables.

Smart move, fellas. Way to keep those food costs down.

The haricots verts were another waste, all skinny and withered and boiled to death. The creamed spinach tasted like a spinach smoothie, a godawful concoction like one you'd find at some old-school health-food restaurant where the cooks still believe that diners must suffer through their meals in order to gain any benefits from the vegetables being sacrificed. The garlic mashed potatoes had been turned to wallpaper paste in the steam table. And the romano potato "gratin" was really just the same garlic mashers browned on the flat grill and served tasting inexplicably of Swiss cheese.

I don't know what island Del Mar's "Island Style Mahi Mahi" was supposed to be from, but it's obviously one where the only cooking style is to crust something in macadamia nuts and then give it a good blast with a flamethrower. True, mahi mahi is a fairly resilient fish and will take a lot of mistreatment before it becomes inedible, and this piece had stood up to its defilement like a champ. But it still wasn't a dish I'd eat again unless I was being paid to.

And no one could pay me enough to eat another bite of Del Mar's key lime pie. I pray this slice was from a pre-packaged pie that someone on staff had picked up at some secret, back-alley discount pie warehouse down by the railroad tracks on his way in to work that night, because if someone in the kitchen actually made this, I can barely imagine what sort of terrible degradations he must have committed to make it this bad. Maybe if someone were to take a plastic bag full of limes, beat them with a pitching wedge, soak the resultant mess (bag included) in an ascorbic-acid solution for a week or so, then whip it up together with sour lemon yogurt, pour it into a damp pie crust and chill it in the fish cooler for a few more days -- that would come close. But it still wouldn't explain why the whole thing had the texture of the skin that forms on top of old pudding. Or why the whipped cream was chunky. That kind of awful takes real magic.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan