What, you thought I was done talking about burgers? Not quite.
One of the best burgers I've had in a long time was the Triple Prime at the Ruby Tuesday at 14100 East Iliff Avenue. Yeah, it's part of a chain (as are both Five Guys and The Counter, reviewed this week), and yeah, I got suckered in by a television commercial shot like high-gloss porno. But man, it was a good burger: all Prime-grade beef, cut from the filet, ribeye and sirloin; thoughtfully assembled (with fresh ingredients like the lettuce and tomato on the bottom — one of the trademarks of a Ruby Tuesday burger, and what makes the bun less likely to fall apart from blood leakage) and cooked a nice mid-rare. I've heard some people complain — rightly — that while the advertising refers to the meat as "lean," that's total crap since the Prime grade means the heaviest marble, therefore the highest fat content. And I've heard others complain — wrongly — about the cuts used, although 80/20 chuck over a charcoal grill will get you a damn fine burger, too.
If the In-n-Out Double-Double is a 10 and the Owl Bar green-chile cheeseburger an 11, the bacon cheeseburger at Five Guys a merciful 4 and a well-chosen pile-up at the Counter a solid 8, the Triple Prime would tie the Counter's score — but it loses a couple tenths of a point because I can't stand eating inside Ruby Tuesday, since it's filled with people who have no problem going out to dinner at a Ruby Tuesday.
Good thing all the locations do takeout.
Crunching the numbers: The first time I tried to go to the Counter was a total clusterfuck, since Nordstrom at Park Meadows was having a sale and I couldn't find a non-valet parking space within two miles of the Vistas. And while I wouldn't normally mind walking a mile for a great burger, two miles for a burger I didn't yet know was great seemed a bit much.
When I finally made it back there, though, it struck me that this new Vistas expansion was sporting an awful lot of seats for what are supposed to be difficult financial times. And the more I looked, the more seats I saw in the seven full-service restaurants, all links in national chains, that have opened there since last summer: The Counter, Brio Tuscan Grill, Cru Wine Bar (there's another one in Larimer Square), Fish City Grill (there's another one in Southlands), a new La Sandia from Richard Sandoval (his first is in Stapleton), Mikuni Sushi and the White Chocolate Grill.
So last week, I made a few calls to find out exactly how many new diners these seven restaurants can hold. The numbers were heart-stopping. Including dining rooms, patios and bars, they've added a whopping 1,713 new seats to the Denver dining scene. La Sandia boasts the biggest floor, with 438 potential butts-in-seats. Brio and Mikuni both come in at just over 400. The rest round out the field in the 100-150 range, with the Counter the puniest at 95. If every one of these chairs were filled, it would comprise enough diners to fill the new 28-seat twelverestaurant at 2233 Larimer Street 61 times over.
And keep in mind, this list does not count some truly massive Park Meadows restaurants like Grand Lux Cafe (which seats about a million if I remember correctly from my review visits there a few months back — meals I still have nightmares about), California Pizza Kitchen (200 easy, probably more), the Cheesecake Factory (which packs in more dimwits per square foot than any other restaurant out there), P.F. Chang's, a massive Thai Basil and everything inside the food court.
All of this means that Park Meadows needs to have an absolutely massive post-Thanksgiving rush — epic on a scale not often seen outside a Peter Jackson movie — and then make sure all of those shoppers somehow decide they must dine before leaving the property. I'm not exactly sure how likely that is in this day and age, but it worked the night that La Sandia held its grand opening, when well-dressed revelers who decided they needed something solid to sop up all that tequila stumbled on in to the Counter for big, alcohol-absorbing burgers.
Leftovers: For those of you as into the new, Colorado-heavy season of Bravo's Top Chef: New York as I am, Dave Query (who employs two of the three chef-testants with Colorado ties — Melissa Harrison, sous at Centro Latin Kitchen, and Hosea Rosenberg, exec at the Boulder Jax) has viewing parties every Wednesday night at his West End Tavern (926 Pearl Street, Boulder). For those of you slightly less into watching host Tom Colicchio berate talented chefs for their on-screen dumbassery and maybe not juiced by the opportunity to watch our local chefs get spanked with a gang of drunken strangers, there are always my intermittent observations about the show on Cafe Society. Think of me as a mini-Colicchio. Only with more hair. And less money. And without co-host Padma Lakshmi's cell number on speed-dial.
Say adios — at least for now — to the Santa Fe Tequila Company at 901 West 10th Avenue, which is dark. "State of the economy" is how an employee at the two-month-old, very open second location (2630 West Belleview in Littleton) described it when I asked, adding that the original's state of suspended animation is only temporary — but I have my doubts.