Coming clean on the soap at Black Cat

Eric Skokan should get out of the kitchen and check his bathrooms.
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What the f@&k is that smell?

Okay, so I thought my review of Black Cat, chef Eric Skokan’s place in Boulder, turned out pretty well, with a nice story, some dick jokes, a pleasing arc -- going from disastrous to transcendent all within the space of a couple thousand words (you can read them here). But yesterday -- which, in writer-speak, translates as way-too-fucking-late -- it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to mention one of the things about the place that most pissed me off: more than the botched service; more than the repetitive references to the chef’s garden, the chef’s aviary, the chef’s private Formula 1 racetrack; more than the conversation going on at the table next to mine about how Sarah Palin was like the Jesus of the Republican Party, the thing that was going to bring their candidate back from the dead to rule this nation like an iron-fisted zombie king (about the only ohter thing missing from my review).

I’d forgotten to talk about the bathrooms—two of them, both unisex, which created some hilariously confusing moments at the back of the restaurant—and, more specifically, the hand soap in said bathrooms. The herby, oily, stinking rosemary-and-something-scented hand soap that, after a quick lather and multiple rinses, clung to my fingers like the reek of garlic or dirty motor oil and would not go away.

Soap in restaurant men’s rooms has long been a pet peeve of mine. Too often, fancy restaurants (and especially those fancy restaurants that lean towards the earth-hugging, green and local/organic end of the galley spectrum) are tempted, no doubt through the relentless campaigning of the hand-soap industry, to stock their bathrooms with expensive scented soaps. Lilac and lavendar, lemon verbena, rosemary and pine -- I’ve sniffed it all, and have often come forth from the men’s room smelling like I’ve just jerked off a greenhouse.

Which is incredibly distracting. Smell is a large component of the dining experience, and to sit at table wondering where in the hell that astringent stink of mangoes and goat’s milk is coming from makes me want to get up and leave – after all, if the chef or owner or floorman can’t catch an obvious blunder like this one, then I don’t so want to see what they might do to my scallops in the back.

Because really? Scented soaps in the bathroom is a dumbass sin almost as bad as burning scented candles in the dining room or having diaphanous nymphs strolling the floor spritzing people with perfume while they eat. It’s gross, for starters (all scented soaps smell like grandmas). It’s disturbing. And, as should be the rule with garnishes on the plate and ingredients in the kitchen, I don’t want to be seeing or smelling anything that I’m not going to be eating, so unless the chef if planning on serving rosemary and sandalwood as a main course, keep it off the floor and out of the bathrooms. -- Jason Sheehan

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