Three years ago this month, Tante Louise finally faded from the Denver restaurant scene, after three decades of good works — including serving as a training ground for many cooks who would later come to form the top rank of Denver's chef elite. As owner Corky Douglass bowed out, Ed Novak (from the Broker restaurants group) stepped in, renaming the place after Douglass and turning a longtime classical Euro-French palace of haute into a comfortable, casual wine bar and restaurant with one of the best patios in the neighborhood.
On a beautiful afternoon last week, I found myself on the Cork House patio, sitting in the wash of sunlight, sipping a glass of icy St. Supery and trying to decide between the enormous bowl of cioppino on the dinner menu, the classic lemon-and-garlic mussels on the happy-hour menu, or just another glass of wine. It was a perfect day — warm and bright, with a breeze touching the big trees that overhang the patio and a Muzak version of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" playing from hidden speakers. I finally decided on the steak Oscar and a side of sweet-potato fries, and was grumpy when it arrived because the fries weren't done quite enough for my liking and the Oscar was like half an Oscar — one of the two pieces of tenderloin mounted over a crab cake rather than having a mound of crab lumped up on top, each half dressed in a different sauce (one béarnaise, one demi), neither of which was exactly to my liking.
Still, it was lovely, so I decided to call a friend and share a bit of the day with him. My buddy K in Austin sounded angry when he answered the phone, and a little bit hollow. Come to find out, while I was sitting there getting all nitpicky over my steak and frites, he was standing in some gray government office in Texas trying to work his way through the bureaucracy of getting his first disbursement of food stamps from the state. Knocked half flat by a nasty divorce and an untimely resignation from a killer job, K was having a rough time of it — and I suddenly felt like an enormous dick for my petty complaints. Here I was — beautiful day, nice glass of wine on the patio, a fat steak and a big plate of fries — and I was complaining?
K didn't have to say anything. I was humbled all on my own. And right there, on the spot, I decided to try and complain less, enjoy things more, remember that sometimes "good" is a purely subjective thing. A tough prescription for a professional critic, maybe, but there's no saying I can't try, every once in a while, to be a better man. Especially on the patio of the Cork.