Word of Mouth

Euclid Hall, twelve and the $777 hamburger: What determines a fair price for a meal?

Paris Las Vegas Casino makes a $777 hamburger.

The sandwich is one of the most indulgent-looking things I've ever seen, with hefty chunks of lobster meat set over a thick Kobe beef patty, topped with crispy pancetta, brie, caramelized onions and hundred-year aged balsamic vinegar -- served, for good measure, with a bottle of Dom Perignon rosé. And it can be yours for less than eight Benjamin Franklins. What a... deal?

My discovery of the burger's existence was aptly timed, as I mused over commentary from readers on my reviews of Euclid Hall and twelve. A few readers were critical of the prices at places I'd chosen to review, and their comments brought up a good point: What's a fair price for dinner in this town?

It's relative. I love all kinds of gastronomic experiences, and I've long frequented eateries on every point of the price spectrum. In the thousands of restaurant meals I've eaten in my lifetime (precious few of which have been consumed on an expense account), I've dropped $800 of my own hard-earned cash on a dinner and felt reasonably assured that I'd gotten my money's worth; I've also grudgingly plunked down a twenty and felt utterly ripped off.

Value, then, relates directly to my expectations of a place. I'd expect my meal at a hole-in-the-wall spot to cost less than my meal at a high-profile fine-dining restaurant on Larimer, and I'm not going to knock the place on Larimer just because I can't eat there for less than $10. Rent's not cheap in LoDo; nor are the more expensive ingredients or the well-trained wait staff. Likewise, I'm not going to turn my nose up at a pho spot on Federal for imperfect service because, well, I'm only dropping $7 for dinner. I go into those places knowing what I'm in for, and unless my final tab deviates significantly from what I'd anticipated at the outset, I don't even think twice about the price. (And if it does deviate significantly, you better believe I'm going to note that -- because nothing makes me flee a place faster than feeling like I've been duped.)

As for the Paris burger? I would probably never pay $777 for one sandwich, unless maybe it was made of unicorn meat and granted me something awesome, like an unbelievable metabolism or eternal life.

But $26 for supple, tender scallops, the best specimens I've had in Colorado? Or $15 for four plump sausages, meaty juice exploding against my teeth as I bite through the casing? Hell, yes. And I'm not even going to blink when I sign my name on the dotted line, whether it's Westword or me picking up the check.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk