Cafe Society

Grand Lux Cafe

Page 2 of 3

Back on the floor, I put aside my scribbling and tried to focus on the food. The "Double Stuffed Potato Spring Rolls" had started with a good idea: They managed to hit that wide bull's-eye of crispy outside/soft inside comfort food, essentially mashed potatoes spiked with green onions wrapped inside a spring roll wrapper and then deep-fried like an Asian pierogi. But this guilty pleasure was then covered in melted cheddar cheese, topped with bacon bits, sprinkled with more green onion, sided by a giant blob of sour cream and served in a portion so large that Laura and I hardly made a dent before pushing back from the table, stuffed and ready for a nap.

The mini-kobe dogs were decent — if eleven dollars' worth of cocktail franks and toothless chili is your kind of thing. And it seemed to be exactly the thing for many diners, because as the plate was being marched toward us from the quote/unquote exhibition kitchen in the back (walled off from the main floor by a service trench and sealed behind panes of clear glass like the bulletproof stuff that convenience-store cashiers hide behind in dodgy neighborhoods), Laura saw at least three tables flagging down their own harried servers to ask what it was and if they could add one to their order. The flautas, though, were horrific — whole flour tortillas stuffed with (I think) leftover chicken salad, chopped poblano chiles and bitter cilantro and fried, with the resulting mess drizzled with sour cream and avocado sauce that tasted like green kindergarten paste and served over a bed of corn and black beans. There were at least a half-dozen flautas on the plate — and this was an appetizer. We were just getting started.

The menu at Grand Lux runs to over a hundred plates — an imposing, schizophrenic clusterfuck of bad ideas. I'd ordered the Indochine shrimp and chicken because it looked like the goofiest of all the international inclusions, "a fusion dish of Chinese and Indian flavors." And while the menu description had promised onions, sweet ginger, curry, plum wine, cream, dried cherries, apricots, shrimp, chicken and Asian spices, it didn't prepare me for the end product, which tasted like terrifyingly spongy chicken dipped in caramel. With cherries on top.

Laura had gone simpler, ordering lemon chicken piccata. But the kitchen crew forgot the lemon. They forgot the capers. And even if they hadn't forgotten to add the two flavors that more or less define a piccata, it still would've sucked. Sadly, there was enough of it on the plate to serve six, easy: six people who had no idea what an actual piccata was supposed to taste like, had never eaten anything resembling proper Italian food. On our way out of Park Meadows, Laura and I shoved our to-go boxes in the nearest garbage can.

Still, on that first visit, the floor — which has to hold 300 or more, not counting the bar or the patio — had been nearly full. With hope in my heart, I thought that might mean that somewhere on this board of terrible, borderless, Indo-Italo-Thai-German-French-and-American fusion, there was something good, something capable of drawing people back months after the restaurant had opened. So I returned on a Sunday afternoon, sat at the bar (a massive edifice in its own right, with bottles stacked to the vaulted ceiling and as much gold trim as a hundred West Coast rappers, melted down and used as paint), and ate decent duck pot stickers stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and ginger, then chased them with short ribs that were like bad pot roast in a "delicious red wine gravy" that tasted of the greasy scrim that floats on top of a clarifying beef stock.

Monday night, I was back again — this time for a barely passable margherita pizza and the worst shrimp scampi I've ever had. The shrimp — enormous, mealy, completely flavorless U-10 shrimp — had been battered and deep-fried, then served in a cream sauce that tasted like an Alfredo hit with a squirt of lemon Pledge.

And yet even after all these horrors, I did manage to find something admirable at Grand Lux: its bakery. On my way out the door after that final visit, I picked up a takeout order of rustic apple pie and a lemon meringue tart as tall as Don King's hair. It seems that Overton's time in Vienna was not a complete waste, because these desserts — in their adherence to classical recipes and simplicity in everything but presentation — were not only edible, but actually very good. Still, some apple pie and a pound of meringue isn't enough to make me ever go back to Grand Lux.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan