Cafe Society

Landry's gets in the swim with steak, cake, mermaids and a giant shrimp

The Downtown Aquarium's Nautilus ballroom was filled with all sorts of foodie-fun -- perfect, medium-rare steak; disgustingly good chocolate mousse layer cakes with edible pearl accents; mermaids and a guy in a giant shrimp suit -- last night for a Landry's showcase of the dining and entertainment venues it owns in Denver.

And at least for me, it was a recipe for a good time.

See also: - Willie G's caters to the classes and the masses -Tilman Fertitta of Landry's buys McCormick and Schmick's -- and Morton's could be next -Landry's owner finally hooks McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant -Oceanaire gets swallowed up by Landry's

The Landry's group had food-bearing representatives serving up menu tastings from twelve of its local venues, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Chart House, Landry's Seafood, McCormick's Fish House & Bar, McCormick's Catering at The Oxford Hotel, McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks, Morton's The Steakhouse, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Saltgrass Steak House, Simms Steakhouse, Willie G's Seafood & Steaks, and Aquarium Restaurant.

With that lineup, I was expecting the evening to go swimmingly -- and I wasn't disappointed.

I was greeted at the ballroom door by a guy (I think) in a giant shrimp suit; I adore evenings that start out this way. I asked the giant shrimp -- who was actually the Bubba Gump mascot -- if he would go to prom with me. He looked confused, but agreed to do it after affirming that he put out. Sure, he could've been a she, but it was sexier not to know for sure.

A horseshoe formation of dining stations was set up in the huge, chandelier-loaded room, with a beautiful, dripping ice sculpture in the middle of the room flanked by tray after tray of mini-desserts, all Vegas buffet-style, and a free bar in the corner. In other words, if there had been strippers it would have been Las Vegas.

I usually have a plan when I attend such parties: I take photos, claim a table, bring as many tiny plates of grub back to the table as I can, stuff myself, then start with the drinking and socializing -- very Greco-Roman, minus the naked parts.

Bubba Gump's reps served up some spicy Cajun shrimp and garlic bread slivers; Chart House had created delectable crab, avocado and mango stack appetizers; Landry's produced tasty baby crab cakes; Oceanaire brought out the ritz with mini-lobster rolls -- much tarragon had to die for these to get to me; Simms got creative with tiny Italian tostadas, and Willie G's definitely got the "ballsy and intriguing" appetizer award for the truffle-braised oxtail, onion and spiced carrot puree dainties.

Aquarium Restaurant had a standout with raw tuna wonton nachos; McCormick's made another memorable dish with seared scallops; and Saltgrass actually ran out of the bacon-wrapped, cream cheese and jalapeno-stuffed shrimp, probably because people were going back to their table for seconds, thirds and fourths -- myself included. Morton's perfectly executed, medium-rare slices of steak were either topped with blue cheese or seasoned with horseradish sauce; both versions were superb. Those cats at Morton's can cook a steak.

Choosing between the mini-desserts was tough, so I opted instead to try eating them all -- until I either passed out or one of the banquet servers hit me with a tray. McCormick & Schmick's made a goodly chunk of the sweets, and I tried pumpkin and Key lime dessert 'tinis, carrot cake nibblers, bite-sized cheesecakes, nibble-sized pecan pies, baby cream puffs and truffles, then stopped when I got to the mini chocolate mousse layer cakes smothered with ganache and studded with those little edible sugar pearls.

I don't usually gas on about chocolate cake since it isn't a rare or complicated dessert, but these little gems were unusually delicious -- with moist cake layers, fluffy mousse and ganache richer than Tilman J. Fertitta. I checked, and McCormick's has a chocolate layer cake on the dessert menu; if it's even half as luscious as the showcase cake bites, then I may go in for a few slices all in one sitting.

An hour into the event, the mermaids appeared. When I turned around during one of my several trips to get more cake, there they were: two beautiful, smiling young ladies in shiny, aqua mermaid tails. I asked them how tough their gig was, and they agreed that it was hard work looking awesome and lounging next to a dessert display.

Finally, after carefully placing a small plastic cocktail plate with four chocolate cake bites in my oversized purse, I checked the lobby for the guy/girl in the giant shrimp suit; sadly, he/she had departed. I can't always get what I want, but I got what I needed last night: a stummy full of steak, lobster, bacon, shrimp and cake, more cake to go, mermaid-peeping and a satisfying reminder of why it's sometimes easy to love a Landry's restaurants: Their people can sure shake and bake.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz