Offseason dining is a bit tough to swallow | AspenTimes.com

Offseason dining is a bit tough to swallow

Roger Marolt
Aspen CO, Colorado

There is something that is too hard to swallow about modern offseasons anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. The quiet months are still special in their own earth-tone hues in spite of the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to enliven them in a ceaseless quest to pop-culturize the town into one multistage continuous event that is all things to all people all the time. A few more conventions of parsimonious opticians in October or an ad campaign geared toward fundamentalist cults, pointing out that nobody is looking this way in late April, and their mission might soon be accomplished.

But, that’s not what has me down. The fact that local business boosters are struggling constantly with ideas to get people to come here makes me feel kind of like I live in a frontier village without identity in the wastelands of the Old West, somewhere between the times when cholera and prostitution were prolific, in its historic march from oblivion to becoming something really special. The fact that we try so hard to be noticed is strong testament to our propensity to assimilate rather than differentiate and gives me a sense of being in Anytown, USA. And, isn’t that truly the best part of living here in the offseason after all?

No, if there is any regret about living here during the calm times, it is that I went out for a steak the other night. The experience highlighted how much this place has changed from times past when we could spend the night at the Ritz-Carlton for $69 during the times when nobody else wanted to be there and the management wasn’t too proud to accept cash that was earned the old fashioned way ” namely by kissing their real guests’ rear ends all winter long.

We walked into a local establishment that is very proud of everything they put on the table, but nothing more so than the check. We had eaten from the bar menu before. The bites of food we sampled were tender and at around 10 bucks per entree ” who could complain? But, the four glasses of $2 house wine that we drank crept onto the bill at $14 each, so they stuck us for 100 bucks, and for that kind of dough we figured we might as well make ourselves comfortable in the dinning room this time around.

We waited in the bar for the rest of our party with only ghosts of powder days past. We were greeted indifferently by the waitress, twice, without the slightest concern about our desires for a drink. Eventually, we brought up the subject and were served.

When the others showed up, we asked for our table and were being led to the reserved spot when I felt a tugging at my shirtsleeve. I looked around and a bill for the drinks was slapped into my palm.

“Will you put these on the dinner tab?” I asked.

“Ugh …” she hemmed. “It’s such a pain.”

“That’s not my concern, you lazy little twit,” is what I should have said. Instead, I handed her my credit card.

I didn’t think much more about it, until 10 minutes later when she returned to interrupt a joke I was in the middle of telling by laying the receipt in front of me and loitering impatiently for my signature. I scribbled my name and the obligatory 20 percent tip, and regretted my own haste and laziness in doing so the moment I handed the paperwork back. Ah, what the heck. The poor kid’s got to get through the offseason somehow. She might as well do it in the dourest way possible. I was sure she had treated guests all season long to smiles and charm. She was due for a letdown when the locals finally returned. Why do we hurt those we love the most?

Dinner arrived on sizzling plates. Mmmm, mmmm … medium rare was never so well-done.

You will have to take my word on this: I have never, ever in my entire life sent a meal back to the kitchen for alteration or replacement. I have a vivid imagination as to how chefs behave when their creations are returned for improvement and nobody is watching them improve it. Besides, I am a humble man around stoves, pots and pans, knowing I could do better only by luck.

So, I can hardly explain my behavior next other than by saying it could not have been a more inopportune time for our waiter to approach the table with inquiry, or worse for him to offer personal instruction on eating a porterhouse.

“How are your dinners?” he smiled.

“Well,” I said meekly. “Mine is a little overcooked.”

“Oh?” He approached and curiously peered over my shoulder with furrowed brow. “You have to get to the middle of the steak to see the pink.” He pointed at my meat and he might as well have extended his bony finger to set off a preemptive nuclear strike.

“Listen here, T-bone head,” I choked. “I’ve eaten steak before, even prepared a few in the backyard. I’m a third of the way through this thing and I’m telling you that Exxon’s financial statements have more red in the middle than this.”

At that moment I remembered that the incinerated hunk of beef was going to cost me 40 bucks, not including the mashed potatoes, whether I liked it or not. I decided that I had better do my damnedest to like it. I sent it back.

Of course, the new steak came back nearly raw, but by that time I’d had enough so I took it home in a doggy bag to be nuked the next day for lunch.

Hopefully I’ve gotten to what is sad about the modern offseason. Eating out in this town right before or after the lifts close is an adventure in badly abused establishments harboring bored employees, pretty much the same as it has always been. It’s not a terrible thing to experience this town at its unpretentious best. What kills me is that nobody gives you a discount for doing it.


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