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Thursday, March 25,2010

ChopHouse on the cheap

By Clay Fong

No one would characterize the Boulder ChopHouse & Tavern as particularly inexpensive, given such menu options as a $35 lobster tail entrée. However, the bar-only menu is much more reasonably priced, and these offerings present a screaming deal during the 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour, when food items are 50 percent off. The bar here is a comfortably elegant setting, with the dark woods and conservative ambience you’d associate with an old-line steakhouse.

Friends Konstanze, Lisa and I started with a quartet of appetizers, including the bargain-priced $2.97 Rhode Island-style calamari, fried up in cornmeal batter. Two sophisticated dipping sauces — a herbal green chimichurri and another composed of subtly sweet and tangy red pepper — added new complexity to this bar food staple. The squid tasted fresh, and the assertive batter wasn’t at all soggy, leading us to quickly devour this plate.

A $2.47 helping of kettle chips satisfied our junk-food cravings. While advertised as being served warm, these spuds were only slightly above room temperature. More heat would have improved both flavor and texture, although this didn’t hinder our overall enjoyment. The kitchen again provided an unexpected dip, a pungent olive tapenade. Regretfully, this condiment’s flavor was more sodium than olive, although salt-craving Lisa seemed to enjoy it.

She didn’t take nearly as much pleasure in the buffalo shrimp, at $1.48 apiece. These specimens were so voluminous you’d surmise they came from a nuclear reactor cooling pond — one couldn’t fault these for size or even clean taste. The problem was that the buffalo wing sauce overwhelmed the shellfish’s delicacy. Lisa asserted that the shrimp were “killing me tangy,” although the sauce would have excelled on poultry. Next time, we’d go for the alternative of having these shrimp grilled and served as a cocktail.

Beef was our common entreé denominator. Konstanze said, “There’s nothing like dead cow,” a particularly apt sentiment at a place called the ChopHouse. Given this moniker, it’s also unsurprising that each course arrived perfectly medium rare, as we requested. Konstanze relished her $7.97 steak frites, a generous serving of tender beef tempered by assertive blue cheese flavoring. Equally pleasing were the skinny fries, the epitome of crispy perfection.

Lisa’s $7.98 grilled steak salad was a lighter choice, although she still received a steak’s worth of beef. A bed of arugula and ripe tomatoes provided a less heavy counterpoint to the meat’s heft. Savory additions included nifty caramelized onions and a vinaigrette that successfully balanced the sour and sweet without detracting from the other ingredients.

My choice was an $8.98 10-ounce prime rib sided with cheddar mashed potatoes. While the jus didn’t leave an impression, the horseradish sauce effectively combined creaminess and sinusclearing heat. At risk of incurring my mom’s wrath, I’d venture that this prime rib rivaled hers, as it possessed comparable deep flavor and velvety tenderness.

A full-priced $5.95 apple bread pudding with a shovelful of butterscotch ice cream for an extra dollar provided us with ample dessert. The textures ranged from that of moist apple cake to creamy custard. The butterscotch enhanced this dish’s vanilla tones, and while the dollop of whipped cream might be gilding the lily, we had no problem with this adornment. Indeed, there was little to take exception to during this happy hour meal, a study in extraordinary value. Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Clay’s Obscurity Corner

On the slide

Sliders (the diminutive sandwich, not the ’90s sci-fi series that featured Sallah from the Indiana Jones movies) are a popular local happy hour item. The ChopHouse serves up a tenderloin version, while Murphy’s offers a short rib interpretation. Conor O’Neill’s offers a culturally appropriate corned beef slider. While many attribute the term “slider” to the White Castle burger chain, others argue for a military origin. It’s said the name comes from military base sandwiches that were so greasy they would slide through the diner. Or it might come from burgers that slid across the grill aboard storm-tossed navy ships.

Boulder ChopHouse & Tavern
921 Walnut St. Boulder

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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