Steak, the Strater, and self-dating: Living it up in quarantine

by Nick Gonzales

Unlike many Coloradans, I tend to hibernate through the winter. During those short days and long, cold nights, I sit indoors, planning out the rest of the year. And spring 2020 was going to rock. There were food and beer festivals to go to, live music to enjoy, and even movies to look forward to seeing at the theater.

Then we all had to trade everything in for Netflix and whatever we can find to do around the house. You’re almost certainly not meeting new people. I hope your social needs are met by phone calls and whoever you’re quarantining with because unless you’re well into a relationship, dating is now harder and more awkward than almost anything else.

No worries, though. All the relationship blogs I’ve scrolled through (in a manner that is very dignified and not at all panicked) in the last few weeks say taking yourself on solo dates is not only fine, but good for you. Apparently, it boosts your self-confidence and adds richness to your life.

Consulting my mental list of date ideas, it turned out No. 37 (after No. 36: “Cosmic Bowling”) is more or less possible and quite sensual – “Enjoy a steak dinner for two.”

And one of the places you can still get a steak is an iconic symbol of Durango.

At any other time, the Strater Hotel would consist of three restaurants or bars: The Diamond Belle, the Mahogany Grille and The Office Spiritorium. But, thanks to COVID-19, none of those are open. Nevertheless, the hotel has the kitchen running, offering a take-out menu for breakfast and dinner, between 8 and 10 a.m., and 5 and 8 p.m.

The very abridged menu consists of Mahogany Grille fare, including four breakfast items, starters, a burger, two sandwiches, a turkey pot pie, two steaks, and salmon. They also have take-out beer, wine, and cocktails available, but if you’re looking for the complex cocktails The Office had before, you’re out of luck. They’re down to simple cocktails, and by simple, I mean booze-and-mixer beverages: rum and coke, vodka soda, etc.

For my self-date, I called and ordered the Pepper Steak Herbert – a 3-year award-winning exclusive of the Strater consisting of a seared peppercorn-encrusted filet with mango chutney, cognac, and a natural sauce (and mashed potatoes and bacon green beans). And a basket of fries, because why the heck not.

About 20 minutes later, someone met me at my car window in front of the hotel. In transit, the heat of the steak and mashed potatoes caused the container they were in to weaken, causing a very small but sticky mess and some mixing between entree and sides. But I feel like this happens all the time with to-go food.

The mix of flavors on the steak was perfect, divided between the sweetness and tanginess of the chutney, the slight spiciness of the peppercorns and just an amazing little slab of meat (for what it’s worth, it was cooked exactly to my specifications, despite the unusual conditions). Tender, moist, and exquisite, it didn’t survive long on the plate. Thanks to the turbulence of my vehicle, the mango and cognac flavor carried over to the potatoes as well, which were already probably light and buttery. Together, they were just about the greatest combination of meat and potatoes I’d had in a while – certainly since the virus killed off most specialty dining options.

The green beans were green beans, a dish I have no strong feelings for one way or another. The fact that they were flavored with bacon, as well as the sloshed-over sauce from the steak, was good, but I’d just as soon have it the other way around — green bean-flavored bacon.

The post-dinner basket of fries – I ate the steak first because it seemed like the item with the most direct relationship between quality and temperature – fell on the thinner, crispier side of the fry spectrum. Flavored with truffle oil, herbs, and Parmesan, they at least temporarily filled the eternally-yawning fry-shaped hole in my soul. I don’t know that I’d ever head to the Strater just for the fries, but they weren’t half bad.

I don’t know that I felt more self-confident after my solo date, but I did feel as though my life had been enriched. (I’m assuming enrichment feels identical to slight queasiness caused by overeating.) Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of this quarantine.

Nick Gonzales


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