All that jazz
Henri reminisces at 33 Steaks, Booze and Jazz
Christmas and the holiday season have always been very special to Henri—growing up, as he did, in the Midwest, where simple holiday traditions were often the glue that held generations together. And while the French-Catholic Christmas traditions of the famille Bourride—our Advent calendar, midnight Mass, Henri’s empty little shoes by the fireplace—seemed rather out of place in the land of lese and Lutherans. Mother would make a bûche de Noël—a log-shaped cake of chocolate and chestnuts—for each neighbor family, and Henri would deliver them on Christmas Eve.
Of course, Henri’s favorite Christmas tradition was dinner out. One night each Christmas season, usually two or three days before Christmas, the Bourrides would bundle up in coats and scarves, head out to our Citroen station wagon and Father would drive, sometimes all the way to Minneapolis-St. Paul, two hours away—to the best restaurant he could find.
This year, with no one to invite over for holiday cheer and no party invitations, Henri decided to honor that tradition by treating himself to a holiday dinner out. I put on my new dress boots by Kenneth Cole, a handsome blue blazer, and my lined Burberry coat, and headed downtown to the newly opened 33 Steaks, Booze and Jazz.
Living up to its name—the “33” refers to 1933, when Prohibition ended—the restaurant offers some 20 different gin and vodka drinks, including the Greta Garbo, the Satchmo and the Babe Ruth, as well as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a bloody Mary with peach vodka, pineapple schnapps and rum. The inside is also decorated with historical photos from the Depression era (Bonnie and Clyde) and of jazz greats (Miles Davis). Additionally, the restaurant, owned by Tyler Cooke, a 25-year-old former Butte College football player and 2003 graduate of Chico State Culinary Institute, offers live jazz nightly.
The mostly California wine list was impressively wide ranging. House wines (Kenwood, Clos du Bois, Beringer, Ravenswood) run $4.75-$7.25 a glass, and bottles, most of which are in the $20-$30 range, top out at $82 (Flora Springs Trilogy), not including the sparkling wines, which run $18-$375 (Louis Roderer). I ordered a bottle of the Niebaum-Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon—deep, rich and hearty, perfect for the cold evening.
The appetizers ($9-$17) were all tempting, especially the baked brie with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, but I ordered the calamari. Excellent, served with a spicy, orange-hued aioli made with Thai chili peppers.
Entrees come with soup or salad and potatoes or wild rice (grown locally by Lundberg Farms). House specialties include seafood raviolis (shrimp and lobster with roasted red pepper cream sauce—$14), chicken Marsala (chicken breast with garlic, mushrooms, Marsala wine, and chives—$14), scampi (in garlic, lemon and butter—$19), and steak Diane (pan-seared filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms—$28). The prime rib comes in three cuts: 10-ounce ($17), 16-ounce ($24), and 24-ounce ($32).
With crab in season, though, Henri couldn’t resist the steak Oscar ($29), a filet with crab meat and Béarnaise sauce. Absolutely divine. As was the Lundberg rice on the side. When I was done, the waiter took my plate, and poured the last of the wine into my glass, and I sat back and listened to the music. I almost felt like I’d been transported back to one of the little restaurants where Father took us each Christmas when I was young, or even to the Café Society of 1930s Harlem—I imagined Billie Holiday’s lilting voice slipping sadly along the restaurant’s dark, mahogany walls. It was enough to forget, briefly, that I was alone, or at least to make it seem all right.
I took the last sip of wine, pulled on my coat, and walked home in the rain.
To my dear readers: Henri has had a very difficult few months and has to go away. He will be back at the end of January.