Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Oct. 8
Last night I did the unthinkable: I walked into Dobson’s. That’s the downtown magnet for the power elite.
Actually, was just hanging around for a bus. I recognized Paul Dobson, the bullfighter-owner, talking outside. I thought, what the heck. As long as they have a happy hour, I might be able to handle it.
This was around five. They did.
I took a big breath and walked through the hallowed doors into this varnished wood, clubby place. Discrete kitchen at back. Alex, a big, friendly guy, ruled his bar. Found myself a spot, ears burning, trying to figure out who’s a judge, who’s a pol from City Hall… . And, yes. A happy hour menu. Half a dozen items from $8, up to $12, $13. Things like burgers, crab, lamb chops…I glommed straight onto the first one: Dobson’s mussel bisque en croûte, $8. Cheapest on the list, plus anything mussel gets my vote. And I ordered the beer deal, Red Trolley draft for $2.
What a ceremony: white cloth napkin laid out on the bar, cloth-napkin-wrapped flatware, a great chunk of beautiful crunchy bread, butter, that beer, and this neighbor Jim, a lawyer who’s willing to talk to a stranger and make him feel at home. Talk about the deer and wild turkey he sees every day on his way to work from Julian. A feller could start to feel like a real gent in here.
But the star, oh man, was the mussel bisque. Michael, from the kitchen, brought this kind of giant cup on a plate with golden pastry splurging over it and a dip in the middle. Then he produced a large bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry with a long pourer attached. OMG. He pours!
Michael tips a long, ibis-beaked pourer, and sends down a dollop of the golden stuff into the soup.
The taste: creamy, dreamy, winey. The soup’s loaded with mussels. Damn, it was good. Guess I should have had wine with it, but Trolley was the deal.
What $10 buys
I even got to talk to the great Dobson himself. Really nice guy. Says he found the recipe for this in Normandy, France, when he was touring in a VW Vanagon with his wife. Wild and stormy day. Lingered over lunch, met the chef, spent the rest of the day talking, brought this recipe home.
Also turns out his place has a helluva history. Been a bar since the Spreckels building opened, 98 years ago. This actual mahogany counter top was shipped around the horn back around 1913.
’Course I miss my bus, and the next. But for ten bucks, it's been a good ride.
Happy hour’s 4 to 7 p.m.
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