EATING AT ROVER'S IS HARD WORK. Nestled into a house of predictable elegance in Madison Valley, the spendy little Frenchy joint is symbolic of the class warfare simmering in our highly stratified culture. A few people have all the dough, and I guess they eat here. After soaking up the refined food and ambiance of Rover's for almost two hours, we walked away feeling exhausted, spent, and a little dirty.

We had made early reservations, and were among the first diners of the evening. Light classical music permeated the room like a fine mist, and the staff spoke in hushed tones as they anticipated and met our every desire. In keeping with the dated and sexist traditions of most super-rich hangouts, the waitstaff was exclusively male; women were, however, allowed to take our coats and fetch us water. Our waiter was a kind gentleman who thankfully did not tell us his name. After a young female serving assistant (who turned out to be our very favorite thing about Rover's) rather formally filled our glasses with Evian, "Servie" gently greeted us, gave us the introductory spiel ("Have you been here before? We are known for our tasting menus...") and gave us our dining options: we were required to choose either the Five-Course Menu Degustation ($69.50), the Five-Course Vegetarian Menu Degustation ($59.50), or the Eight-Course Grand Menu Degustation ($89.50). ("Degustation" being the high-toned name for a "tasting menu," which involves several small courses.) After a brief perusal, the AA chose the Five-Course hootenanny, and I chose the Five-Course Vegetarian. Not since my brief stint in Sing-Sing had I been served degustation-style, and we waited in tense anticipation of the ensuing culinary madness.

Shall we begin?

Course 1

AA: Smoked salmon blini with caviar in a vermouth sauce--basically a weird pancake with weird syrup.

Me: Wild greens with a cherry vinaigrette and warm wild mushrooms, which appeared to have been shaped into disc form by being shoved hard into a cat-food can, then dumped onto the plate.

Course 2

AA: Scallion beignet and liver with beets and a balsamic infusion.

Me: Carrot-ginger soup with shiitake mushrooms. The soup was spicy with ginger, and showed evidence of an exceedingly heavy cream pour.

Course 3

AA: Black sea bass in a lobster sauce, with Moroccan olives. I thought the flavor was nasty and French; the AA found it mild and nicely done.

Me: Leek flan with little mushroom shavings on top. Rich and custardy, like eating butter straight from the stick. I did not finish this dish.

Course 4

Both: Spice-infused pinot noir sorbet. This little bastard of a palate cleanser was a huge hit at our table. As we played an always-invigorating game of "Let's Guess the Spices," we came up with ginger, and cinnamon... but dammit, there was something more. Luckily, Our Very Favorite Rover Person The Serving Assistant (OVFRPTSA, pronounced "o-ver-put-sah") happened by, and when we inquired into the ingredients, her crisp and confident reply practically floored us: "Ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and (get this) black pepper."

Course 5

AA: Guinea fowl. Dark and barely warm, lacking in flavor.

Me: Couscous, shaped once again into a cat-food can disc, with "roasted" (more like boiled--these were limp and lifeless) red peppers.

Both degustations were suffixed by the "symphony of desserts," and despite that laughable description, they were good! We each received a plate bearing a chocolate torte, an apple tart (or was it an apple torte and a chocolate tart?), and the cutest little goddam star cookie you've ever seen.

* * *

For $200, we expected to be blown away, and we clearly were not. We've had much better food for a fraction of the price at places like Hattie's Hat and the soon-to-be-reopened Cyclops. In addition, I suspected most of our fellow diners of being upper-class twits--but the AA took great exception to this, noting that most of our compatriots seemed like nice people who had come here to experience a truly special evening (e.g., the birthday gal next to us). We could, however, agree on one thing: the loud guy at the four-top close by was about one drink short of a lampshade.

Initially, the highly attentive service and attractive food brought us a touching sense of well-being. Being taken care of in such a nurturing way was so comforting and reassuring, it made us feel worthy and valuable. Perhaps that's the role of ruling-class eateries such as Rover's: to reinforce the power and righteous mission of those who own the world. And while the wealthy sit in Rover's and have their asses kissed by the well-trained crew, not far away poor people go about their business. They stand in line at some corporate burger joint, putting up with shitty food and poor service, and with their food they'll receive the message that they, like the food they are about to eat, are worth very little.

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