Foxfire's Cougars and Men
We've all heard the stories, the anecdotes, the not-so-secret reputation of Foxfire as the hallowed hunting grounds for the species of woman known as the cougar. On Friday and Saturday evenings, when the torch above the building is ablaze, they come, as if answering a tribal call to mate. They use the cover of night, ceremonially garbed in slinky dresses two sizes too small (but that's exactly the point), to stalk and pounce on their prey—anyone with a Y-chromosome whose inhibitions have been compromised by the cheap alcohol. A few co-workers still tell the tale of a night out years ago when they were asked to dance, then more or less propositioned by a woman twice their age whose name could easily have been a double entendre. They politely declined her advances. But when they left, they had their Foxfire story about the woman they only know as "Lucky."
I made my first visit on a Sunday afternoon, when the club was shuttered. My date and I were led down a carpeted interior hallway styled to resemble that of a Tudor mansion. We turned a left into a wood-paneled room with white leather booths that appeared to have been installed when Richard Nixon was still in the White House. We sat down, were offered champagne, and became lulled by the unironic Ray Conniff and Lawrence Welk soundtrack before we realized no one gave us a menu or asked what we wanted to order. Our vest-wearing waiter confirmed what I was beginning to suspect: Only the Sunday brunch buffet was being offered.
So we followed the crowd to the bare meeting room in which the buffet was set up. The Wynn this was not. Along the far wall, an attendant did double duty as the made-to-order-omelet and pasta-station chef. Camp stoves heated his skillets. There was the obligatory carving station with prime rib and ham kept warm by a glowing red light bulb. The beef, I discovered later, needed more than a few dollops of creamy horseradish to rescue it, a common trait of all buffet-line prime ribs.
I purposely kept my distance from the salad bar; there was a bowl of something covered in white dressing that I assumed was either potato salad or ambrosia. But perhaps the most intimidating part of the room was the seafood-and-shellfish section. The lox seemed to have been dumped into an unceremonious pile and sprinkled with capers, half of the salmon strips tattered and torn after being poked and prodded by the people who got there before I did. In the middle, there was a boulder-sized ball of cream cheese that we were supposed to chip away with a puny butter knife and smear onto the little bagels that crumbled to pieces when I tried to pry the partially cut halves apart. Then there were the shucked raw oysters, which were so muddy and slimy each gulp required what seemed like half a lemon's worth of juice and massive amounts of cocktail sauce to drown the flavor. There were stone crab claws, too, but their shells were so thick and impenetrable and meat-anemic I realized my time was better spent trying to peel the smaller-than-usual-for-a-buffet-line chilled shrimp.
Instead of opting for more goulash, I got more bacon, more juice-spurting sausages, more potatoes cooked with strips of onion and pepper. The bacon was also consolation for an eggs Benedict with Canadian ham turned to leather straps and whose Hollandaise was so dried up it might as well have been a slice of microwaved American cheese. The cream-cheese-stuffed blintzes, however, were undeniably delicate, as was the bread pudding that came with a vanilla sauce I could've spooned up like chowder.
Dinner on another night was a far better experience. The servers, who now have something to do other than just pour champagne, are warm, attentive and as professional as those vests would suggest. An appetizer of crispy battered shrimp with vanilla sauce was eerily similar to the Chinese banquet staple of honey-glazed walnut shrimp. But a pan-seared halibut special that came with soup and dessert was so overcooked it could've passed for wet sawdust. The rice served with it was so mushy it veered dangerously into the territory of porridge. A salty, wine-based, mushroom-and-garlic sauce saved the New York steak, the reduction doing what it was meant to do: act as the concealing layer of make-up hiding any flaws that might have been present in the meat. All this masking to hide the real deal: I'm not going to say it's an apt analogy for the crowd that congregates at the club every night, though, because Lucky might be reading—and you can never hate the Foxfire as an OCer.
You might as well hate sunsets.
This review appeared in print as "Of Cougars and Men: Foxfire is still the place to meet experienced women and have mostly mediocre food—but how can anyone ever hate it?"
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