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Cosmopolitan Bar and Grill, Downtown Fresno

I’ve never been to The Cosmopolitan Bar and Grill, known lovingly in Fresno as Cosmo’s. It’s been around since 1933 and is a staple in Downtown Fresno. Let’s be honest, most people remember exactly how to get here, not because it’s downtown, but because it’s across the street from Wildcat Adult Entertainment, a burr in the saddle of Fresno for a long time.

Here’s how the conversation goes,

“Where is Cosmo’s again? I know it’s downtown, but I forget where exactly.”

“You know, the building that’s painted purple downtown, the porno shop on the corner there off of G Street and Fresno …across the street is Cosmo’s.”

“Oh right, G Street. Isn’t The Basque Hotel around there too?”

“The Basque is around the corner across from the empty lot.  Just go to the porno shop and you can’t miss Cosmo’s, it’s across the street.”

Some people navigate by streets. Some navigate by landmarks.

Now that we have our directions clear, I was out to dinner with my cousins, well established eaters and patrons of legendary Cosmo’s. No, I didn't bring my camera or cell phone inside to take pictures, I was there with friends and family and didn't want to act like "the food critic" with a camera. My Master Jedi Powers allow me to make mental notes on the food without visual aides when necessary, this was one of those times where The Force guides my review (and a good visual memory).

We did the full set up, apps, mains, and dessert. Simple appetizers of the ubiquitous fried calamari (I think it’s CA law now that eating establishments must have fried calamari on the menu) and shrimp as well as a new item on the menu, clam pizza. As for the calamari and shrimp, the deep fry job was done properly. The calamari was tender and well seasoned. The shrimps were still moist inside the breading that coated them was crispy.  Tartar and cocktail sauce were provided, I didn't ask if they were house made. No complaints.

The pizza on the other hand, well, it fell short. It was labeled a clam pizza, but I couldn’t taste clams and all I saw on the pie were peppers and tomatoes. One person claimed there were clams, but I found no evidence to prove their claim on my pizza. As for the crust, I was left wanting.

Next up were the mains. As standard procedure, when evaluating many a restaurant, I will automatically order the rib-eye.  The Cosmo rib-eye comes with several choices of starch, which I usually don't order, but for evaluative purposes, I went with the rosemary mashed potato. Sticking with a Fresno tradition, soup or salad comes with main dishes; as it was a Friday, I ordered the Manhattan clam chowder (that’s the red one).

The chowder was more like a tomato soup with celery and clams, than a classic Manhattan chowder. Unlike the pizza, it had clams in it and was seasoned more with celery than anything else I could taste, other than the tomato broth. I finished my soup even though I have my internal issues as to what to call it. Tomato Soup with Clams? Minestrone with clams? Anyway, the soup was fine, just confusing to me.

The steak was presented well rested, properly seasoned and a perfect medium rare as ordered. I had absolutely no issue with the steak. In fact, there was nice flavor to the steak, a good crust, and solid seasoning. This was my expectation, well-crafted grilled beef.

I generally don’t order a starch with my steak, but since it was an option, I took my evaluative forkful of potato. Frankly, I don’t care for rosemary in my mash. And since I’m being a hater of infused mashed potatoes, I find the jalapeno mash potatoes at Fleming’s an outrage to serious wine drinkers. Please enjoy your Caymus Special Select with spicy jalapeno’s in you potatoes you jackass. Jalapeno’s are a palate killer, plain and simple. Rosemary can wreck a palate nearly as quickly in many circumstances, hence my avoidance of novelty mash potatoes. Cosmo's probably didn't have rosemary mash potatoes in 1933, just a guess. This dislike of novelty or Fresno Bedazzled Mash is a personal problem of mine, not Cosmo's. I often think Fresno likes "bedazzled" food. Similar to what I mentioned about Yosemite Ranch. I'm sure Cosmo's wouldn't do bedazzled mash if customers didn't like it or some sub-set requested it, but nothing and I mean nothing beats really well made old-fashioned mashed potatoes. Enough novelty mashed potato hating.

I did get a nibble of veal marsala from the opposite end of the table. Italian American  in style, I liked it. The flavors were bold and the veal wasn’t heavily breaded or pounded too thinly. With some simple pasta, that could have been a real winner as well. My Cousin MK got some huge lamb chops and I mean huge, double cut chops cooked right on medium rare plus. I could have easily swapped my steak for those.

I didn’t order dessert personally, but someone thought I’d be a good candidate (because I’m a glutton) to try the bread pudding.  The bread pudding was more like the top of the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted. It was ordered “crispy”, which meant nothing to me at the time, but obviously affected the flavor. The top of the bread, perfectly crisp and seasoned like an apple pie crust. The underside of the bread was wet and similar to pain perdu that I’ve had in French restaurants. The dessert made for a wonderful contrast in the mouth, crispy, sweet, a hint of spice, and mouthfilling. To me, besides the company at the table, it was the highlight of the night.

The moral of the Cosmo’s story (I did lead off with directions for a porno shop, so morals have to come in at some point)? Stick with the classics. It’s hard to go wrong with Fried Calamari, a Big Fat Steak (or Veal Marsala or Lamb Chops), and Bread Pudding. My gut says, you didn’t go to Cosmo’s for flourishes and nuance. My gut also says that in 1933, Cosmo’s didn’t have rosemary mash on the menu either, but probably full-O’butter mashed potatoes, which are 10 times better anyway. 

I’ll be back to Cosmo's and I know exactly how to get there’s around the corner from The Basque Hotel.

Cosmopolitan Tavern & Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

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    The road level passageway of this Hilton eatery drives you into a low-lit, comfortable bar with overstuffed calfskin seats. Supporters on the following level come through customary ways to the roomy lounge area with two-story, floor-to-roof windows. Flown in from around the world three times each week and cooked to arrange, ...

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