About me: the vital information

19 02 2012

I enjoy food. Frankly, I’m the sort of person where, just looking at me, you’d think it was a safe assumption that I like food. I was raised in a kitchen really. While my mother and father were off at work in their respective jobs, I hung out at home with my grandmother in the kitchen. I would watch and be her faithful food tester as she created a variety of traditional dishes, with some newer, more foreign recipes. When I moved to the US at the age of nine, I found myself gravitating towards that kitchen because it brought me comfort. And there, watching my mother as she learned the culinary arts, I once again served as a faithful food tester. Both my mother and my grandmother were good at talking while they cooked. “This needs a little bit of allspice, what do you think habiby?” “Do you think some mint would give this some extra flavor?” I doubt my opinion mattered, though I was always supportive as they deftly utilized the tools at their disposal to make creative and tasty dishes that I would happily consume.

I tell you all that to say that my education into food was rather informal. I learned just about everything I know from watching television, my own experimentation and, of course, watching the excellent cooks in my life – a list, I might add, that was not limited to my mother and grandmother. In my life I have also had the privilege to work in the food industry in several capacities in two different restaurants. I also tended bar for a spell, a job that I enjoyed tremendously. However, I can fairly say that in my walk through my life, I have acquired an appreciation for eating. From the high brow to fast food and from the far east to the mid-west, I’ve done my best to sample various forms of cuisine, and to appreciate them all. It helps that I can always go back to my Mother’s kitchen and sample her delicious fare, or go out with my father, the most adventurous eater I know, to all manner of exotic restaurants.

And there you have it. That’s my culinary pedigree; my foodie resume, if you will. If, after reading this, you feel that I might be able to accurately judge the worthiness of a restaurant, then read on, for that is precisely what I intend on doing in the pages to come. I eat out frequently, and it was pointed out to me that someone who has a flair for words and a passion for food really ought to put their talent to good use and at least inform their peer network about what restaurants they ought to avoid, and which restaurants they need to run to immediately. I ought to be different from most other food critics out there for the very simple reason that I led off this narrative with – I like food. I’m not a snob who sticks his nose up at certain restaurants, or even certain types of ethnic cuisines. The only foods I actively dislike are mushrooms and broccoli, and even then, I won’t go out of my way to avoid them. I just don’t prefer them. I doubt you’ll agree with every review that I have here, but I suspect that most of you will get an accurate representation regarding the worthiness of a restaurant based on what you read. With that having been said, let’s critique!

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The Bar-Bill Tavern, East Aurora, New York

28 06 2012

It has been a WHILE since I’ve had the time to post here, but here I am, back and ready to go. This is an unusual restaurant to review, just because it is way out of my target demographic, but I feel it is significant for a variety of reasons – Buffalo isn’t all that far from Ohio for one. Also, my gf told me to do it. So, you know, I really wanna do it.

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 4/5

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5 (really, I couldn’t just make the rating system out of 10 and be done with the decimals? Really Sherif?) The Bar-Bill Tavern, or the Barbell as I thought it was called and will continue to refer to it, was a delightful mix of dive bar and innovative foodie delight (as far as a dive bar can also be innovative). Their Buffalo wings were delicious, their Beef on Weck (we’ll get to that, calm yourself down) was the best I’ve ever had, and the Waitstaff is engaging. If you just wanna go somewhere, have a beer and enjoy some good quality bar food and wings in the Buffalo, NY area, I really recommend the Barbell.

My gf, Dr. Karla, is from Buffalo. As such, I’ve had the privilege to go visit there a handful of times. On one of these trips this past winter, I asked Karla to take me to the two premier flagships for Buffalo Wings – Anchor Bar (home of the Buffalo Wing) and Duff’s (Perfecter of the Buffalo Wing). She obliged and I dined at both establishments on the same day, Duff’s for lunch and Anchor Bar for dinner. I’ll spare you the messy details, suffice to say that Duff’s Sucks. The wings were salty and not flavorful, making them very hard to eat. The place was very small, and our waitress was one of the worst I’ve ever encountered, and I’m someone who has worked with the very worst. Truly an awful experience all around. Anchor Bar, by contrast, was delicious, fun, with an attentive waitress. I quickly became an Anchor Bar loyalist. So when Karla’s friends Dan’n’Rachel (I swear they are a single entity in her mind, she never references them individually) said they would take us to another place for Buffalo wings, I was skeptical – but there’s an Anchor Bar right here! But Dan, who has that sort of ‘Trust me’ face, assured me that Barbell’s was worth it. So off we went to East Aurora New York, one of those quaint small towns that make me love America. Quiet, serene (are those two the same thing?), orderly and very well groomed, errr, landscaped.

The first thing that struck me about Barbell’s was how easy parking was, and how hard getting a seat was. Here’s a general restaurant tip for you – if this place has been around for more than a year, and you still have a hard time getting a seat, expect good things. Maybe not great things, but just raise your ceiling a bit. It oughtta be good. We were privileged enough to get a seat on the patio in about 15 minutes, and we got to ordering. They’re one of those delightful establishments that likes their food and wants you to like it too, so they gave us samples of three of their wing sauces, making it very easy for us to decide what to order. Though even if they hadn’t, I had Dan’n’Rachel there to guide me through the process.

I settled for a combination of apps and wings. For an appetizer I ordered the Beef on Weck. This is a legendary Buffalo sandwich. Essentially, it is fresh roasted beef on a specialty roll which is more salt than anything else, served with a healthy dose of horseradish sauce – not so much to make your eyes water, but certainly enough to get you to notice it. My past experiences with the Beef on Weck had proven disappointing, as the roll was too salty, and the beef too dry. But not at the Barbell! Here, the sandwich was a delight. They underdid the salt and oversold the other topping, the caraway, which made for a good flavor combination with the roast beef (which they soaked in au jus before they threw it on the sandwich) and the horseradish. It was just a couple of bites, but I enjoyed every one of them. Karla got the appetizer Zeet, which is a glorified pizza roll. Ground beef, sausage and sauce, inside of wrapped pizza dough, drenched in melted mozzarella. It was melty, the sauce was zesty and played well against the salty meats.

Then came the wings – what separated the Barbell wings from their competitors is that the Barbell wing is both crispy (a nice added bonus to Buffalo Wings) and heavily sauced (my personal favorite). They were ridiculous. You almost had to crunch into the wing to get to the meat, and they were hot and fresh from the broiler (tangent – this is why I rarely go to quaker steak and lube wing nights anymore. The wings sit at that open buffet losing their temp and their flavors. And I don’t really want to go to a restaurant and hover around the buffet like a vulture for the fresh batch. I want them fresh in groups of 6 like they used to do it. C’mon fellas, help a brother out!).  We got three flavors, Mild, Hot and Honey Butter BBQ. The mild was fine, though it needed spice, but the Hot was right there, hurting me a bit, but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy it. Though when I go back, I’ll probably gravitate towards medium hot. The honey butter BBQ was a sweet and oddly creamy BBQ that I thoroughly enjoyed. Not too sweet with that authentic vinegary zip on the tail end of every bite. The wings came with celery and blue cheese/ranch; it was quite the messy affair, but enjoyed every bite of it.

The drinks were so so, but they had special bar shots which we partook in. Each shot was a dollar, and they had a variety of tasty combos to choose from. Their beer selection was disappointingly sparse, but I’m not a beer drinker, so I didn’t care. Our waiter was a ton of fun, and we joked back and forth through out the meal. He was one of those guys who, catch him on a bad day and he’s just an over-bearing jerk, but on this day, his touch was right on, and he really enhanced our experience.

All in all, I’d say this was my best Buffalo Wing experience to date, though I do have to go back to the Anchor Bar just to make sure :). If you’re in the Buffalo area, and you feel like Wings on a night when there is not rush and you can make it out to East Aurora, go to Bar-Bill Tavern and have yourself a messy and tasty evening.

Bar Bill Tavern on Urbanspoon

Bahama Breeze, Beachwood, Ohio

26 03 2012

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Drinks: 3.5/5

Food: 2.5/5

Overall: 3.5/5; This place would be amazing if it had good food. Not the best thing to say about a restaurant. What’s that? That’s the worst thing I could say about a restaurant? Well, uhh, yeah, that’s true. Blast.

We live in NEO. I love it. With the Spring we’re having, it’s a wonder more people don’t move to NEO for the weather alone. However even someone who is as adamant about their love for this marvelous place as I am must admit that sometimes you just feel like getting away. Well, the Bahama Breeze is just that escape. It’s the sort of place that helps you imagine that you are at one of those all-inclusive joints in the Caribbean. The drinks are delicious and watered down, and the food is clearly mass-produced or microwaved – but both are plentiful!

My favorite thing about the Bahama Breeze is their atmosphere. Do yourself a favor, if ever you go — sit on their ‘veranda.’ Yeah, it’s indoors but the décor is a dead ringer for one of those seemingly-shoddily-built-but-somehow-always-manage-to-be-the-last-thing-standing-after-the-hurricane-hits huts. You know what I’m talking about. They always have some clever name like ‘La Pallapa,’ which you’re pretty sure you never learned in high school Spanish but seems to be the perfect name for the place. Anyway, the Bahama Breeze veranda is a dead ringer. At my most recent dinner there I kept telling my friends that after dinner we should all go up to the hotel, change into our suits and come down for a dip as the sun sets. Imagine my horror when a tropical storm of immense proportions actually did strike us and forced us to stay in for some of the hotel run ‘entertainment.’ Then imagine my terror (which eclipses my horror by a good bit) when eventually I had to go out to get my car and was struck by the Ohio-ness of it all like so many thousands large, cold drops of water getting me wet and chilling me. But, for that hour and a half, the décor, with only minimal assistance from my overactive imagination, managed to convince me that I was on vacation in the tropics. And frankly, I can’t put a price tag on an experience like that. Good news though, Bahama Breeze conveniently price-tagged it for me.

My experiences at the Bahama Breeze have shown me a succession of career servers (hint, not a compliment). They are efficient, know their stuff, but sadly lack that playfulness that you get from a server who knows that this is just another stop in their journey. They make few mistakes and recite their ‘favorites’ with a tone I normally recite for algebra equations. That is to say, their presentation leaves something to be desired. On Sunday, our waiter Angelo fit that description to a T. He recognized us (well, not us, but the generic model in his head of the sorts of customers we were) as soon as he saw us, and treated us accordingly, even trying out a few jokes as if to prove that he knew what we wanted. And to be fair to Angelo, he had us pegged correctly. I found myself more impressed with his service than the 18% that Bahama Breeze felt I owed him. Not much more, but still, I felt it worth mentioning.

Alcohol-wise, the Breeze Bar pulls an old page out of the cheap owner’s book – tall, skinny glasses that make you feel as if you’re drinking a lot, and the sorts of fruity beach drinks that are WAY more fruit than alcohol. No real danger of getting drunk here, especially not at their prices (cheapest mixed drink on the menu was over $6. I passed.). However, the drinks are delightful in their presentation, melding colors and textures very well to the delight of most of my friends. I mean, alcohol content aside, there is something positive to be said about making a drink that is tasty and leaves the drinker wanting more. In that sense, well played, Bahama Breeze. Well played.

The biggest issue I have with the Bahama Breeze is that their food is just not that good. This past time I tried their Shrimp Curry Rice Bowl. The flavor was good, but the rice was undercooked and had that unfortunate almost crunchy quality that rice can have sometimes. That ought never happen at a restaurant. Seriously, it’s Rice. My girlfriend Karla had the beef empanadas, which were good, though definitely plain. Not a crime perhaps, but again, not something that encourages another visit. I tried one of their Coconut Shrimp, and that was good, though it seemed sweeter (in that fake coconutty way) than I would like it to be. A bright side was their dessert shots – approximately 8 small spoonfuls of some mixture of cake, fruit, mousse and whipped creams, artfully and decoratively blended together. There are, as it happens, 8 flavors of these shots, and thanks to my dear friend Dr. Brad, we got to try them all. I most enjoyed their Dulce de Leche shot, which, if you know me, is hardly a surprise, as I am a sucker for caramel, even fake caramel substitute flavoring. I actually enjoyed almost all of the dessert shots, except their healthy ‘fresh’ fruit option, which was decidedly sour. But hey, you can’t win them all.

In the end, I will likely go to Bahama Breeze again, but only because another of my friends wants to go. While there, I will enjoy their tasty drinks (which I will try to remember to spike from my handy dandy Bourbon flask) and then just sit back and pretend that I am mere feet away from an Ocean. It’s like a mental vacation, and frankly I think we could all use one of those.

Bahama Breeze on Urbanspoon

The Rail, Fairlawn, Ohio

23 03 2012

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 4/5 (VERY Variable)

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 4/5

Overall: 4/5; Amazing Burger if you’re just there for beef and their truffle fries are the best around. But everything seems like it could use some tweaking.
It wasn’t long ago that my desire for a burger meant I had to visit a fast-food establishment. Then my roomy Andrew pointed me to Five Guys Burgers. I was impressed – in his own words, Five Guys provided you with ‘The burger I would make at home if I had the time.’ That is, a simple, straight-forward burger with the toppings you want along with a bagful (literally) of fries. No more, no less. Then, shortly thereafter I was introduced to B-Spot, Iron Chef Michael Simon’s extraordinary burger joint (which has several locations, one in The Q (Quicken Loans Arena if you don’t know (Oh yeah, I’ll brackets within brackets, and there’s no telling when it will stop!)), and one in Eaton Plaza on Chagrin Blvd which I visit semi-regularly and am always very happy with). Since then, I have had my eyes opened to the myriad of higher end burger places that are around NEO. The Rail was pointed out to me last summer by Ryan, one of my favorite co-workers and a man whose opinion is not to be disregarded. He said, simply, that as far as just enjoying the beef aspect of a burger, the Rail kicked butt. I had to try it, and quickly found myself another burger bar that I find excuses to go to.

If you are the sort of person who looks around, and up, when you go places, it will quickly be clear to you why they called it the Rail. There is a rail on the ceiling with about a half dozen meat hooks descending from it at various intervals. Yes, I know, eating while recalling a mental image of the Jungle isn’t my idea of a good time either, but still, it’s clever and I can appreciate that. Further, as the upside down cow with all of the counties of Ohio prominently displayed above their kitchen window is strongly hinting, they are very proud of the fact that they serve fresh Ohio beef. That’s the sort of thing I can get behind. Aside from those two very specific aspects, it could be one of those ‘less is more’ bar and grills that you can appreciate when you just want to have a beer and watch a game. Well, except that it is not a great place to watch a game because their televisions, while large, just aren’t very well placed. It’s the sort of scenario where pretty much anywhere you sit, you will end up staring at a TV far away because the closest one to you will put your neck at an angle that only your chiropractor will enjoy. Ultimately, it struck me as the sort of quiet place to go and enjoy my meal while still keeping an eye on the game. Not for watching, but for the occasional peek sure to annoy the female in your life.

The wait staff is friendly and for the most part, energetic and knowledgeable. I’ve had some waiters there who were excellent, and a few who were duds, though that seems to be more of the exception than the rule. And their GM is a very jovial fellow who legitimately cares about the quality of your experience. I had the misfortune to get a burnt burger there once, an egregious error by my waiter considering I had ordered it medium-rare. The manager immediately spirited it away, brought me the replacement himself, and made sure to remove it from the bill. It made me pretty happy, especially because their double, which is what I ordered that day, ended up being my least favorite burger there. Long story short – the service should please you, though if it doesn’t, know you likely got the runt of that shift’s litter and that it isn’t indicative of the service normally.

The drinks and the burgers at the Rail suffer from the same malady, so I will group them together. Have you ever had a friend who was just nice? Never took anything off the table, metaphorically speaking, but didn’t really bring anything to it either. You like them fine, but you sure wish that just once they’d surprise you with something new or unique. That, for me, is the Rail when it comes to creativity. Yeah, the Burgers and Drinks are good. Their Long Island Iced Tea, one of my restaurant standards, is satisfying and well proofed. Two of them will have you happy and three will likely force you to hand over your keys. Here’s an young bartender’s trick regarding Long Islands for those of you who can’t seem to get a good one – sub out the sour mix (the uber-sweet mixer that, though cloying and invariably makes the drink worse, manages to sneak itself into WAY too many beverages) for ginger ale. Ginger ale provides you with the subtle bite of the sour mix (as well as a way to make the drink from being just a glorified shot) without hitting you over the head with its sweetness. Seriously, try it sometime. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It may not make you love the Long Island, but I bet you’ll enjoy it more. Anyhow, let’s get away from that rabbit trail and back to the main point. The biggest weakness of the Rail is that their menu – drink and food alike – suffers from a bad case of ordinary. Their most intriguing burger topping is their tobacco onions (hint, they’re sauteed onions. Delicious, but hardly intriguing). Admittedly, their draw seems to be their beef and maybe they’re just wanting to make sure they’re not over-powering it, but…I mean…to quote the ESPN football crew – C’mon Man! Give me something to raise my eyebrows and make me wonder. Bring some mystery back to the Men/Menu relationship! That being said, whatever I’ve ordered I have been happy with. On my most recent visit I ordered the Bon Fire, a burger with Jalapeños, Pepper Jack cheese and their special sriracha chilli sauce. It deliver yet another single in a long line of singles. The difference between the Rail and other burger joints though, is that I really do enjoy their beef, even naked. In fact, I always make a point to have one bite of just beef every time. No bun, no condiments, no toppings. Just plain, grilled, Ohio grown/fed/slaughtered beef. Delicious and satisfying every time. Now imagine if I could get that with a myriad of pickles (assorted varieties please), and maybe a horseradish mayo or habañero pepper sriracha – ahh, now you have intrigued my palate!

Aside from the Burgers though, there is one dish that I order every time I go – Truffle Oil Fries. I’ve had their onion rings (need to be more crunchy) and their regular fries (delightfully plain), but I can’t ever bring myself to NOT order the Truffle fries. The good people at the Wire are firmly dedicated to dousing each batch of fries with as much Truffle oil as they can handle, then liberally add sliced Parmesan cheese, just for a break in the monotony, as if Truffle Fries can ever be monotonous! My lovely girlfriend will eschew the second half of her burger in order to maximize her Truffle Fry consumption, which makes me happy because that means pretty much every time I go there I get to try two different burgers. Everyone’s a winner at the Rail folks.

The Rail is a simple Ohio burger joint for us simple Ohio folk – it’s a no nonsense burger that you will enjoy thoroughly. Sure it could be more interesting, sure it could be more daring and sure, it could be more creative. Well, you know what, so could Ohio, but I love it just as it is. Wouldn’t change a thing. Although the Rail does provide a handy dandy suggestion sheet opposite the bill at the end of every meal, so feel free to do what I do, and frequently suggest ways to make it better. Like spicing up their avocado spread, or, like Ohio chose to do this year, cancel winter altogether. Then we can all be happy.

The Rail on Urbanspoon

The Melting Pot, Lyndhurst, Ohio

3 03 2012

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 3.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5; This place makes eating fun – go, eat the cheese fondue, enjoy the chocolate fondue and go home. Don’t waste your money on the main course.

I like playing with my food. I do. Further, I’m a sucker for the whole ‘watch while the food is prepared’ gimmick. What’s this, the waiter makes my salad at the table? Yes please! The Melting Pot offers me a fair number of options that just make me enjoy my meal experience as a whole, and as my lovely girlfriend Karla had never been there, I recently Manned up and took her.

The overall atmosphere of the restaurant was very good; they put us at a special Couple’s Table, a private L shaped booth, which allowed us to sit next to each other without being that awkward couple at the restaurant that you talk about at your table. There are other types of tables of course, though I don’t think that they could easily accommodate groups of more than six people. The decor is understated and pleasant – Comfortable without losing that high class allure. We sat right next to their glass wine-case which was fun in the sense that we got to see all the wines they had, though that, along with the extremely high backs of the booth made for an isolated feel. Handy for a date, probably not as much when you’re with a group. In general though, I was happy with the feel of the place.

I feel I need to take a moment here to say that I waited tables for years, and as such, I have very high expectations of the wait staff. So, please don’t take what I say next lightly – I may have never had a waiter as good as Yoshi. He was personable, prompt, clearly knew the menu and didn’t feed us the lines about how the most expensive item on the menu is also the best. His recommendations were excellent and his descriptions accurate and colorful. I wanted to clone Yoshi and have a version of him everywhere I go. Seriously, he was so great that I’m 60% sure Karla asked him for his number. The remainder of the staff was also good in terms of helping us out, though the tables around clearly did not have the same level of service that Yoshi provided.

The bartender at the Melting Pot did a very good job, though none of the drinks wowed me. I had a dirty martini with extra of the blue cheese olives that I love so much. I also tried two of their more tropical numbers, all of which were good, but didn’t leave me needing more. Which is probably good because if they did I’d be labeled an alcoholic, because you’re judgmental. You heard me. Let’s just move on, I don’t want to fight.

The first course was the cheese fondu coupled with a delicious wedge salad. The fondu that Yoshi recommended was their monthly special, a tasty number with garlic, chives, spices, a touch of Tabasco, and some beer to really bring the fondu together. The featured cheese was a buttery and melty Gruyere that was just fantastic. Their accompanying veggies and breads to dip were great too – I loved the rosemary bread and Karla couldn’t get enough of the brown bread. Go figure :). All in all, it was remarkable and we finished it to the last bite. Interspersed through our cheese munching we enjoyed our wedge salads. It was your typical wedge salad – Lettuce, Gorgonzola, bacon bits with a creamy dressing. Did a great job of breaking up the oiliness of the cheese. We were almost sad to leave this part of the meal behind.

Next came the main course. I must admit at this point that the main course is the primary reason why I am not generally calling to go to the Melting Pot more often. Again, I love cooking my own food or watching it be cooked, both experiences that are featured at the Melting Pot. However, for whatever reason, it never seems like a worthwhile, satisfying meal. They bring a simmering broth full of herbs and seasoning, which smells phenomenal, but never seems to come through as it seems like it ought to. We got the surf and turf dish, including shrimp, lobster, thin sliced sirloin, pork, chicken and a mushroom ravioli. In addition there were large pieces of broccoli, mushrooms and potatoes. There was also a good assortment of sauces, none of which thrilled me except for the veggie dip, a mix of sour cream, cream cheese and herbs, which was delightful. This whole portion of the meal was a flop and really I only ordered it because this was Karla’s first time at Melting Pot and I felt she deserved the full experience. The Sirloin was the best item on the dish, but you really have to be careful not to over cook it. The ravioli were good, though they could have used a bit of something (anything really). The shrimp was fine and we were terrified of under-cooking the chicken and pork and so we really did them a disservice with how long we kept them in the broth. The lobster, normally one of my favorite foods, was the single worst item on the dish. It came out tasting like old seafood – fishy and aromatic with all the wrong notes emphasized. The veggies were fine, though mushrooms and broccoli are near the very bottom of foods I like eating. The potatoes were good and gave me the best indicator of what the broth was supposed to do to the meats, but, ultimately, eh, pass.

Ah, but there was definitely redemption coming. I knew it, Yoshi knew it, and Karla, though a novice at the Melting Pot, sensed it coming. It was time for dessert. We decided, after much discussion, to go with the traditional chocolate with crunchy peanut butter fondue. They melted the chocolate at the table and WOW was it good. They gave us a variety of fruits and cakes to dip into it, along with some marshmallows that were intriguing but didn’t live up to expectations. But everything else was heavenly. I was full but didn’t care, I was going forward with this. The brownies were thick and outlasted the peanuty fondue, giving you something to chew on. The bananas were light and married with the chocolate perfectly for a sensational quick bite. The cold strawberries juxtaposed nicely with the warm, melty chocolate and the rice crispies soaked up more of the chocolate than anything else, surprising you with hidden pockets of deliciousness as you chewed. The best, for me, though was the cheesecake. It was thick and fluffy and when kissed by the chocolate, it made for just an exquisite mixture of taste and texture. Oh, so good. Just talking about it like this makes me want to go back.

All in all, we had a lovely evening at the Melting Pot, and I think we will likely look for more excuses to make it up there in the future. We will ask for Yoshi and just dive into our cheese, salads and chocolate with reckless abandon. Frankly, I can hardly wait.

Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Morton’s Steakhouse, Cleveland, Ohio

20 02 2012

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 3.5/5

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 4/5

Overall: 4/5; Great experience, could be better for what you’re paying.

Morton’s Steakhouse has the reputation of being one of the best places in the world to get a steak. Though my father has frequented it on several occasions, I had never been there till just recently, when I got to go with my family to sample it’s wares.

The restaurant has a very pleasant feel to it. Warm, inviting, clean and interesting. There are many different types of tables that can accommodate any size of party, though we primarily saw couples there when we went. An interesting and, I think, charming part of the set-up is that a small section of the kitchen, the grill to be specific, sits directly off of the dining area, and if you wish, you may go and peruse their meat selection as well as watch as they cook your steak. It’s the little things that stir me really, and for some reason, I’ve always enjoyed this little detail. It makes me feel as if I am back in the kitchen of my uncle Hany as he marinades the meat, then throws on the grill (though Morton’s famously uses a broiler, not a grill). To me, you can’t put a price on the feeling of being in an ideal, yet homey setting.

The staff at Morton’s is professional, exquisitely mannered, and I suspect, very competent. Our waitress, however, was not ideal. I’ve waited tables for years, and one of the most important skills I’ve developed is the ability to anticipate the customer’s needs, and to read when something is not to their specifications. Our waitress lacked both of those qualities and it created a less than perfect dining experience. She couldn’t always understand my parents’ accent, yet would walk away with an obvious lack of clarity, hence, messing up a drink order and giving my mother a diet coke which she detests. As do I – diet soda is undrinkable and I don’t see the point of it. There, I said it. Outside of our waitress though, the rest of the staff was very helpful and rather friendly. The manager never stopped by to see how we were, but that is hardly an offense that we can condemn them for.

The bartender at Morton’s was a true professional, making some excellent drinks. One thing you should know about me is that I enjoy almost all hard liquor, but will almost always stick to the broad array of whiskeys when dining out. On this particular day I ordered one my favorites, the sazerac. The Sazerac is a whiskey drink with absinthe and a touch of lemon zest. It is very simple, a bit sweet and very smooth. Morton’s made is perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better drink. My father’s Gin martini was also good, as was my girlfriend’s Old Fashioned. The Manhattan that my cousin ordered was a touch watery, but that is the nature of Manhattans, so it was forgivable.

The appetizers, soups and salads were all good. We got a beefsteak tomato salad with gorgonzola and blue cheese which was just phenomenal – the creaminess of the cheese blended beautifully with the thick, juicy tomato and made for a delightful bite, every time. The Lobster bisque was smooth and tasted nice. It specifically had that pleasant sweetness of lobster. However, it lacked the actual pieces of lobster that I really look forward to when I’m eating Lobster Bisque. Further, it was very smooth, almost as if they had strained it, and it lacked the character that really makes you feel like you’re eating a bisque. However, the flavor was good and I enjoyed every bite I had. We also had a Smoked Pacific Salmon, which was just delightful. It was very thinly sliced, and served with bread, capers, horseradish and onions. The accoutrements were fine, but the salmon itself, with a  small spritz of lemon, was the real star of the show. It was lightly smoked, tender and really just very very good. The last thing in this section worth mentioning was the house bread with butter. It was a loaf of bread with onions baked into it. Very flavorful but a bit heavy for a pre-meal bread. I had a piece, but left off after that in anticipation of my beloved steak.

Before we get to the main dish, let me expound briefly about the sides, which we found to be hit or miss. The garlic mashed potatoes were good. Garlicky but in need of a touch of salt, but I love salt so you’re likely to hear me say that a lot. Very enjoyable over all though. The Potatoes Lyonnaise were amazing though. They were cut up potatoes, cooked in a pan with some onions, and the effect was amazing. It’s like the best plate of simple side potatoes ever. I’d get that every time. Really made the meal shine too, because hey, onions and potatoes, yeah, they set up the beef. The last side-dish we ordered was their baked macaroni and cheese with bacon. It was very popular at the table, though I had a few bites and moved on. It had this sort of grainy texture to it that confused me. You know when you make mac and cheese, but don’t eat it all? Yeah, neither do I, but pretend that one time you don’t eat it all. Then you let it sit over night in the fridge and when you take it out, you microwave it too long and have to let it cool. That’s sort of the impression I got from the graininess of it. It’s obviously totally inaccurate, but I just didn’t enjoy the flavor. Even the baked in bacon didn’t really stand out. A bit of a disappointment for me, but again, a hit for the table at large.

I should take a quick break, before I launch into the main meal, to say that I love all cuts of meat. However, I almost always order the filet at restaurants. I understand that the rib-eye is more flavorful, but I’m always curious to see what sort of preparation a restaurant takes with the filet, which really has a more pure flavor, making it easier for me to tell what it is they have done to the meat. With a Rib-eye or a NY Strip, the fat and meat come together to form a delicious steak without any sort of help. However, the fatless filet needs a bit of a push. At least that is my opinion, and I operate as if this is true. And, as this was my first time at Morton’s, Filet it was.

Four of the people at our table ordered the filet, two medium rare, one medium and one medium well (I don’t want to talk about it). My medium rare was perfectly cooked. Bright pink, slightly cool center, with hardly any blood when I cut into it. The filet was served with a surprisingly light bearnaise sauce which was very ordinary. You know what else was rather ordinary? The Steak!!! The waitress had really talked up their wet-aging process, describing it in length and denigrating my beloved dry-aged beef. That, coupled with Morton’s stellar reputation in the world of beef had me salivating for what I was sure would be a well flavored piece of meat. False. It was plain. The steak was maybe salted and peppered before broiling. That was it. No seasoning, no marinade, no real steak sauce but the mild bearnaise they had. My problem with broiling is that it doesn’t really add anything to the meat, while grilling definitely gives it a specific flavor – one I happen to enjoy. Now, don’t hear me wrong, I ate it and enjoyed every bite of it. After all, this was a fine cut of beef. But it was…boring almost. I actually stole some of my Mother’s garlic sauce from her Chicken Christopher (a dish I enjoyed tremendously actually, made me wish I hadn’t gotten beef. Which is messed up, because I love beef and traditionally avoid chicken. Unless it’s fried. We’re very far afield) to apply generously to my steak. Which isn’t the way it should be. That just isn’t the way it should be. For a steak that costs $49, I really expected it to wow me, and ultimately, it didn’t. I would much rather have gone to Fleming’s or Red for a good steak. At least at Fleming’s (my favorite place for steak currently), I know they’ll finish my (dry-aged) steak off with butter, giving it an extra punch of flavor. So yeah, the filet was good, not great, at a place that advertises great steaks. Big bummer for this guy.

We decided to for-go dessert, partly because we were full, partly because our waitress told us that because they make all their hot desserts from scratch, it takes more than half an hour for them to prepare the Hot-Chocolate cake. We didn’t feel like sitting around for half an hour for dessert (we’re not big dessert people anyway) and moved on. All in all, it was a positive experience. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the $500 that my father shelled out could have bought us a better meal at a comparable establishment. And that’s never the feeling you want to have if you’ve just dropped $500. So, go to Morton’s, enjoy the service, enjoy the atmosphere, have a cocktail, enjoy the Smoked Salmon and the Potatoes Lyonnaise, and have a very good steak. Maybe the Rib-eye. But just know that there are likely more favorable options considering the price point.

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