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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