September 3, 2008

Our Year of Living Steakishly: August, The Pine Club

I'd previously mentioned the Cincinnati Magazine article listing the top twelve steak houses in the Cincinnati/Dayton area. The plan is to hit one on the list each month for the next year. Since we're both school-going folks (me a teacher, her a librarian at a new school this year), we thought we'd count our year as starting when we headed back to school and began the tour of steakishness this past Saturday.

Okay, first the ground rules...
  • I order a strip steak. The Girl is more of a filet Girl.
  • If there are certain side dishes that are recommended in the article or in online perusal, we'll try to order them and give feedback, but we're not going to dive into something that sounds disgusting just because some magazine reviewer liked it.
  • If the steaks are huge, we split a strip.
  • Appetizers are fair game and follow the same rules as side dishes.
  • Dessert reports are unlikely as a solid steak dinner typically is a filling steak dinner.
  • Steaks are all ordered medium rare because anything beyond that is overdone.
  • Photos will be taken (probably without flash so as to not bother the other diners) before and after each course to show how much of each item was consumed as well as the general carnage and gluttony.
  • All restaurants are rated on a one-to-ten scale in six categories.
And so we begin with The Pine Club in Dayton.

The Girl had heard a review of The Pine Club (heretofore referred to as TPC) on NPR's Splendid Table and was happy to see it opening the article and being titled as CAN'T REMEMBER. Partway through the meal, she asked me what I was expecting, and I gestured around the room simply saying "this" as the restaurant is exactly as advertised.

TPC is in a nice area of town, just on the edge of the University of Dayton housing and on a decently busy street only a couple of miles from the interstate even though their website directions took us through an older section of Kettering. I'd recommend following the Google directions and dropping off as though you were going to see a ballgame at UD Arena.

The reviews told us that no reservations were taken and that waits of two or three hours were not uncommon - something we wanted to avoid. So we showed up at about 4:50 on a Saturday afternoon/evening, after the doors open (at four) but before they actually start serving dinner (supposedly at five, but we saw folks eating when we got there). We were lucky enough to walk in and get the last free table because the place was packed.

We followed the hostess to our table, allowing our eyes to adjust to the dark, wood paneled interior surrounding a sixty-year-old bar. The Girl sat against the wall on a restaurant-long wall bench adorned with a simple diamond design of upholstery tacks at the top of the vinyl seats, so she got to watch the other customers, many of whom, I was surprised to see, weren't the blue hairs that I expected to see in a place that bills itself as a Supper Club.

We sat down to a smallish table, the two tiniest bread plates I've ever seen (probably three inches in diameter), and a basket of bread - excellently shown on the Road Food website. The table was clearly an old one as it rocked dramatically every time I rested my elbows (I know, I'm rude) on it, and the decor on the walls matched it as the frames held images of Olde English fox hunts, the prints of which probably predated my entry to the world.

Our waitress got to us almost immediately and took our drink order - The Girl with hot water as it was significantly chillier inside than out and me with a Diet Coke that came in an opened can with a smallish glass and ice. She got us our drinks quickly - something that will come to be notable with the service throughout the evening - and took our orders...
  • Nantucket Cape Scallops, appetizer
  • The Girl (I'm chivalrous enough to let her order first)
    Filet mignon, medium rare
    Asparagus - an extra charge
    Baked potato with sour cream
    House vinaigrette on the salad
  • ChemGuy
    Strip-loin steak, medium rare
    Lyonnaise potatoes
    Stewed tomatoes (they were recommended in the article)
    House vinaigrette on the salad
We each ate a roll while we waited for the appetizer. The rolls clearly had been sitting out for a while before we got there but had a nice variety. There were good pumpernickel and caraway (very) salted rolls - almost pretzels but in a crescent shape. The basket also had a variety of crackers and a couple of more plain dinner rolls which we didn't try.

The scallops arrived in just a few minutes with two cups of tartar sauce and a couple of lemon slices. They weren't the large sea scallops that I'm more used to, but there were an even dozen mini-marshmallow-sized, very lightly breaded scallops in the dish between us with us each having our own plate and a cute little fork to eat them with. The scallops were very tasty, tender and simple, and the tartar sauce had a nice balance of relish and a bit of some simple herb.

As soon as we had finished the scallops, our plates were replaced with small melamine bowls with a very simple, dressed iceberg salad whose only variety was some shredded carrot and pepper freshly cracked at the table. The salad bowls were surprisingly well stocked, holding a healthy amount of lettuce for their apparent smallness.

After the salads were consumed, we had only a minute or two before our entrees arrived, each a bit fuller than expected as every steak apparently comes with a healthy pile of onion rings (thinner, really, more onion straws). No steak sauce, thankfully, was on the table or offered, a good sign for a well cooked steak.

The first bite of my (apparently-twelve-ounce) strip was excellent, balancing a nicely charred (actually they broil all their steaks) crust with a still-pink interior. The meat was tender but not livery, according to TPC press, dry-aged as all their steaks are. My steak was a very well cooked steak with little if any seasoning or adornment at all.

The Girl's eight-ounce filet (both steaks were obviously much larger than we should eat regularly but still reasonably sized for a $30 cut of meat) looked significantly smaller than my steak, though that probably had something to do with hers being half again as thick as mine. We traded tastes cut from each steak, and I can report that hers was a bit more tender (to be expected because of the difference in cuts) and very flavorful. She reported that he steak was, however, a bit unevenly cooked, having patches that were closer to medium and even bordered on medium well.

Her side dishes (asparagus with a Hollandaise sauce, baked potato) were both solid if unspectacular. The potato - medium sized - did come with a massive amount of sour cream - oddly and heavily dotted with chopped scallions including a bit oddly the white parts, enough to bury any patron's potato and those of at least three friends.

My sides were a very mixed batch. The stewed tomatoes were unappetising to view, looking like a pedestrian tomato soup with five very oily croutons floating, and they turned out to be even worse to taste. They were horrifically sweet and pretty much inedible. The Lyonnaise potatoes were better though still not very good, wrapping underdone hashbrowns around a pile of lightly sauteed, minced onions. The redemption of my side dishes came from the onion rings which were excellently well cooked - though a little light on any spice - and meshed very well with the steak.

Half of The Girl's potato, most of her onions, and most of my Lyonnaise went into a styrofoam box to be taken home and became breakfast the next morning (fried up with eggs and a bit of cheese).

The check came out with the box and tallied to $54. We did a quick bit of estimating math and realized that our waitress had made a bit of a mistake, undercharging us by about thirty dollars. We pointed this out to her - I'm honest enough, and she was nice - and got our corrected $83 bill which we paid with a check, rounding things up to an even $100 - right where I expect most of the meals to take us. TPC doesn't take credit cards, so make sure to bring your cash or personal check (which they happily accept).

So, where do we score The Pine Club?
  • Appetizers - 7 - simple, plain, well done but unspectacular
  • Steak - 7.5 - mine an 8, hers a 6 or 7
  • Side dishes - 5 - mine were lower than that but hers were higher...we both wish we had gotten the mashed spuds with garlic, and the onion rings saved the rating
  • Atmosphere - 6 - dark, wood, old, not elegant...I was a bit disappointed that the dress code was more casual than I had expected as there were people there in jeans (a couple) and shorts (maybe a quarter of the patrons)
  • Cost - 5 - we need a definition here, 5 is earned if we get out for $100 (including tip), higher scores mean we got out more cheaply
  • Service - 7 - good, quick service...not overly hovering...friendly enough...
  • Total score - 37.5 (out of 60)
So we clearly have a lot of room for improvement, but that doesn't mean that TPC was bad. It wasn't.

It just wasn't spectacular, and I'm guessing that its reputation as one of the finest steak places in Dayton/Cincy is more based on longevity than on spectacularness.

Sadly, I forgot to take my camera so there aren't any pictures of our first meal of Our Year of Living Steakishly.

I'll make sure to correct that for the next review. Of course, we may just have to go back to The Pine Club so I can take some photos for you.

Thanks, by the way, to Road Food for the photo and The Pine Club's website for the logo.


joey said...

the more casual dress code isn't that surprising; a lot of students will "take" their parents (especially the ones from out of state) to get a nice meal for free.

I've never been there but definitely plan on making the walk one of these days. your review is about what i expected, pretty good steak but more known for its longevity.

either way, steak is steak. and i like it.

joey said...

oh and the no credit card info is very good to know. definitely takes it out of my range, for now.

achilles3 said...

love this idea and totally looking forward to the next stop!

PHSChemGuy said...

Joey...I remember the one nice restaurant in Crawfordsville (Wabash's town)...I "took" the parents there a couple of times myself...and the credit card thing is very good to know...

Lakes...thanks, up is either Carlo & Johnny's (the next on the article's list) or the Oakwood Room in Dayton (which isn't on the list but has been recommended as being as good as the Pine Club but much less expensive)...