December 31, 2008

Our Year of Living Steakishly: December, Embers

To get the filthy taste of Guenther's out of our mouths, we took December to head to Montgomery and check out Embers.

On the coldest night of the winter so far - real temp about four Fahrenheit, wind chills in the minus twenty range, we stepped into Embers's (sp?) cozy entryway and were lead into their main dining room. The bar was to the left and looked inviting enough, though we stuck to dinner as we'd both skipped any snacks at the Christmas party that evening.

Embers main dining room on seen on their website

The restaurant as shown on their website suggests a light, open, sunny dining experience, and with the large walls of windows, I could imagine that such would be the appearance of Embers on a bright summer day. We, however, were happy with the after-sunset appearance of the restaurant. Lights around the majority of the restaurant were sparse with individual spotlights focused on each of the tables. Our food and table were well lit while our waiter, for example, was significantly less so. It provided the right atmosphere for a cold winter's night: warm, cozy, and inviting.

The Girl opened - as it typical - with a Manhattan which was tasty but a bit harsh for this ChemGuy's tastes. I stuck to water as the good driver designee. As we perused their menu - available online, by the way - The Girl noticed a flyer in hers promoting a three-course meal option for $33. The promotion was available Sunday through Thursday, and this being a Sunday night, she asked our waiter about the options.

For $33 here's what you get...
  • 1st course
    - lobster bisque or
    - caesar salad or
    - house salad
  • 2nd course
    - filet mignon (7oz, choice cut)
    - some other options that weren't steak
  • 3rd course
    - crème brûlée
    - flourless chocolate torte
    - two scoops of gelato
With the filet mignon on the menu coming in at $31 without salad or dessert, The Girl was sold. I, however, saw the "Prime" Bone-in Strip (12oz) and asked our server what the distinction was between that cut and the New York Strip "C.A.B.". He explained - and I have to assume that he was correct here as I have no other knowledge - that the Prime was a designation given to only the top three or four percent of steaks sold while Choice was saved for the top twenty or so percent of all cattle. He explained that the Prime was, indeed, a better steak.

As this is all about the steak, then, I went for the fancy dinner.

Here's what we ordered, then:
  • Appetizer
    - seared diver scallops
    - bacon wrapped
    - little salad
    - mango, pineapple sauce on the side
  • The Girl - $33 three-course promotion
    - house salad, dressing on the side
    - filet, medium rare
    - mashed potatoes
    - crème brûlée
  • ChemGuy
    - Casear salad
    - "Prime" Bone-In Strip (12oz), medium rare
    - mashed potatoes
The standard appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops

The meal itself opened with the standard appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops. Actually, the meal opened with me making a joke about the $14 bacon-wrapped scallops and the fact that there'd better be more than two scallops on the plate, otherwise they were just equal with Guenther's.

So, of course, two scallops showed up on the plate. Luckily, they were far tastier than the ones at Guenther's. And where Guenther's accompanied their scallops with cole slaw, Embers added what their menu described as a micro-salad of field greens and diced tomatoes. The sauce - a mango and pineapple bit - was thankfully served on the side as we'd asked for it because the tropical fruits aren't among my favorites. The scallops were very well cooked, and the micro-salad was surprisingly tasty. The dressing on it was quite light but tastily peppery, and for winter tomatoes, the dice was tasty, too.

Bread in a basket - a few simple rolls

For the two of us, the three rolls that the waiter brought us was enough to kill the time 'til the full salads came out. The rolls were nothing special - yeast rolls with a soft crust. At least they were hot and wrapped in a napkin. The butter, however, made the rolls a bit special. Two butter slices were on the plate, one a plain round but the other a nice garlic butter turning the round dark tan. The garlic was strong and roasted, flavoring the butter nicely.

ChemGuy's Caesar salad on the left, The Girl's house salad on the right, dressing on the side - as always

The Girl praised her salad, saying that the cranberries, pine nuts, and blue cheese made for a good variety. The dressing ended up being drizzled onto the salad, so that marked The Girl's approval. The Caesar salad, on the other hand, was disappointingly standard. The lettuce was Romaine - at least fresh. The dressing and croutons didn't seem anything more than standard Sysco-fare.

Then came the entrees...the steaks...the nectar and ambrosia...not, however, ambrosia - I hate that stuff...

The Girl's filet mignon with onion rings and mashed potatoes

ChemGuy's bone-in strip steak with the same onion rings and mashed potatoes

The steaks were a revelation...gorgeous...nearly perfect.

The Girl's medium rare filet - note the absolutely perfect red center

ChemGuy's medium rare strip - not quite as perfect red center contrasted with the brilliant brown/black crust

ChemGuy's perfect crust on his steak

The steaks were marvelous, the sorts of steaks that require a pause at first bite. The crusts on my strip steak was spectacular. Admittedly, without side by side comparisons of choice vs prime strip steak, I can't promise that the prime designation was worth the extra cash, but I can certainly confirm that the strip steak was brilliant. The contrast between wonderfully flavorful center and dark, outer crust was wonderful.

The Girl's steak didn't have quite the same crust - a bit lighter but well marked - but did have a slightly more red center. Her tastes run more to the livery filet than mine to the more sturdy strip, but she raved about her steak every bit as much as I about mine. The Girl even polished her onion rings off, something that would have never happened a few years ago. She's taught herself to eat onions when they're well cooked, and these certainly were well cooked, complimenting the steak nicely.

The mashed potatoes were supposed to be garlic potatoes, but the garlicness was a bit lacking. The potatoes were well prepared, smooth and creamy, complimented with a few chives. No other sides came with the steaks, but with the steak at such high quality, nothing else was needed.

The Girl's steak, after - she took this bit home for a fine lunch the next day

ChemGuy's steak, after - that's pretty much just the bone left

The Girl's dessert of crème brûlée - split between the two of us

The dessert of crème brûlée was presented with a pair of raspberries on top and a crystallized sugar crust. Once the crust was broken, the crème brûlée underneath was a but more crème than expected, having a consistency more akin to pudding than to the sturdier, set texture that we expected. That didn't mean that the crème brûlée was any less tasty, having a simple vanilla flavor and an appropriate sweetness, a find finish to an excellent meal.

As we always do at this point, let's consult the numbers...
  • Appetizers/Dessert - 7 - The scallops were tasty and the micro-salad very good. The crème brûlée was a bit underthickened but very tasty as well.
  • Steak - 9 - This was as near to perfection as possible without being perfect. Had the strip been a bit more red, it would've earned full marks.
  • Side dishes - 8 - Onion rings excellent, mashed potatoes very good.
  • Atmosphere - 9 - The bright light overhead was a bit much, but that's the only thing wrong about the place.
  • Cost - 3 - We tipped generously, bringing our bill to $120. We both felt that the meal was a good value, however, and felt far better about paying this $120 than we did last month's $60 at Guenther's.
  • Service - 9 - Very knowledgeable, very helpful, always right on top of things and not officiously so. My water glass was always full.
  • Total score - 45 (out of 60)
Edging Mitchell's to second place by the slimmest of margins.

Summarizing things so far...
  • Embers - 45 (of 60)
  • Mitchell's - 44.5
  • Oakwood Club - 40
  • Pine Club - 37.5
  • Guenther's - 30
The numerical rankings fall right about where we expected things to fall.

The parents bought us a gift card to Jeff Ruby's restaurants, so it's likely that we'll be visiting one of those next, but after promising Carlo & Johnny's for three months or something, I'm not going to promise any particular restaurant.


achilles3 said...

i'm hungry

PHSChemGuy said...

Steak always makes me hungry until I have it.