March 9, 2009

Our Year of Living Steakishly: February, Red

We're halfway through the list at this point, now visiting our fifth steak establishment out of the twelve on the list (one of which has already closed). We've also added in two more restaurants (Mitchell's and the Oakwood Club) to bring us to seven of - in theory - thirteen fine steak meals.

At this point we're starting to know just what we're looking for, and The Girl and I are beginning to rank things and consider our point scale from the moment we walk into the restaurant. The decor's a point here, the crust on the steak's not as deep as that at Carlo's - point deduction. We're not quite pros - especially since nobody's paying us to eat their steaks, but we're certainly skilled amateurs, confident in our tastes and our rankings.

So we challenged ourselves with Red on Hyde Park square. In rereading the Red review after our meal, I found that Red is categorized as The Hideaway, and much of the review is taken up by praise for the various menu options other than the steaks. The steaks are mentioned in passing, but the duck breast gets as many lines for its non-traditional sides of lo mein noodles, mango relish, and housin butter.

The Girl and I would have none of that, however.

We went to Red - without Calen and her hubby who had to back out on our Steakish night at the last moment due to a sick eldest child - for the meat, the flesh, the cow, the steak, and it was the meat that we ordered. No toppings for the steaks though the menu listed a half dozen options. We're all about the carne.

Our opening foray into Red was greeted with the unpleasant smells of a raw bar gone wrong. In heading to the dining rooms, you have to pass through their bar area, directly across from their raw bar with huge shrimp, crab legs, and oysters - some of which was giving off a rather pungent aroma on our evening at Red. It wasn't an auspicious opening salvo from the restaurant.

We were shown to our table, tucked against the wall and tight to the other tables in a dining room that was significantly smaller than any that we had yet checked out in our Steakish visits. The lighting was nicely dim but not pitch black, and the decor was a mixture of contemporary and slightly older with rich brown paint, upholstered walls, red-themed artwork, and curtains hiding a folding wall to separate the rear-most dining room from the main dining room.

Our waiter greeted us and went through their special, a fish dish that held no attraction for us. The Girl ordered her customary Manhattan - presented straight up in a martini glass but swapped into a small rocks glass when The Girl asked for the change. Perhaps it was a bit off that the waiter didn't initially ask her preference, but he solved the problem quickly and easily enough that no demerits were earned here.

Our orders for tonight:
  • The Girl
    - house salad with vinagrette
    - filet, medium-medium rare
    - baked potato
    - asparagus with Hollandaise sauce on the side
  • ChemGuy
    - Caesar salad
    - strip steak, medium-rare
    - whipped garlic potatoes
We also placed an order for an appetizer of french fries with truffle oil, Parmesan, and rosemary and chatted a bit, enjoying a nice night out after a rough week for me, in particular.

Wire basket, parchment paper, a fine presentation for excellently tasty fries

View of the fries from the top - note the rosemary visible

The fries impressed. They were brilliantly cooked, crisp and light with a great flavor and crunch. The truffle oil was present mostly in the smell though it did lend a hint of sweetness to every bite. The rosemary's flavor was also present if not overly strong, lending a nice earthy note to the fries. Sadly, this was the highlight of the meal.

We think the logo was made of paprika - not much taste to it, just artsy.

The bread came next, presented in standard napkin-wrapped-bowl with Red-logoed butter pat on a plate. The bread was fresh and nicely flavorful - not uniquely so but a pleasant enough way to pass a few minutes as we waited for the main courses to appear.

The Girl's salad - weird potato crisps up top

ChemGuy's Caesar salad - notice the huge hunk of Parmesan cheese

First, however, came the salads. The Girl was pleased with her salad as it had a nice variety of peppery field greens. The dressing was tasty as well, but the addition of the potato crisps up top - freshly made, I'm sure, but a little chewier than I would have hoped for them to be when I tasted one - were a bit odd. My salad, then, was a standard Caesar. The option was given for my salad to include anchovies (something some folks say is flat wrong) - I passed on the fish. The dressing for the Caesar salad coated the lettuce nicely, not being nearly as thickly applied as some salads I've had. Neither salad, however, was anything remotely approaching spectacular.

Seriously, who needs that many plates? Put some things together...let the foods touch, folks.

The Girl's 8-oz filet

The main dishes showed up with every item on its own plate, something that would likely have been a problematic situation is we had been a full four people at our table. The girl's steak, potato, and asparagus took up four plates as the Hollandaise somehow merited its own dish. Mine was a more reasonable two plates, but with the bread plates still on the table, space quickly became a premium.

The steaks were good. The waiter advertised them as Prime - something he said allowed only two percent of all beef to qualify for and that we'd heard at other steak places by now - and he had warned The Girl when she ordered her steak medium-rare, that this would mean a cool, red center - a bit too rare for her tastes. She wisely shifted her order to closer to medium, a wise move on her part.

I stuck with medium-rare and found a steak that I would deem closer to rare than to medium. The waiter had warned us, however, so I have no complaints there. Their scale leans rare, however, so be forewarned if you visit Red anytime soon.

ChemGuy's rare strip steak
The steaks served to us lacked any of the rich, dark crust that we both feel makes for an excellent steakhouse steak. These were steaks that were supposedly cooked at 800 degrees (according to our waiter) which seems far below the thousands of degrees advertised by the staff at Mitchell's and Carlo & Johnny's, and the temperature difference showed. The meat was well cooked, lightly seasoned, and well chosen. But it lacked the depth of flavor, the contrasts of mouthfeel that a steak with a rich crust can present.

These were steaks that would have pleased us half a year ago but that left us wanting far more from the meat than Red could offer. We each left half the steak for lunch the next day, as the photos show.

The side dishes also qualified as very well prepared but not excellent enough to merit special attention on our ranking scales at this point in our tours. The baked potato was well made and fluffy but didn't have the crispy skin that marks an excellent spud. The asparagus were perfectly cooked - according to The Girl, I steer clear of the spears - but simply steamed, leaving no extra flavor to be imparted to the vegetables. We couldn't comment on the Hollandaise, as neither she nor I partook of more than a taste. We're not down with the Dutch sauce.

The garlic-streaked whipped potatoes

My whipped potatoes were the highlight of the sides, richly streaked with roasted garlic and packed with flavorful bites. This rich streaking did have a drawback, however, as it meant that some of the bites of whipped potatoes were lacking in flavor while others were very strongly flavored. I would have been happier with a tan plate of potatoes with garlic throughout each bite. I'm also more of a mashed potato kind of guy. Gimme a lump here or there, please.

The Girl's leftovers

Remains of ChemGuy's strip steak

For dessert, The Girl had noticed another table's thin trough of dessert with berries atop the cream, so we asked the waiter what that had been. He pointed us toward the - unsurprisingly - crème brûlée, and we split one for the two of us. The presentation was overly stylish - berries resting atop a foolishly thin trough of creme brule. The trough was thin enough that getting spoons into it a challenge. The flavors were good, the crust nicely scorched but not burned. The berries were a nice addition. Dessert was very good.

Little trough of crème brûlée atop big plate of...of...

To the numbers, intrepid readers:
  • Appetizers/Dessert - 9 - The crème brûlée was very good, the fries outstanding
  • Steak - 6 - They're certainly better than Guenther's, but that's about it so far - maybe better than my steak at the Oakwood Club.
  • Side dishes - 7 - solid, unspectacular side dishes.
  • Atmosphere - 5 - There's a one-point deduction because the smell of the raw bar was strong through the first part of our meal even though we were forty feet from it. The contemporary decoration is well appreciated, but the crowded nature of the seating was a drawback.
  • Cost - 3 - Our bill was $112 - minus $11 for a ridiculously-priced Manhattan plus $20 for the tip.
  • Service - 8 - He came around with a crumb scraper before dessert.
  • Total score - 38 (out of 60)
Barely behind Embers, about where I would have guessed. I was assuming it would come in slightly lower - maybe a point or two, but you have to trust the numbers.

Summarizing things so far...
  • Embers - 45 (of 60)
  • Carlo & Johnny's - 44.5
  • Mitchell's - 44.5
  • Oakwood Club - 40
  • Red - 38>
  • Pine Club - 37.5
  • Guenther's - 30
The numerical rankings fall right about where we expected things to fall.

Next month we're off to either The Celestial, Jeff Ruby's, Jag's, or Morton's. We know Boi Na Braza is April, and The Pricinct wraps up the tour whenever that happens to be. Should be sometime around August.

If you want to catch up...How did we miss October, folks? Man, hadn't noticed that 'til just now.


cmorin said...

I love this series of posts. Just sayin.

greg said...

I took the lady to The Celestial last year for prom and I was extremely happy with everything except my steak. The lobster bisque was amazing, gnocchi was excellent, the salads were very good and dessert was even better. Plus, to my surprise, our bill was less than $100. My steak was a little over cooked (I'm a medium rare guy it was more medium)and generally lacked flavor. It just didn't compare to other great steakhouses that I've been to, especially the precint.

Overall I would classify it as very good restaurant, not a steakhouse. And if your going to the precinct, I highly recommend the Munoz, it's a personal favorite.

PHSChemGuy said...

CMorin - glad you're enjoying it. We'll have another few months of it. Should wrap up just in time for the start of another school year.

Greg - I'll keep the medium instead of medium-rare thing in mind when we visit the Celestial. It's on the list, but it's really The Precinct that we're looking forward to. Thanks for the tip on the Munoz.

Man, I had to go at their menu online, and now I'm drooling.

You suck, Greg.