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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Red, The Steakhouse

     When I prepare to visit a high-end steakhouse, I brace myself for a hefty check, but I also anticipate select cuts of beef, flawless execution, and miscellaneous treats depending on the menu.
     Red has been touted by many around town as one of a very few exceptional steakhouses. I get the impression the servers are trained carefully to be warm yet politely distant. I appreciate that. I'm sensitive to servers that come with the best intentions to be helpful but interrupt table conversations. Sadly, that happens a lot, even in fine establishments. What separates good service from excellent service has a lot to do with timing and intuition.
     
     The Steakhouse is serious about its atmosphere. Stone walls, soft lighting, dark wood, sleek, modern lines, and splashes of bright scarlet everywhere make this space just plain sexy. It's the kind of place I have to visit with DJ, foodie genius, because I know she will not be shy about ordering anything she feels should be tried regardless of whether we can eat it all or not. I always leave with comprehensive knowledge of any restaurant I patronize in her company.
     In 23 years of friendship I've never asked, but I suspect that second only to the brunch section, appetizers and sides are DJ's favorite items on the menu. At her table, there is never a short selection, and I find them to be a great example of what goes on in a restaurant's kitchen. On this day, we also had a tomato mozzarella salad with balsamic reduction mixed in with the appetizers. Thick slices of local tomatoes and the creamiest mozzarella offered a fresh beginning to what would become an intense dining experience.
     A charcuterie plate with thin cuts of some serious cured meats enticed the carnivore out of us. Bresaola, wild boar sausage, and lamb and duck prosciutto came to call in the company of a powerful and stimulating whole grain mustard and fresh brioche triangles. Before I address our beefy main events, let me tell you about the side dishes. These were not your every day side of fries.
     DJ favored the truffled risotto, John ordered the four-cheese mac 'n cheese, and I couldn't overlook the Brussel sprouts with pancetta. The risotto was rich and patiently cooked to creamy perfection. My Brussel sprouts were salty, crispy, and addictive. But the headliner had to be the mac 'n cheese. The four angels of this divinity are Fontina, Pecorino Romano, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and Raclette, my best friends for the evening, over organic pasta, all enveloped in a house mornay sauce. Is it legal to visit a steakhouse and only order Brussel sprouts and mac 'n cheese? Because I could without missing the meat. They were that good.
   

     And that's where the honeymoon ended. Our steak orders included DJ's filet mignon Oscar (with asparagus, king crab, and Bernaise sauce), my filet mignon with artisanal blue cheese, and John's ribeye. DJ is a fan of their steaks, and they are, indeed, the best cuts available. However, John and I found ours just shy of expectation. At $45 per steak, I expected an even sear and a perfect pink center, and John looked forward to a silky, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Mine was slightly overcooked, and John's offered a tiny bit of resistance, and the seasoning didn't bring out the natural beefy flavor of a fine steak. If you're not high maintenance about your meat, these are superb. If you're uber sensitive about flavor and texture, they lack a certain something.
     Nonetheless, I was excited about the dessert menu. In fact, I asked to see it even before the appetizers arrived, and since they and the side dishes were such a hit, I had full confidence that the sweets would delight. The clear choice was the Tasting Trio which included the Key Lime Pie, the New York Cheesecake, and the Fresh 'N Hot Doughnut Holes.
     DJ is easy to please when it comes to sugary bites. She retreated to her corner of the booth and quietly enjoyed every morsel she had coming to her in our game of 'musical desserts'. John and I, on the other hand, were a little chattier about them. John enjoyed the simplicity of fried dough dusted in powdered sugar. He also enjoyed the chocolate ganache that came with them, but ignored the raspberry jam. I thought the cheesecake wasn't dense enough to deserve the 'New York' in front of its name. The dark cherry and vanilla compote was a nice embellishment, but it didn't distract me. Real New York cheesecake stands up with attitude, rather than jiggle at the touch of the fork. My favorite was the Key Lime pie in its cilindrical container, topped with toasted meringue, and graham cracker streusel laying on the plate like so much delectable debris.
     Look, I've had better steaks in comparable places with less buzz, but there is no denying that Red is at the top of its class and deserves respect. The stunning surroundings, the extensive and eclectic menu, the outstanding service are all there. With all the pluses, I would even go as far as to say the experience is worth the price (almost).

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