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Sunday
May282017

#47 Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse - Trabuco Canyon


Rating: 3.50 cows

 

We don’t typically frequent a steakhouse just because of a gimmick, but this one had tickled our interest for some time, and the timing was finally right to give it a try. Trabuco Canyon is not an area known for steak, in fact it’s not really known for much of anything other than being in the middle of almost nowhere. As you might guess from the name, “rustic” is a good word to describe the place. Lots of wood and canteen lights, friendly staff and not a hint of pretense. You might say it’s a casual place. In fact that might be selling the place short. They don’t want no city folk riding up in their suits and ties, so if they see you wearing a tie, they’ll cut that sucker right off. They even did it to Richard Nixon (he’s the only president whose picture can be found inside).

The bar is small, but the drinks were better than we expected. Honestly that’s not saying terribly much, but the standard drinks used quality alcohols (Tito’s) in lieu of low-quality wells. The Bourbon Sangria was just what you might guess—sangria with bourbon—but was surprisingly good, though it could have used a touch more bourbon. The Mule and Old Fashioned weren’t showstoppers, but adequate. This is not a sophisticated cocktailery, so keep your orders simple and you’ll do better. The bar service was slow, but with just a single bartender doing her very best, our party of 8 was probably the reason.

Inside the diminutive dining room hang the vestiges of neckties long since shorn. They adorn the walls and dangle from the ceiling like strange trophies. The dining room is also very dark. It almost felt like we were dining in a cave. 

Most of us who were drinking opted for beer as opposed to wine. They did serve wine, but you couldn’t really call it a wine menu. The tap selection was slim but there were good quality brews to be had.

This also marked the first time we had jalapeño poppers and onion rings as an appetizer, but it just seemed like the right thing to do here. Two orders were perfect for our group of 8, and while certainly not why we went there, they were quite tasty all the same.

Steaks at Trabuco Oaks come with sides (salad, potato, and beans). They also serve garlic toast with each meal. Prices are slightly on the high end for a place that comes with sides, but the value here is still quite good. There’s only one salad here, and it’s unremarkable and overdressed. The french fries were actually pretty good, and the baked potato was fine, but small. The garlic toast left much to be desired. It was certainly toast, but it lacked a good garlic (or butter) flavor which left us wishing for offerings from North Woods Inn or The Dal Rae. The western beans (served in a large silver pail) were fine, but not quite our cup of tea.

And then there’s the meat. We didn’t know quite what to expect here, and we were all pleasantly surprised. We ordered the small filet, the ribeye, and the NY. Their steaks are mesquite grilled, and this flavor is very evident as you sink your teeth in. The steaks were seasoned reasonably well (some better than others) and they did a great job of cooking to our order (rare +). The quality of the meat was what you’d expect at this more moderately-priced steakhouse, which is to say mediocre, but there was a surprising amount of flavor, helped in no small part by that mesquite grill.

The desserts were also squarely in the “good” category. The sundae was too heavy on the whipped cream and light on the ice cream. Same with the Apple Gizmo, though the ‘gizmo’ part was quite good (apple pie filling wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried). The mud pie looked good but the flavor fell flat unfortunately.

Trabuco Oaks is a tough place to judge. We had a great time, and the people were wonderful. The no tie rule is a fun gimmick and they wear it with good-natured pride. While you’re not going to get the best steak of your life, you’re also not going to pay that much for a hearty meal and a savory slab of meat that’s better than most places at this price. Expectations are probably key to your enjoyment (or lack thereof) here, so if you adjust yours accordingly you’ll walk out with a full and satisfied stomach, and definitely without a tie.

Trabuco Oaks Photos

Wednesday
Mar292017

#46 Ocean Prime - Beverly Hills


Rating: 3.50 cows

 

Located in Beverly Hills, Ocean Prime neighbors with some stiff competition. Both CUT and Mastro’s are but a stone’s throw away, and both sit at the top of our ratings thus far in our journey.

Operated by Cameron Mitchell, Ocean Prime is part of the rejuvenated eponymous restaurant group with origins in Columbus, Ohio. The bar is divided into two sections which straddle a walkway to the underground parking structure. We started there and partook of the happy hour offerings, which were good despite not including their Old Fashioned. 

The dining room is dark and sleek, packed with business types entertaining clients or their wives or girlfriends. We were seated promptly and well attended to by our waiter.

We started with our usual wedge and caesar salads which were solid across the board. Some places try to fancy things up but we’ve found the best success when they don’t try to do too much. Ocean Prime does well in this regard. The same can be said for the side dishes which all tasted good. We ordered the standard french fries, corn, and truffle mac & cheese. It’s weird to think of truffle mac & cheese as being a standard, but it certainly feels like that nowadays. Once again, we were underwhelmed with the fries.

On to the meat. Ocean Prime’s cuts are generous and this is a place that knows how to cook a slab of meat. We ordered the Rib Eye, Filet, and the NY Strip and they all tasted good. The rare-plus filet was especially decadent and bursting with flavor with a crisp light char on the outside. Our biggest complaint was that while the steaks were certainly above average, they didn’t quite live up to the prices compared to other places we’ve been. That’s unfortunate, but as we’ve mentioned there is some seriously stiff competition just down the road.

The dessert offerings were good, and also featured standard selections (cheesecake, compote, ice cream). We tried a few and they were good, but nothing outstanding.

Overall we felt that Ocean Prime is a nice place to get a very good steak. It’s better than your average steakhouse, but given the location we find it hard to recommend this place over its outstanding neighbors. Still, if you find yourself here you’ll likely enjoy a good meal even if the price is a bit high.

Ocean Prime Photos

Sunday
Jan222017

#45 Colombo's - Eagle Rock


Rating: 2.50 cows

 

Colombo’s has been a staple of Eagle Rock since 1954. Imbued with the sort of old-world charm that you might expect of an Italian restaurant, it sits comfortably between that checkered tablecloth chianti bottle kitch and the white tablecloth elegance.

There’s live music just about every evening, and the place is small enough that it feels cozy without feeling cramped. The bar runs along one side and is mostly cordoned off from the rest of the seating area.

We had a large group and took up a good portion of the main dining room at a long table down the center between the naugahyde booths. The service was interesting to say the least. After taking our orders, they neglected to take our menus. Stranger, they left without taking our dinner orders and only took orders for our salads and appetizers. When the food came out, they still didn’t take our menus and we had no place to put them while we ate our salads. After clearing our salad plates, they finally took our dinner orders and also took away the menus. We’re still baffled by it all.

The steaks were all cooked more or less as we requested, but it was hard to really get excited about  any of them. The cuts were adequately sized, but as we’ve come to find from many of these older places, they just didn’t have the flavor we would have hoped. The steaks come with sides, so your baked potatoes and greens are included with your meat.

The dessert selection was good, and they were tasty, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the mediocrity of the steaks and service. It’s a fine place to go for the nostalgia or the kitsch, but don’t make this a destination for the steak.

Colombo's Photos

Wednesday
Nov302016

#44 The Arthur J - Manhattan Beach


Rating: 4.75 cows

 

Manhattan Beach is known for many things, most notably its pier and relentless beach culture. We’re not saying these are incompatible with great steak, but it’s certainly not the first thing that comes to mind. There are some classic steakhouses dotting the beach cities of Southern California, most of which cater to the beach bum or tourist crowd, but which don’t really take their steak seriously. The Arthur J is not one of those places.

Set amongst the posh retail district and restrictive parking meters—other things Manhattan Beach is known for—on Manhattan Avenue, The Arthur J carries the name of the man who spent much of his time in this part of town and founded local favorite The Kettle. His children run the business now, and have tapped Devid LeFevre to run the steakhouse kitchen.

As you enter the small space, the bar is immediately in front of you, with two large TVs behind the bar that seem even bigger given the diminutive space. Their glow evokes a slightly more casual vibe than we were expecting, but it was a little reminder that, yes, we’re still in a beach town.

The cocktail menu features house twists on classics, though we found the Brannigan’s Boots—their version of the Old Fashioned—to be hit or miss.

The dining room is about the same size as the bar, but with more seating. The service arrived quickly and attentively. It was a taste of things to come. While working through the wine list to make sure we got the right bottle, the waiter deferred to the sommelier when our initial choice was unavailable.

Let’s get on to the food. We started things off with the caesar salad, mushroom soup, and bison & pork chili. All three were fantastic. The caesar was exceptionally fresh and they get extra points for what tasted like a homemade dressing and real anchovies. It’s not often that a caesar salad stands out, but this one did. The only drawback was the price, which for $14 was perhaps the most expensive caesar we’ve had thus far. 

The steak menu is more than adequate, featuring Angus and USDA Prime cuts, as well as a tomahawk and porterhouse for two, and of course a Wagyu option (Kagoshima prefecture). All the stars are here, and we partook of the filet, strip, and rib eye, all cooked “rare plus”. For the side dishes we went with the mashers, brussels sprouts, mac and cheese, and of course the fries.

Steak is the reason we came, and the steaks definitely stole the show. They had fantastic charring all over, and the flavor was absolutely outstanding. All of us were impressed with the tenderness, and expert cooking. Each steak comes with a sauce of your choice, but we all felt they were really just novel distractions. We’ve said this before, but a great steak needs no sauce. None of the steaks we ate were enhanced by the sauces. 

The only blemish on the steak came with the rib eye. It arrived decidedly overcooked, and while it was still tasty, it wasn’t living up to its potential. We commented to the waiter, and he insisted on a replacement, and even let us keep the first steak while the other was cooked up. It arrived quickly and was every bit as delicious as the others—and that’s saying a lot.

The side dishes were also very good. Of particular note were the mashed potatoes, so drowned in butter that you could barely eat more than a few bites. We shared one order amongst the 4 of us and only just managed to finish it. The brussels sprouts were quite good too, and while the mac and cheese was good, it was the least interesting. What about the fries, you ask?

We have a bit of a history with steakhouse fries. They’re on just about every menu, and they are always a disappointment. Always. Every time. But we order them anyway. And so the fantasy of paying $8-10 for sticks of fried potatoes that we actually want to order again remains as elusive as ever. Until now. Ladies and gentlemen, these ARE the fries we’re looking for. Cooked in beef fat and dusted with malt vinegar, these steak fries are flat out delicious. They have a perfect ratio of surface area to volume, with a deep salty flavor courtesy of the beef fat. Oh yes. We finally found steakhouse french fry nirvana!

We weren’t all that hungry for dessert, so the plan was to split the apple tart, but we were surprised with a trio of ice cream and sorbet as compensation for our wayward rib eye. The salted caramel and mango sorbet were delectable, while the chocolate sorbet was a little less so. Maybe there’s a reason that sorbet is typically reserved for fruit (it was still pretty good).

All told, this was a fantastic experience and none of us would hesitate to come back if the opportunity arose. The food was incredible and the service was great. As for the value, you’re definitely not dining here if you’re on a strict budget, however their prices ($45-55 as of this writing) are comparable to most, and we enjoyed our food here more than most. Do your stomach a favor and get yourself over to The Arthur J.

Arthur J Photos

 

 

Tuesday
Sep202016

#43 Monty's Prime - Woodland Hills

Rating: 4.00 cows

 

Monty’s Prime Steakhouse sits just south of the bustling 101 freeway in Woodland Hills. It’s been there for over 70 years, offering steaks to hungry Angelenos.

We’ve been to a number of classic steakhouses, and the recipe is usually the same: dark wood, naugahyde, geriatric wait staff, moderate prices, and relatively mediocre food. Monty’s broke the mold and set a new precedent for how an old restaurant can age gracefully without falling prey to the crippling nostalgia that we’ve seen too often.

Walking into Monty’s, you can tell this place has been here awhile. It’s dark, yes, but there are plasma TVs all over the bar area, which is not terribly separated from the dining areas. The bar acts as sort of a centerpiece, and it’s here we get our first sense that this might not be your typical old-world steakhouse.

The drinks were hit and miss. Hit the generously-poured manhattans but miss the orange-muddled and watery old fashioneds. Beer and wine are on offer as well for those less adventurously-minded. There’s no cocktail menu, and while it’s clear that the bartender knew what he was doing and had been there awhile, you’re not going to get an expertly-crafted libation at this joint.

The dining room was cozy and our waitress was attentive and kind. We even got a visit from the owner, who took interest in our humble endeavor and spent some time chatting with us. It was a wonderful gesture and he seemed like a genuinely nice person.

Given our experiences with older steakhouses, we weren’t quite sure what to expect from the food. There were a number of bone-in options including a filet and rib-eye as well as a porterhouse (natch). Prices at Monty’s are higher than most, but not outrageous. We ordered our steaks “rare-plus” across the board, among them the NY Strip, petit filet, bone-in filet, porterhouse, and bone-in ribeye.

In short: these steaks were fantastic. Rare-plus is probably a tougher cook than medium-rare, and these guys nailed it. All of our steaks were cooked right and exhibited lush flavors. The blue cheese butter was a bit much on the bone-in filet but it wasn’t hard to brush it aside. The steaks came with a great crust, mildly seasoned to really bring out the flavor of the meat. Each one was delicious.

To start we had the caesar salad, pear & goat cheese salad, and the classic wedge. The caesar was quite good; among the better ones we’ve tried, but not in the highest echelon like Nick & Stef’s. The others were fine, but not particularly standouts. With our steaks we ordered the creamed corn, broccoli, spinach, au gratin potatoes, and french fries. The creamed corn was the standout here, while the garlic spinach was also very tasty. The others were perfectly fine, except for the $8 french fries which once again were a disappointment. The serving size for the fries was bigger than we’re used to, but they just weren’t that good. I wish I could say we were surprised.

For dessert we ordered the classic sundae, a chocolate fudge cake, caramel brownies, and a berry plate with ice cream. All of these were very good as well, with the brownies being the standout here. Nothing too fancy, just good flavors all around.

We arrived at Monty’s with some questions, and the answers we got were very satisfying. There’s no question the steaks they’re serving now are of much better quality than the ones available 70 years ago when they first opened their doors. And hats off to them for evolving with the times instead of maintaining the status quo of what they’d done in the past. Many old steakhouses suffer because of that. If you find yourself in the Woodland Hills area and you got a hankerin’ for a steak, you should do your tastebuds a favor and drop in for a meal. 

Monty's Photos