Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mmmmm....Rib Eye!

Back in my misspent youth, I worked for two years at a fancy steak place called "Mr. Steak" (This is not the Mr. Steak I worked at, but it looks remarkably similar...get me drunk sometime and ask me to pronounce "petite cut" for you!). Please, not "Happy Steak". "Mr. Steak". While there, I actually learned a thing or two (and that's about all) about the different cuts of steak. For instance, I learned that a Filet Mignon is the most tender cut of steak because it has very little connective tissue (just learned that part...thanks Cherry!). Alas, it also has very little marbeling (aka, fat), and the fat is what gives the meat its flavor, so while a Filet can be incredibly tender (people go on and on about how you can cut them with a fork), it doesn't have a ton of flavor. If you like tender, get the filet. However, if you want flavor, try a New York Strip or a Rib Eye. A NY cut is part of a T-Bone, with the other part being the Filet. A Rib Eye is the same cut as a slice of Prime Rib, just cooked differently. I LOVE a good Rib Eye. Mmmmm. Lots of fat to cut away, yes, but SO much yummy flavor, and the meat is actually pretty tender if you cut the fat away and don't overcook it.

So, in the last few months I have had the opportunity to try Rib Eyes at three different restaurants, and I thought I might compare them for you. They are, in order of my visits, McNamera's Steak and Chop House in Dublin, Ruth's Chris Steak House in Walnut Creek, and the
Big Horn Grill in San Ramon.

McNamera's Steak and Chop House is a Chicago type steak house, with dark wood and big, cozy booths. We went pretty early in the evening (5:00), so it was pretty slow. The service was efficient and friendly. The wine list was pretty extensive, and we splurged on a bottle of Clos Pegase '01 Cabernet. Mmmm. Tasty. We started with a bowl of Lobster and Shrimp Bisque, which was good, but not my favorite soup in the world. Then we moved on to our steaks. The steaks are Mid Western, corn fed, aged 21 To 28 days, and cooked In a 1600-degree broiler, which is key, because it sears in the yummy juices. I had the Rib Eye, of course, which was the BEST steak I had ever had in my life. It was perfectly prepared, excellent quality, expertly seasoned. My friend had the Filet Mignon. To be fair, I SHOULD have tasted hers, so I could tell you whether the Filet had flavor or not. I was too busy scarfing mine down. The meat was melting in my mouth, though I DID use a knife to cut it. ;) Flavor like this doesn't come cheap, tho. We paid $27.95 for my "petite" rib eye, and $32.95 for Neva's Filet. The meal comes with veggies, potatoes, and bread. Great meal.

Ruth's Chris Steak House is fairly new to Walnut Creek, and it's located downtown, upstairs near Andronicos. The atmosphere was more to my taste than McNamera's, with sage green walls hung with pretty pictures. Ted was in a spendy mood, so he ordered a VERY nice bottle of wine. Unfortunately, I don't remember what it was, but I do remember that it was very yummy. Ted and I both ordered Rib Eyes, which came out perfectly cooked and again, THE BEST STEAK I HAD EVER TASTED. They ALSO use corn fed, aged beef, though they sear it in an 1800-degree oven, not 1600-degree like McNamera's. Was there a 200 degree in taste? Not really. My only problem with Ruth's Chris is that you have to pay extra for your veggie and your potato. I think when I'm paying this much for a steak (prices aren't on the website menu, but it was up there, maybe $37 each for the steaks?), they can throw in some veggies and a potato. Nope. The Broiled Tomatoes were simply delicious to a tomato lover like myself, but really, $7? The potato could have fed a family of 4 dinner, and was fluffy and tasty and everything that an Idaho potato SHOULD be. But $7? That's $14 between the potato and the tomato. (A song is coming to mind...can you guess which one?) Anyway, it was a LOVELY evening, with delicious food, and as I knew ahead of time that they charge extra for the sides, I wasn't blindsided or shocked. I'll go back, definately.

The third steak restaurant is the little known Big Horn Grill, which is owned by the same people who own Girasole Grill. Take a pass on Girasole, it sucks. Just accept that. Don't go. Please. Instead, get thee to Big Horn for tasty appitizers and steak. They (and Girasole, to be fair) have a yummy appitizer called Scoozzi, which is gorgonzola & green onion pocket bread, rubbed with fresh garlic, and served with fresh tomato basil fresco. People who plan on kissing each other later should imbibe together, as it is pretty garlicky. The steaks are, again, pretty darned good stuff. Midwestern beef, corn fed, aged 21 to 28 days. They don't say how hot their oven is, but the steak came out with a lovely sear, and it was delicious and juicy inside. Again, however, it is ala carte, so you pay extra for your side dishes. The side dishes aren't quite as good (or as expensive) as at Ruth's Chris, but there's really nothing wrong with them. Maybe it's just me and the tomato. We love each other, really. Mmmm. Anyway, the steak was wonderful, and the service was fine, though not as good as the other two restaurants. The steak was $28 at Big Horn, about the same as McNamara's, and less than Ruth's Chris.

So, which would I reccomend? That's hard. All three had really, really tasty steak. All three were nice, all three were friendly. I guess I would qualify it. I would bring Maya to Big Horn (we did, actually), and I wouldn't to the other two places. The atmosphere was nicest (to my taste) at Ruth's Chris. it was the most elegant, the most romantic of the three. The best deal was at McNamera's, because you didn't pay extra for sides. None of them were cheap, but GOOD steak rarely is. (Get it, RARELY? Ha.) So, go eat BEEF.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The best meal of my almost middle-aged life was, hands down, the fancy dinner we had in Paris on our honeymoon. Take my advice. If you're ever in a city that is known for its food, like say, Paris, scrimp and save but at least ONCE, eat at the BEST restaurant you can possibly afford. You will not regret it. So, we ate mostly at chinese delis and pubs, sometimes getting duck and wine from the shops and taking it back to our hotel to eat, and we saved our money for one big dinner. We asked our hotel staff where we could go for a really nice dinner, but we could get in that same evening. They made us a reservation at a restaurant named Laperouse. We arrived at a restaurant that looked like it used to be a house. We arrived at the ungodly hour of 8pm, and we were the first people there, which may have been why we could get a reservation at such short notice. The waiter was just putting on his jacket as we arrived, so I think they were just opening for dinner.

We were seated in a small room that held a buffet table, our table, and one or two others. That's it. The maitre d' informed us that the special dessert that evening was a peach tart, and if we would like to have it, we should order it now, as it is prepared fresh to order. Of course, who can say no to a peach tart? Not us. We ordered a drink, vodka tonic, and they brought us a glass of ice and vodka, and filled it about 1/2 way with tonic water, then left us with the tonic bottle. Very nice. Ted could have his drink stronger, and I could have mine with more tonic, and we were both happy. We ordered a bottle of wine, which the waiter brought to us, opened, then set on the buffet to let it breathe. Very nice. We ordered lobster salad and escargot ravioli for appitizers. We ordered lamb for dinner. (Maybe Ted had duck? It's been so long...) I didn't know the french word for lamb, so when the waiter took my order, I pointed at the one item that I knew wasn't veal (veu), beef (beuf), duck (canard) or chicken (poulet) and asked, "Qu'est que c'est?" (What is this?) The waiter didn't speak English, so he said, "um....C'est petite 'baaahhh'". Perfect. J'ai voudrais sil vous plait. (I'll take it!) Turns out that our meal also came with small appitizers that they brought out. I think it was canetelope wrapped in prochuto or something very similar. Very yummy. Then our salad and ravioli came. Oh. My. God. So good. Melt in your mouth, creamy, rich, but not so rich that you couldn't enjoy it. Then our wine and lamb (duck? Maybe not...Ted? Do you remember?). Again, SO GOOD. The lamb was prepared perfectly, very nice medium rare, very tasty. The veggies were crisp and yummy. After we practically licked our plates from that, they brought us our peach tarts. They were huge. We thought, "oh no, we should have shared one!" Good thing we didn't, because one of us would have lost a hand if we had tried to take it from the other. It was amazing. The pastry was light and airey and delicate and flaky. The peaches were ripe and juicy and delicious. Again, we had to stop ourselves from licking the plates. Another couple had been seated in our room by this point (9:30 or so, probably), and they might have frowned on that. Then, it turns out that there was a little dessert that came with our meal. The waiter brought out a little tray with tiny chocolates and fruit tarts. No way. Too full. Couldn't eat another bite. What happened to our desserts? Oh. We ate them. SO. GOOD. Every single bite of that meal was FLAWLESS. The atmosphere was lovely and romantic. The service was friendly and professional. We left after paying with our funny looking francs that made it seem like monopoly money, and walked back to our hotel along the Seine. Reminded me of a scene in "Babette's Feast", walking home, feeling SO good, full but somehow not painfully stuffed.

Again, I cannot stress strongly enough. If you can, eat like this once in awhile. It's truly wonderful. Truly an art. Worth EVERY penny. (or franc...)

Monday, November 28, 2005

In the Mood for British Pub Food?

Have you ever found yourself thinking, "I could sure go for a good Steak & Kidney Pie"? No, me neither, but once in awhile I DO find myself thinking a good cottege pie or lamb stew would be nice, and then I start thinking, "Mr. Pickwick's!"

Mr. Pickwick's used to be our friendly neighborhood pub, but then they tore the building down for apartments or condos or whatever, and Mr. Pickwick's relocated to its "new" location in Concord, which is where the old CC Ole's used to be. The menu hasn't changed in the new location, though I do miss the fireplaces.

The food at Mr. Pickwick's is hit or miss, in my opinion. The lamb stew (Named Mr. Brownlow on the menu) is a good bet. The lamb is tender and flavorful, the veggies are fresh tasting, and the sauce is yummy. It is served over a nice bed of rice. On our most recent visit, however, Ted tried the Shephard's Pie (named Bill Sykes on the menu), and he found it fairly tasteless. Very unhappy. In fact, the solution was for me to make some Shephard's pie for dinner last night. Good thing I know how. :) Maya had the Cornish Chicken Pie (named Tiny Tim, it's basically a chicken pot pie), which was very nice...the crust was tender, the chicken flavorful, and the veggies had a nice texture and taste. My only question was, why serve it with mashed potatoes? Strange. You can choose your side dishes for these meals...carrots, peas, or mushy peas, and either chips (steak fries) or mashed potatoes. I've never tried the mushy peas, but all of the other options have proven to be quite good. I overheard someone at the next table saying that the "bangers and mash" is quite good, though I've never tried it.

If you are looking for a good English Beer to drink with your meal, or while you play darts or watch the game, Mr. Pickwicks is a great place to come. They have Bass and Guiness on tap, as well as many others with which I am not familiar. I don't drink beer. The wine list is limited, which is about what you would expect from a pub. Overall, this is a fine, family friendly pub, with some good dishes. I still miss the old atmosphere, though.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I think that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday now...interesting because I used to hate it. When I was a teen, Thanksgiving meant going to my grandparents' house. My grandfather would criticize everyone, scold, and generally be mean. My grandmother believes that anything you cook should come from a box or a can, so the only things that were fresh and homemade were the turkey and the fruit salad. My grandma makes a mean fruit salad, and mostly that's what I lived off of. Her turkey was SO dry, your teeth would stick together trying to chew it. The bones of the turkey would fall apart. I kid you not. The yams came from a can, with yucky marshmallows on top. The gravy was from a packet (beef) to go on the potatoes, from a box. You get the picture. The food was bad. The atmosphere was tense, what with the criticism and all. Then add the fact that most of my family is on a never ending diet, so there's guilt involved in eating anything at all, and tons of guilt involved in the kind of meal that we have on Thanksgiving.

Now, however, I'm grown. We have Thanksgiving at my in-law's house. The house is always decorated and happy. There is music and laughter. Everyone brings a few things, so it's a group effort, and not one person doing all of the work to feed 12 people. The food is delicious. We all make our favorites, and we talk about the things that make us feel truly thankful. One of mine is my in-laws. :)