Other Side of the Apron
Back when I made my living in the food business, I kind of resented Restaurant Week, when local eateries create a prix fixe menu for $35 and donate some of proceeds to charity. I viewed it as amateur night — lots of people who didn’t tip and wanted their steaks burned. Looking back on it, most of those “amateurs” were actually more pleasant than the regulars, because they were just happy to order good food that was temporarily in their price range. But back in those days, I wasn’t the cheery, happy-go-eat-y food critic you’ve all come to grudgingly accept.
Now that I’m a professional customer on a monthly budget, I appreciate Restaurant Week. This year it gave me a chance to check out some places that are temporarily closer to my price range. I put on my fanciest duds and headed out into the candle-lit world of fine dining.
My first stop on the train to hauteville was Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (813 Main St.). As with its Main Street neighbors, Capital Grille and Del Frisco’s, the vibe at Ruth’s is very steakhouse-in-a-box, with white tablecloths and servers in bow ties and starched aprons.
It wasn’t a surprise, since Ruth’s Chris is famously traditional, but there was nothing on the menu that a thousand other steak places don’t serve. That being said, everything was excellent. I started with a lovely, albeit run-of-the-mill, broiled mushroom cap stuffed with lump crabmeat and topped with romano cheese. For my next course, I opted for a caesar salad, which had a nice, tangy dressing but was otherwise standard issue. The entrée, a petit filet topped with butter, sizzled as it came to the table. It was cooked a perfect medium rare and aggressively seasoned. I admire a chef who isn’t afraid of salt. The accompanying mashed potatoes were creamy and cloud-like. The dessert of fresh berries with cream and chocolate cake was a nice cap to the evening. Maybe I’m spoiled, but a well-prepared generic meal just didn’t excite me. Bottom line: If you like your steakhouse by the book, Ruth’s Chris wrote the book. If you’re looking for creativity, keep looking.
More specifically, look west to the Cultural District and Lanny’s Alta Cocina (3405 W. 7th St.). Lucky for me, Lanny’s was one of the restaurants that had added special dishes for this event, and the menu was anything but ordinary. I’m a huge fan of Chef Lanny Lancarte’s haute Mexican cuisine. It’s wonderful torture to have to choose among his creations.
After flipping a coin on appetizers I decided on Acapulco-style ceviche: avocado chunks and moist, flaky fish in a smoky, roasted-tomato vinaigrette. It was a great start, but not the mind-blowingly creative dish I had hoped for.
My entrée, however, was a cutting-edge reminder of what Lanny’s is all about. The flaky piece of halibut was wrapped in fragrant hoja santa leaf and accompanied by baby spinach, chorizo, and cannelini beans. The fish had absorbed the juice from the chorizo, creating a true flavor harmony and a perfect blend of traditional Mexican technique and nouveau flourishes. The dessert — chocolate goat-cheese cheesecake with raspberry-and-beet puree — was a rich, creamy semi-sweet treat.
Getting to eat fancy twice in two weeks was a great treat. And I didn’t meet one waitstaffer as grumpy as I used to get. Maybe I’d better stay on this side of the kitchen door.
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