Posted by: spacewritinguy | April 1, 2008

Comparing Steakhouses

And now for something completely different. I have a taste for steak, and I haven’t had a decent steak in months. Off we go…

Outback Steakhouse: Outback is a pretty decent, mid-price chain (a low-end chain would be Sizzler or SteakOut) with a nearly relentless TV and radio marketing campaign. Outback specializes in “Aussie” flavors–lots of heavily spiced foods with colorful Australian names. All of this spiciness, which often translates into mere saltiness, often leads one to order (oddly enough) plenty of Foster’s on tap. Their cuts of meat often come out in approximately rectangular shapes, which can give the meal a uniform, if distressingly uniform look–how many rectangular steaks does one usually eat? The cuts have become thinner and drier over the years, and occasionally they can be tough. When I veer off my usual order of a Rockhampton Rib-eye, baked potato, and Caesar salad, I’ll go for their Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie or Alice Springs Chicken, which is smothered in cheese, bacon, and mushrooms. An occasional glass of Black Opal wine isn’t bad, either, but not great. Just go expecting to be thirsty. The black bread and butter they serve is also a decent extra, as are the 25-ounce big-boy beers. Have a designated driver picked out before you go. I’m probably being unnecessarily harsh to Outback. I like their food, I’ve just been spoiled by others’.

There is also an Outback Restaurant, which should not be confused with the Outback Steakhouse chain. This restaurant is situated inside the Buena Vista Palace at Walt Disney World and the chefs definitely know how to season meat. Their steaks are grilled, but not so deeply that the steaks look “extra crispy.” Outback also does excellent seafood, when I’ve ordered it, which is seldom given the quality of their steaks. Their vegetables are also well prepared and crisp. Their asparagus is great, as are their mixed veggies. The ambience of Outback is also nice, with fountains all about, an open-air “show kitchen,” and a spacious ceiling, which allows table noise to get lost.

Ruth’s Chris: I’ve been to Ruth’s Chris twice now, and quite frankly I don’t get the mystique. Sean Hannity raves about their steak, but then he raves about a lot of things, and I think he’s full of it on those things, too. The special thing Ruth’s Chris does with their steaks is coat them in butter before grilling them. What this does for the steak is keep it soft and moist, even through the crispiest of grillings. What this does for me is give me unpleasant gastrointestinal distress. Served alongside, for example, creamed spinach, said steak will not produce particularly positive effects. I shan’t elaborate. The other problem with the buttering of the steak is its tendency to cover up the flaws or virtues of the meat. The prices, for me, have not been justified by the culinary experience, though the wine selection is decent.

Linda’s La Cantina: Another decent stand-alone steakhouse in Orlando is La Cantina. For somewhat less dough, you can get a steak measuring up to The Outback Restaurant. “LaCa” is a family-owned place with good homemade salad dressings and bread. They used to serve a refrigerated, dark red Italian table wine that a family member of mine called “the house swill,” which was actually pretty decent. That seems to have gone away, but the wine list isn’t too painful by the glass or the bottle if sharing. Their bar is cozy, and features a gas fire in the midst of a fountain (the first LaCa burned down years ago–coinkidink?). The atmosphere of LaCa is also appreciated–more family-oriented and friendly and somewhat less pretentious than Ruth’s Chris or The Palm. If you’re not a steak fan, LaCa also does decent pasta dishes, veal, and lamb.

The Palm: The Palm, too, is a chain, and probably a tad more expensive than Ruth’s Chris, which tends to the upscale. This is my favorite chain steakhouse, bar none. These folks go minimal on seasoning, letting the sha-ZAAM grilling and the meat speak for themselves. The Palm does do the extra-crispy thing, but it isn’t burnt. I almost invariably get the rib-eye here, too. I tried the filet mignon once, but the meat’s lack of marbling means that a lot of the flavor is missing. The Palm, too, has excellent extras, from lobster bisque to creamed spinach, mutant (huge) asparagus and a fried onion-potato mix that is worth sharing with friends. Last time I visited, the steaks were averaging $37 a piece, so it’s not a place to be visited lightly. The wine list is similarly expensive. You can go for a beer, but jeez, why spoil the occasion? In fact, I usually go only once a year as a treat to myself. My only gripe with The Palm is that I’ve been having the darnest time accessing my 837 Club membership online, and so far have been unable to change my address or other personal information. That’s a shame, too, because they send club members coupons for their birthday and other assorted occasions. Such a situation has not kept me from returning for repeat visits. It’s hard to argue with a steak that will make you weep.

Great. Now that I’ve written about all these places, I’m hungry. Oh well. Bon appetit!

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