Copyright © 1999. All Rights Reserved
by FFWD Staff
Choppy evening at the Chophouse
After paging through a wine list with prices in the range of your first car, its not unreasonable to think that the Chicago Chophouse is going to treat you well. Our first bite of reality came from the complimentary rolls. They looked attractive, but instead of the rich warmth of fresh bread, they were cold and hard.
"Thermal inconsistency" turned out to be the theme of the night. While some temperature contrasts are welcome like in a hot fudge sundae most dishes suffer from too broad a temperature range.
Seared scallops ($10) sounded good for an appetizer, but the pan arrived with no audible sizzling, and only five scallops. Thats two bucks per bivalve. The scallops and the red pepper relish topping both tasted fine, but the relish had been applied at refrigerator temperature. The result: every mouthful was a hot/cold mix, from frigid relish to warm scallop. On to the entrées.
The menu explains the high prices: "The chefs start with only the best beef AAA Alberta beef, Canadian Angus, dry aged in the restaurants special coolers.... The process is expensive but the result is unparalleled." The cheapest you can go is the eight-ounce filet mignon for $23, and you can live your Robin Leach fantasies on a 42-ounce porterhouse for two ($34/person) or the 12-ounce filet mignon ($32). All meats are served à la carte, so don't be expecting any salad bar.
My friend and I ordered the 14-ounce executive cut prime rib ($27), medium-well. The meat was overcooked and for these prices we expected the cooking to be spot-on but it was tasty, and the accompaniment of deep-fried carrot curls had a sweetness that nicely complemented the meat. The main problem was the baked potato side order besides the price ($4), it was barely hot enough to melt the butter.
The menu also has an entrée section entitled "Not Meat," probably written by one of those folks who think that a vegetarian is someone who limits their red meat intake to once a week. A half-pound Chicago burger with fries is the cheapest "not meat" item ($10), or you could try breast of chicken with garlic mashed potatoes ($17), or the char-grilled ahi tuna or fresh lobster at market price. We went for the grilled jumbo gulf shrimp ($20).
The dozen meaty shrimp had a great smoky flavour, and the garlic mashed potatoes were good, but the temperature was a problem again. The potatoes arrived warm, not hot, and its hard to down a plate of cold mash. As a side, we ordered the wild mushroom medley ($7), which turned out to be a skillet consisting of unseasoned domestics: a portobello, several shiitake and a handful of brown buttons. Not a bad dish with the steak, but you couldnt get too excited about it on its own.
The temperature gremlin reared its little hot and cold pitchfork again when the peach brûlée ($8) arrived for dessert. Served in a gratin dish big enough for two, the brûlée was tasty but the temperature was uneven throughout. The coffee accompanying the dessert ($2) was also barely hot and at a time when you really wanted to hear the phrase "can I warm that up for you?" no waiters came by.
So while the temperatures make things hard to swallow, the prices might have you choking.
And, at the end of the meal, a lingering question remains: why name a steakhouse which features Alberta AAA beef after an American city? The Chicago Chophouse (604 - 8th Ave SW, phone 265-3000) tries to establish an American mythology (our waiter told us a little Chigaco-in-the-Depression story to explain the origin of prime rib sliders, one of the appetizers), but they might find that people are hungrier for some real Canadian tales instead.
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