October 13, 2010
Christophers offers atmosphere, but not enough flavor
By Vanessa Chang
Going to a steakhouse is kind of like going to Disneyland. Some people make it a point to go; others could not care less. Preparation can be rather extensive. Making the time check. Making the reservation done. Making sure theres enough in the budget to pull it all off double-check.
Take Christophers Seafood & Prime Steak House in downtown Salt Lake City. Its located in the lobby of the Peery Hotel, with lots of old architectural bones, carpeting and twinkling lighting to charm.
The dark bar lies behind the entryway, dark wood disappearing into a dark space punctuated with the glimmer of wine and liquor bottles. Then the diner journeys into the singular, large dining room, which in another era might have been a ballroom.
In contemporary times, the dining room seats tourists, banquets, business travelers and local Groupon diners in an almost church-like setting, thanks to filtered light in the high ceilings and hushed conversations.
You get the feeling that a meal here is supposed to be special. The problem is, it isnt. The menu offers an enticing read, but the flavors fall short. As smooth as the restaurants veneer appears, its quite rough around the edges when it comes to service and kitchen technique.
Perhaps at a lower price point, Christophers would get more leeway in my mind. But for a dining experience that can easily reach $100 or more for a couple, the food is underwhelming.
Which brings us to the perennial dining question: For all the trouble we go to and in the case of the steakhouse the prices we pay, shouldnt we expect seamless service and exceptional food?
With steak, there isnt much room for error. Meat quality and technique are transparent. Heat is crucial. Yet during a dinner serving at Christophers, I was served a miniaturized filet mignon that was part of the prix-fixe special ($34.99 for three courses) that resembled and tasted like a charcoal briquette, but was lukewarm throughout. Same goes for the accompanying shrimp scampi and green beans. The latter were limp and water-logged after coming out of the deep-freeze.
One good aspect of the restaurant: Sides like the green beans are included with the meat, unlike some other a la carte venues. Youre served a vegetable with a choice of potato. That is, when the server remembers to ask.
If they dont, chances are over-roasted red potatoes (also lukewarm) will be sitting on your plate as its delivered and will still be there when its whisked away to the dishwashing station.
Whats most perplexing is the flavor. For instance, rib-eye in all its marbled glory is a juicy, flavorful cut. The menu offers two, a Cowboy bone-in rib-eye ($47) and a Delmonico ($42). Yet neither oozed with the rich beefy flavors that should be concentrated in the meat after lengthy dry-aging.
One of the more successful entrées is the portobello-blue cheese filet mignon ($41). Tender as it should be with plenty of flavor from the cheese, but thats just about all we could taste. The same filet, in a miniaturized version on the prix-fixe menu, revealed there wasnt much in flavor.
The surf suffers just as much as the turf. The tuna carpaccio ($18) looked dull on the plate and tasted even duller on the palate. Another appetizer of Prince Edward Island mussels ($10) were shriveled and tough, with no flavors of the briny ocean it came from. The overwhelming note was salt from the chardonnay poaching liquid.
The clam chowder ($8) is mild and inoffensive. It arrived piping hot, but by the time the server remembered to bring the soup spoon, it had congealed into clam-spotted glue.
The bright spot is the side dishes, reasonably priced compared to other steakhouses, though still not all worth the investment. For example, theres the scampi ($8), and the creamed spinach ($6) thats more of an artichoke dip and better suited for an appetizer. But the baked potato was large, crisp on the outside, thanks to dry-oven baking, and fluffy and soft inside. With ample butter and sour cream, its a simple pleasure.
And maybe simplicity is what the restaurant needs. Forego the sashimi-carpaccio with saucy flourishes or clever incarnations of corn dogs with lobster ($14), and instead concentrate on the Delmonico rib-eye, aged to its flavor peak.
Because in the end, even with all the pomp and circumstance and sides, at a steakhouse all we want is that perfect slab of juicy, gorgeous steak.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.