Bistrot Du Coin – Washington, DC


Bistrot Du Coin
1738 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 234-6969

During short, non-leisure trips I’m often forced to put my interest in eating out and trying new things on the backburner due to various reasons, including unfortunate hinderances such as lack of free time and fussy travel companions. But there are those occasions when my interests do find a fortuitous match and I meet like-minded folks who know a good meal when they see one, and are willing to seek them out. A well travelled businessman, who was born-and-raised in the DC area introduced me to Bistrot Du Coin, which turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of my trip.

The sweltering heat of the DC summer did put a bit of a damper on my dinner experience as the inside was absolutely packed and the air circulation was minimal at best. We were seated on the upper floor overlooking the main dining area below, which perhaps made the stuffiness seem that much worse. With the boisterous crowd and plentiful tables full of wonderful smelling food, it felt part American overindulgance and part French bistro casualness.  I was so insanely hungry after another long day that I was willing to put up with the discomfort as long as the food was satisfying, and thankfully it was.

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Stonegrill – Toronto, ON


Stonegrill
51 Winchester St
Toronto, ON
(416) 967-6565

Anyone familiar with Korean gogi gui or Japanese yakiniku, has experienced being served a platter of raw meat and given full control to cook at their own table. Stonegrill, takes this in a slightly different direction by replacing the sliced meat with a thick steak, and the table mounted grill with a pre-heated slab of stone.

Pictured here is the 10 oz. Certified Angus striploin, cooking atop the stone block.  Our waiter explained that “the stone is a volcanic rock imported from Iceland, heated to 750 degrees – which sears in the natural juices and is the healthiest way to cook a steak as it requires no additional oil”.

stonegrill_steak

I didn’t want to get into any major discussions about this at the table (as we were visiting some old friends) – but can someone explain to me how this could be any “healthier” than cooking my steak on a bbq? The myth of searing meat to contain natural juices is a topic I won’t dive into on this post.  Nonetheless, I was a little disappointed that they use this to promote their restaurant concept.

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Chop – Edmonton, AB


Chop
17635 Stony Plain Rd.
Edmonton, AB T5S 1E3
(780) 487-2467

chop

When this restaurant first opened a few years ago – I heard many rumblings about how great the food was.  There were many forums discussing this new entry into the Edmonton steakhouse market, and had some great reviews.

To verify these claims for ourselves, we arrived at this sleek looking building and step into the very contemporary/modern decorated restaurant & lounge.

The menu is filled with your standard chophouse fare.   Ahi-tuna, beefsteak tomatoes, mash,  fries, sauteed mushrooms, etc.    Nothing exceptionally unique – but I’ve heard good things about the Prime Rib.  Make it big & medium rare.

I was pleasantly surprised!   Tender, juicy, and their ‘hand-shaved’ horseradish was great!


A few months later – I brought a party of seven to share the discovery of this restaurant.   I was totally let down – everyone who ordered prime rib was unimpressed.  Beef tasted bland, and appetizers and sides all seemed under-seasoned.  Maybe it was just a bad night (which I understand can happen), but disappointing all the same.   Strike One.

2008:  A year later we decided to give them another chance, but alas — even worse!  The prime rib tasted as if it was re-heated from the night before (tough and dry), and the infamous 24-layer chocolate cake was stale!  Strike Two.

2009:  It’s been another year now – and decided to give it another try.  It was a Monday evening – so we decided to stay away from the Prime Rib (figuring that I might run the risk of another re-heat experience) and chose to share the 22oz porterhouse with my dining companion .

The menu reads:  “Chop steaks are hand-cut by our own in-house butcher, aged a minimum of 28 days and selected from Certified Angus Beef, the top 5% of all beef in Canada.  Broiled at 1800F, each steak is seared to lock in its natural juices and flavour.”

I have personally experimented with a huge variety of cooking methods, temperatures and techniques, especially when it comes to steak.  Obviously, I can’t generate 1800F at home, but have had success using a wood-fired Italian forno oven in the +900F range, resulting in an exceptional exterior crust.  If the Chop is truly broiling at 1800F – I would expect a similar full-steak crust (with no grill-marks).   Note that Chop‘s advertised cooking technique is identical to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – which was covered here by foodosopher.

So would you agree that this porterhouse from the Chop – looks nothing like what it should?   It appears as though it was grilled on a standard bbq (not broiled at 1800), a large pool of steak juices making a mess on the plate, and the most disappointing – was the lack in flavour.

chop_porterhouse

Strike Three.

Chop on Urbanspoon

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Calgary, AB


Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
294-115 9 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 246-3636

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, as it never seems to be the right time to bring it up, but i’ve decided to bite the bullet and post it. Ruth’s Chris. I’ve been called a traitor for eating here. By my best friend no less. Ruth’s Chris, in my opinion, is one of the most controversial restaurants in Alberta. In the middle of Canadian Beef country, stands this iconic US chain serving…USDA Prime Beef? Regional protectionism aside, you have to admit that you’d be surprised if there was a place trying to serve Canadian beef in Texas. Other than the thought of oil dollars and population expansion in Alberta, i’m not sure why they ventured into Alberta, but it makes for interesting discussion that they did.

Ruth’s Chris was founded in New Orleans, and has expanded into a global empire of “fine dining steakhouses”. They sell themselves on two key things – the temperature that they cook their steaks at (1800 F), and the corn-fed, US beef that they serve.  They have a standardized, high end look, and pride themselves on their service, the decor, as well as high quality beef.  The prices certainly match the image. Service is designed to be high end – but it has a tendency to be a bit overbearing. Especially the sneer when tap water is ordered.  A little more laid back would be appreciated on my part.

pb120205

In terms of a menu, it’s all classic steakhouse. Big meaty appetizers and salads, beef entrees, and the obligatory entrees for those who don’t eat beef (seafood, lamb, chicken, veg option). I havent looked, but i would guess they would have cheesecake and creme brulee on the dessert menu.

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Sage Restaurant, River Cree Resort and Casino – Edmonton, AB


Sage Restaurant
River Cree Resort and Casino
Whitemud Dr. and Winterburn Rd, Edmonton, AB
(780) 484-2121

Alberta is known for many things, principally among them are oil, mountains, and beef.  However, while I see the economic impacts of oil, and can visually measure the mountains, I often fail to comprehend the “Alberta advantage” when it comes to beef. In a province that has the reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world, I have always had difficulty finding a great steak, outside of buying one at a butcher shop and BBQ’ing it at home. Many restaurants tout their AAA Alberta beef, other restaurants shamefully import USDA Beef to serve to unsuspecting customers. In general, most of the beef is good. But it is not the world-class beef that I have always expected in a province that has plentiful room, feed, and fresh water.

I will try and avoid a diatribe, but I would like to point out that when you are determining the quality of the beef, the grade isn’t everything – it only refers to marbling. Breed, how the cow was raised, what it fed on, exercise, how it was slaughtered, how it was butchered, and how it was aged all have a significant impact on the end product. Unfortunately, very few places serve hormone free, naturally raised, grass fed, dry-aged beef. In general, most restaurants in Alberta don’t. Too costly. Sage isn’t one of them either. So to compare apples to apples, we need to compare standard steaks. Wet aged. Typically grain-finished. Where the only significant variation is in the marbling. This is where Sage excels.

Sage is located on the Enoch reserve on the western edge of Edmonton. Located inside the River Cree Casino, turn right from the main entrance. If you turn left, you end up walking 4/5’s of the way around – it’s a big circle after all! It immediately stands out against the backdrop of slot machines, tables, and smoke. Yes, smoke. While the rest of Alberta is smoke-free, apparently civic laws don’t apply on the reserve. Thankfully, smoking is not allowed in the restaurant, but some wafts of smoke do drift into the restaurant. If you are sensitive to smoke, aim for a table as far away from the entrance as possible. However, this is really the only detriment to an otherwise classy and modern design.

On my first trip to Sage, I was very impressed with their available starters and salads. Solid winners, and classic steakhouse dishes with a twist, their menu has constantly changed- unfortunately in many cases for the worse. My favorite appetizers are gone. But what’s left is still solid, if you need that much food.

I’ll typically start with a salad instead – easier on the system before you put down 16oz of beef. On this day, it was an endive and frisee salad, with walnuts. Perfectly dressed, crisp greens, this was an excellent salad. Most of their salads are.

But let’s get serious here – it’s about the meat. Their catch phrase is “Steak. Seafood. Fresh.” For me, when you’re in Alberta, you’re really here for one thing. Can you see the ocean? No. I guess that leaves steak. Canadian Prime beef – also known as AAAA. Canadian Prime is the top 0.7% of all beef in terms of marbling. Compared to USDA’s 2%, not many cuts make a Prime rating.  I have to acknowledge that they also offer USDA dry-aged beef, Wagyu beef from Washington State, and Alberta AAA. Prime only comes in Strip and Ribeye. It would be a waste in tenderloin (which is AAA). It’s better if you order the Canadian Prime. It’s local.

Perfectly cooked, Canada Prime striploin. Medium-rare really is medium-rare – warm, and red throughout. Rare is too cold – the fat still hasnt “melted” into the meat. You want pink? Order medium. You want it cooked through? Go buy a piece of cardboard and save your money. This steak is loaded with flavour – great marbling through out ensures a nice even flavour. It tastes better than your average Alberta steak. You really can taste the difference.

While everything is essentially ala carte, their side dishes are excellent as well. Typical steakhouse style, truffled mac and cheese, rich mashed potatos, asparagus, and mushrooms populate the menu. They are decent value – and it’s worth getting one or two to share. Just note that butter is the primary ingredient in most of them.

Aside from the steak, what really stands out for me is the service. I’ve had professional, consistent service there every time. Never too intrusive, but around enough that all my needs are met. In my latest visit, I was there for a special occasion. I had requested a chocolate-based dessert brought out as a surprise when i made my reservation. They followed my instructions to a tee. More impressively, the dessert was not even on the menu – they had made it special. And it was excellent.

Excellent service. Good steaks. Sounds like a winner yes? Well, I wish they had a better aging program. And that they served exclusively Canadian beef. And the smoke is annoying – i won’t argue that. But like so many things these days, it’s about compromises. And in this case, the pro’s outweigh the cons. If you’re going out to eat a steak, this is the best location to do it in the Edmonton area. If you’re looking for the best Alberta has to offer, come on over for a BBQ. Im taking reservations starting at 7pm 🙂

Sage Restaurant (River Cree Casino) on Urbanspoon

Capri Pizza and Steakhouse – Calgary, AB


Capri Pizza and Steakhouse
1704 Edmonton Trail NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 276-8918

You see them everywhere – the ubiquitous steak and pizza joint. They dot strip malls and store fronts all around your city, and it’s likely you’ve never eaten at most of them. After all, they’re all the same right? Tacky decor, plain beef and decent pizza for inflated prices, other than the guaranteed steak sandwich special on some night of the week when things are decidedly all too quiet, and the VLT’s are the only action in the house. Mediocre food being passed off as fine dining. Why would you bother – been to one, been to them all.

Capri Pizza and Steakhouse, from the outside, is one of those places. On the corner of the TransCanada and Edmonton Trail, this institution has been around since 1976. One of those places that you always drive by, but never been into. And somehow, are always busy. They serve garlic bread with every order, prime rib is always the special, and they grill your meat on an indoor grill where you can watch.

In order to appropriately evaluate Capri, there are several important factors you have to weigh. FIrst and foremost, is the beef. Serving Alberta beef of no discernable marbling, it does taste pretty good charbroiled. Definitely wet aged, most cuts are fairly generous, tender, with a reasonable flavour. A bit under seasoned, the beef is still otherwise ok.

Second is the sides. With each steak comes garlic toast, your choice of potato, and some veg. All good classic steakhouse sides. Sides usually (not in this case), taste better than the meat itself. These sides were decent.

Lastly is the price. When you’re paying for ok beef, and decent sides, what you want are decent prices. 16oz T-bone is $23.75. 12oz NY Strip is $23.75. 15oz sirloin: $22.75. Filet – 8oz, 24.75. You determine for yourself if this is a decent price or not.

Put it this way – i’m not sure I would ever go back. There was nothing wrong with Capri, and the steak was even pretty decent. The Prime Rib was tremendously underseasoned and underwhelming, but the T-bone was pretty good. The sides are fine. The service is fine. The utilitarian decor is fine. The prices are fine. Everything is fine. But that’s not enough for me to spend my hard earned dollars there. I’ve been to a few of these kinds of places, and I really do feel like I have been to them all. And while that might be a bigger indictment of me, rather than Capri, that’s fine. I still wouldn’t go back unless I had to. Which is too bad really, because I was really hoping to have my socks blown off. And they just didn’t succeed at that.

Capri Steak & Pizza House on Urbanspoon