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On Friday, my friend Hal turned 93 years old. We've been getting together and having a martini two or three times a week for a couple of years now. Hal is a retired Army colonel, fought in WWII and Korea, served as Special Assistant to the Lt. Governor of California under Ronald Reagan, and was an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the San Diego U-T, as well as authoring seven books. Oh, and there's the Ph.D. in Economics from Boston University, the journalism degree and the law degree. Just looking at the walls in his office exhausts me. He still writes daily.

A life so well lived calls for a splashy, carnivorous celebration, which I hoped the La Jolla Strip Club, 4282 Esplanade Court in the UTC area, would provide. LJSC is part of the very successful Cohn Group, and based on that alone, you'd think the experience would be top notch.

La Jolla Strip Club is one of those grill-your-own steak joints. I knew that up front, but only because I had checked online to make reservations (for parties of 6 or more only). No problem, still, I wonder how many people go there expecting to be served their dinner already cooked, only to find out they're on grill duty (dinner only, if you go for lunch the kitchen will cook for you).

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My first impression, after our lovely hostess took us to our banquette, is that LJSC seems to have an identity crisis. It doesn't know if it wants to be a Las Vegas style steakhouse (flashy red, black and stainless steel decor, beautiful servers in short skirts), a sports bar (multiple flat screens showing football and golf in the bar, the dining room, even the private rooms, space wasting tent cards all over, food served in utilitarian bowls with tongs and plastic-y baskets) or a romantic date night place (dark booths, innuendo loaded menu, Lady and the Tramp plating). Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but seeing a private room filled with folks dressed in suits and cocktail dresses, drinking nice wine and bearing fancy gifts, while the Oregon/UCLA game plays in the corner, just seems odd.

Our server, pretty Kaitlyn, was cheery, attentive and quick. We ordered calamari ($7), Bombay Sapphire martinis ($12!) and Alesmith Lil Devil ($4.50). The calamari is drenched in a sweet sauce. The sauce is fine, if a tad cloying, but I'd prefer it on the side to preserve the crispness of the calamari as long as possible. I think it's the same sauce that's served on the calamari at Prado. It works better on the thick, juicy strips there than the baby rings and tentacles here.

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For the main event, Hal ordered steak teriyaki (10 oz., $16.95), John got the signature strip steak (12 oz., $19.95) and I had the bone-in ribeye (14 oz., $19.95) and a side of Strip Club garlic and herb fries ($5.95 serves 2-3). Sides are a la carte and are served family style. The steaks are 21 day aged, corn fed Angus beef, marinated in olive oil, basalmic vinegar, and herbs, brought to the table wrapped in plastic, ready to grill. All entrees come with a salad, served family style (standard mix of romaine, carrot, cucumber, tomato, red and green bell pepper, house dressing) and ready to grill garlic bread. The grill area provides dry and wet seasonings, teriyaki sauce, Tabasco, garlic salt, cajun mix and a number of others I can't say I remember. I just used salt and pepper.

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The steaks were good, tender and juicy with rich aged flavor, but since I cooked them myself, I have no way of knowing whether the kitchen can grill steak properly or not. The fries, unfortunately, were not fries, they were fried potato wedges, a huge difference in my book. They had that weird mystery coating more typical of curly fries on them and were served in one of those big cones that have suddenly become popular, with ketchup hanging off the sides for dear life. We weren't given a serving utensil, which made it a little awkward to eat. Digging into a bunch of potato wedges with my fingers is fine when I'm watching the game with John, or even on a date, but when you have guests at the table, well, no. I couldn't taste any garlic or herbs. On the plus side, they were screaming hot.

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After we were done, Kaitlyn brought Hal a nice complementary dessert, an ice cream sandwich topped with whipped cream and a candle. With three forks and no additional plates. Were we supposed to all eat it off the same plate? Ew. We had to ask for two more plates. We weren't asked if we wanted a dessert menu or coffee before she brought the check, and getting a cup ($2.50) took at least ten minutes. I'm going to call this a training/management issue, rather than a server issue, because Kaitlyn was truly friendly, attentive and sweet.

For the money, it's an okay place. The steaks are not overpriced for the size and quality, but the sides, salads and appetizers are pretty prefab, and the training for the service could be tighter. Still, given the stellar company I was in, all that really mattered is that the guest of honor enjoyed himself.

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La Jolla Strip Club, A Steak Place

4284 Esplanade Court (Costa Verde Shopping Center)

San Diego, CA

(858)450-1400

http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/menu-restaurants/la-jolla-strip-club/

Hours:
Dinner: Mon-Sat at 5pm Lunch: Mon-Fri: 11:30am - 3pm Happy Hour: M-F 3-7pm & Sat 5-7pm *Open Sunday at 4:30pm. Happy Hour 4:30-7pm

Reservations taken for parties of 6 or more. Free, plentiful lot parking.

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