Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
Steaks at the Red Fox Room
I have ended up at the Red Fox numerous times, always out of a sense of spontaneity. For whatever reason, it seems to be a place to go when plans are changed or abandoned or pulled from thin air at the spur of the moment.
They say that the dining room was actually built in seventeenth-century England and that it's been dismantled and re-assembled at different points over the years before arriving at its current home in North Park's Lafayette Hotel. Considering the labyrinthine qualities of the interior, which Baroquely defy the accepted norms of contemporary interior design, the story seems to check out as far as my eyes are concerned.
The restaurant is a late night dining scene since it's possible to get a steak as late as one in the morning on the weekends. The bar stays open an hour longer than the kitchen. For a lot of people, the Red Fox seems to be either a last stop on the way home or a jumping off point on the way out. In any case, it draws a pretty random crowd. There can just as easily be a family having a birthday party as a group of hipster kids at the next table. In the lounge, musicians tickle the ivories on a baby grand piano with accompaniment seven nights a week.
Entrees all come with a salad that the servers assemble from a chilled salad bar in the corner of the room. I could have asked for the salad to be much more lightly dressed. The dressing itself was on the heavier side and its liberal application made the salad a bit excessive as a lead in to a steak.
Steaks are definitely the raison d'etre for the Red Fox room, although seafood does make a reasonable bid for credibility on the menu. Prices are neither low nor excessive with steaks and seafood dishes both costing about $20 on the average. Some items, like twin lobster tails ($39), soar towards extravagance.
The beef, served with a potato or rice pilaf in addition to the salad, is advertised as being aged and served "at the peak of freshness." My last steak, a New York cut of moderate size, was fairly lean, as have been other steaks from the Red Fox. The cuts seem to represent something like a USDA Select grade of beef, without the marbling of intramusuclar fat that characterizes more expensive steak. This leads to a less juicy steak, but a much "meatier" flavor and texture since there is less fat to cover the taste of the meat itself. The grilling technique used didn't develop a lot of char on the outside of the meat, which also contributes to a leaner, more straightforward flavor.
One little trick to remember when eating leaner cuts of steak: that butter that is supposed to go on the potato? Smear it all over the steak and float a little extra salt on top. It works wonders.
2223 El Cajon Boulevard