Dave Rice 11:30 a.m., Dec. 9
I don't usually head up to Kearny Mesa for dinner. It's just not a pleasant bike ride. But I had a birthday last week and my roommate offered to drive (and buy!) so the trip quickly got a lot easier. I also don't usually eat big steaks, but, again, birthday.
Part of the reason I picked The Butcher Shop was that I wanted to soak in a little old-school charm. It's cool to look back, like, sixty years before what's right now cutting edge and The Butcher Shop delivered in that respect in a big way.
Everything inside is dark wood and red leather. Rat Pack pictures line the walls and the Chairman of the Board himself is about ninety percent of the soundtrack for the evening. In the dining room where I sat, a big fireplace burned and softly illuminated the room with a glow that echoed the oiled glow of the curving banquettes. It was too dark for photographs, which was just right with me.
"This is totally where you take your parents...or grandparents," my friend remarked, which sums it up quite perfectly.
Service gets a special mention for being very attentive. My request for no ice in my water was ignored by the runners at first, but the server quickly noticed, repaired the error, and kept my glass filled with room temperature H2O for the rest of the evening. Little things like that add up.
To start, cocktail shrimp ($8.99) were wonderfully not overcooked, which seems to happen far too frequently, and came with about a half pint of cocktail sauce. Better too much than too little, although I'd hate to see the diner that finished off every drop. The wilted lettuce leaf used as decoration seemed a bit sad and out of place.
An Ahi tartare ($10.99) gave the starters menu a modern touch and the prime rib bites ($10.99) would have been perfect if I had been in a truly carnivorous mood. As it was, I wanted to get to the steak.
But first, salad. Every entree comes with soup or salad and I opted for the $2.99 upgrade to the tomato and onion salad. It was, to put it mildly, enormous. Thick slices of tomato and red onion had been drenched in balsamic vinaigrette and covered in crumbled blue cheese. Layered over a bed of lettuce leaves, the salad could have been an entree for a light eater.
As far as steaks are concerned, one could show maximum restraint or fullest indulgence. Cuts range from the petite, 8oz. cut of prime rib for $18.99 to a thirty-six dollar porterhouse that tips the scales at 20 ounces. Some of the steak is graded USDA Prime, which is a hard designation to come by outside of steakhouses and hotel kitchens, so I opted for a 12oz top sirloin with the elusive "Prime" stamp. Not being one of the fattiest cuts, the sirloin had a strong beef flavor that was complemented by a deep imprint of mesquite woodsmoke from the doubtlessly smoky grill.
Only slightly more indulgent, a 16oz., bone-in ribeye of certified Angus beef demonstrated the increased tenderness, marbling, and more delicate flavor typical of rib cuts.
In yet another old-timey gesture, all steaks came topped with melted maitre d' butter. This compound butter of parsley and lemon juice tops steak amazingly.
The dessert tray was mostly heavy stuff, but a light parfait of fresh strawberries and Grand Marnier mousse was just the right finish to a protein-saturated evening.
5255 Kearny Villa Road
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