Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Morton's The Steakhouse

     On our last wedding anniversary hubby and I made reservations at Morton's The Steakhouse for our post theater dinner. This restaurant is well known for their steaks and has numerous locations all over the US, as well as Canada and in parts of Asia. In New York, they have three locations - White Plains, Great Neck and Manhattan. The one we went to of course, was the one in Manhattan. Located off Fifth Avenue on East 45th Street, it's convenient to the Theater District.

     The restaurant's trademark red awning over a pair of heavy dark wooden doors leads to a small vestibule and another pair of doors leading to the restaurant itself. The very first thing that hit me was how dimly lit the interior is. The place was quite busy when we got there but the ambience was pleasant and not loud. The host podium is flanked by the bar on the left and what appeared to be a merchandise counter on the right. We got there about half an hour before our 6:30 reservation but were immediately seated when we declined the option of sitting at the bar. I caught a glimpse of the main dining area as we were lead to our table, and saw that it was divided into two sections.  The larger half had booths on the sides with individual tables in the middle. The smaller half where we were seated had individual tables along one side and a row of smaller tables running along the opposite side. These tables tend to be a little tight, with a tendency for guests to accidentally intrude on their neighbor's space as well as offering little privacy for your dinner conversation. The walls were decorated with black and white pictures of people and places in the past, like the one right next to us of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and former NYC mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

     Their menu offers quite a selection of meat, seafood and combination entrees, along with appetizers, drinks and desserts. Not feeling like having appetizers, we just shared a bowl of their Baked Five Onion Soup which is by far the best onion soup I've had. I loved the savory blend of herbs in the broth, unlike the usual onion and saltiness of other onion soups I've had. They also give out what seemed to me like an onion focaccia bread which might've tasted better if it was still warm. For our entrees I ordered the Braised Beef Short Rib & Jumbo Sea Scallop "Surf and Turf" while hubby decided to try the Center-Cut Prime Ribeye, done medium well. For sides we ordered Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes and Sauteed Spinach & Button Mushrooms. After asking for a recommendation from our waiter I also ordered a glass of pinot grigio to go with my entree.  The short rib came with its bone already taken off the meat and set to the side, resting on a bed of mashed potatoes. Next to it were the scallops which were done perfectly. I was very happy with my choice as both items were really delicious. The same goes for the rib eye that hubby had, done to order, juicy and flavorful. I loved the sauteed spinach and button mushrooms, which were cooked just right and made a perfect counterpoint to my savory entree. I now regret not having had my unfinished portion put in a doggie bag. Oh well. Our entree portions were just right, but to my dismay somehow we just didn't have any room left for dessert. I guess we'll just have to go back another day to try the souffle I was eying.

    Despite the rather dark interior and tight squeeze at our table I enjoyed our dinner at Morton's. This was, in addition to the good food, in large part to the staff whose service get a two thumbs up. Our waiter in particular was friendly and attentive without being intrusive, making sure that everything was going well at our table and seeing to our needs promptly. Our food and drinks arrived in a short amount of time, served in a pleasantly courteous manner. Being on the pricier side, we may not be able to dine at Morton's as often as we'd like, but our first time there was definitely the perfect end to our anniversary.

© Margj Castillo, In Review, 2010 - Present.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Shake Shack

     One sunny, yet rather chilly and windy day in late April my husband and I went to the city to watch a musical. Since we were going to catch a matinee on a weekend, we got there a few hours before the show and decided to have lunch somewhere in the city. He had been talking about taking to me a place that he thought has really good shakes. Little did I know that he was talking about the Shake Shack.

     The Shake Shack is a relatively recent addition to the NYC food scene, having opened its doors in 2004 in Madison Square Park. In addition to its original location which is still drawing crowds, there are six more locations throughout New York City. They have also expanded to other locations along the East Coast as well as the Middle East. Although the shakes here are good, the Shake Shack is actually famous for its burgers. Aside from the usual hamburger and cheeseburger, they offer three specialty burgers as well as several hotdog options with names like Mutt and Shack-cago Dog. Plus, I've heard that every Fourth of July they offer an outstanding corndog, or so Claire Robinson of the Food Network says. Sides are limited to either plain fries or cheese fries. I wonder why no onion rings? Their cold menu include the usual ice cream cups and cones, shakes, and the more unusual frozen custards and concretes, which are dense frozen custards blended at high speed with add ons. For drinks they offer sodas, juices, iced teas, beer and wine. And I was amused to see that they even have items on the menu that are especially for dogs. That's right, not only dog owners get to order and eat at the Shack, but their four legged companions as well. Well maybe not to eat in, but they can order a doggie bag for sure. Doggie bag, get it?

     The shack we ate at was the one on 8th Avenue and 44th Street in the Theater District.  It's a rather small space considering the volume of people who enter and want to eat on the premises. Just like in the Madison Square Park location, the lines at this one went all the way out the door and possibly around the corner on really busy hours. All glass walls facing the streets let people see right into the restaurant and diners to see out. It's a very simple, no frills affair inside, with an order counter along one wall that is in front of the kitchen. Immediately facing the doors is a wall with a huge menu that also displays some Shack merchandise as well as the condiments counter below. The rest of the space is devoted to booths, tables and chairs. I was happy to find out that they have a bathroom as well, unisex and quite clean. Since we got there during the lunch hour it was really full capacity, I'd say even beyond full capacity as some people stood to the sides holding trays of food while others guarded tables to quickly grab a spot as soon as it was vacated. So this is definitely not a place to go to if you're the type who hates crowds or jockeying for a seat, or the type who likes eating at a leisurely pace in peace and quiet. But it sure made for some interesting observations in social dynamics. The majority of customers at that time were tourists, with a group of guys (seemingly European) who were making a bit of a spectacle of themselves. I could only laugh to myself and shake my head.
chocolate milkshake, shake stack and fries
     To make ordering a little faster, menus are handed out to those in line in addition to the huge menu on the wall and small ones in front of the order counters. I decided on the Shake Stack, a combination of the 'Shroom and cheese burgers since I do like mushrooms and this one sounded yummy. Jojo had the Double Cheeseburger. We also ordered cheese fries and a chocolate shake to share. After placing our orders we were handed what looked like a cellphone to let us know when our food was ready. That's when we faced the seemingly impossible task of finding a place to sit down and eat. This was one instance where it certainly pays to be aggressive. Not having done this in a while, I was a little slow in snagging us a spot while hubby waited for our food. Thankfully after less than five minutes (though it felt longer than that) we were able to grab some counter space right against one of the glass walls. The patty in my burger was well done instead of the medium well as I'd ordered, but it was juicy, indeed yummy and just the right size. Same goes for the accompanying portobella mushroom stuffed with melted Muenster and Cheddar cheeses. That was the cheesiest burger I'd ever eaten and is now definitely on my favorite burgers list. The fries were good, done just right with real cheese on it and not the cheese spread that's more common at most fast food joints. The shake was thick and creamy, and gave both of us brain freeze after a few sips (hehehe). Jojo liked his double cheeseburger too, which he seemed to inhale as I savored mine. Guess he was starving by then.

     Though I would have liked more room to sit and be able to eat at a more relaxed pace, I still give the Shake Shack thumbs up for their food. I definitely want to go back for more. Next time though, I think I'll have everything to go.

© Margj Castillo, In Review, 2010 - Present.