A Tale Of Two Steaks: New York Grill & Arroyo Chop House
It has the potential of being the best of dining times, or the worst of dining times
the never ending quest for deliciousness. In pursuit of the quest, this correspondent performed his duty and ate ribeye in The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire and in the Culinary Promised Land that exists to the west of the Great Dining Divide, Highway 71. Sunday saw ribeye consumed at New York Grill just across the street form Ontario Mills. Thursday saw ribeye consumed at Arroyo Chop House in Pasadena.
Steak Number One: Having not been able to celebrate our anniversary on the previous Thursday due to business and family commitments, the Mrs. and I hopped in to Herman and finally toodled over to New York Grill Sunday evening. The Mrs. was ready for a nice dinner, so I offered to take her to Mortons in L.A., Arroyo Chop House in Pasadena or New York Grill in Ontario. We settled upon Ontario, since by that point in the weekend neither of us was up for any extended treks on the freeway (and besides, I knew I had a business engagement coming up where I could dine at Arroyo Chop House on the company dime).
We had not been to New York Grill for at least a year, but it was as we left it, a nice ambience, in both the main dining room and the adjacent bar area. The walls painted in warm tones, a large floor to ceiling, dark wood cabinet with shelves of wine, and a service station dividing the dining room from the bar area. Very cozy booths in the bar. Service was initially slow to arrive at our table, but after that our waiter was appropriately attentive. My only quibble, really more of a petty annoyance, was the fact that when the waiter took our order, he squatted down so that his head was at about table top height. I dont know why some service people do this, but it just seems unprofessional to me, and it does not set a proper tone for the dining experience, especially in a high end joint, or a joint that aspires to be high end.
We both ordered a spinach salad to start, and the Mrs. had a lobster tail and I a boneless ribeye steak. The spinach salads were not warm, but rather, cold spinach leaves with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, with crumbles of feta, and pine nuts. The salad also came with a sliver of Prociutto. I had expected the classic warm spinach salad, however, I was not disappointed with this cold version. The spinach leaves together with the dressing and the pine nuts was very enjoyable. The Mrs. also enjoyed it. The slice of Prociutto seemed dried out to me and not very flavorful. It really did not do justice to Italian delicacies.
The Mrs. lobster tail was consumed eagerly, without even one tiny morsel offered to her hubby. Also on her plate was some rice, and strangely, a dollop of the house porcini mashed potatoes and braised vegetables.
My ribeye came appropriately medium-rare, however I thought the thickness of the piece of meat was a bit skimpy. Had it been cut thicker, I believe it would have arrived at the table in an acceptably more juicy state. While the steak was decent, I have to say that it was probably less flavorful than the $13.00 ribeye I can get at Chilis. The mashed potatoes come with a porcini mushroom sauce, which is fairly tasty, but also slightly reminiscent of Campbells Cream of Mushroom Soup. The vegetables were very good. Baby carrots and green beans, some yellow squash, and on my plate (but not the wifes) a nice hunk of braised baby Bok Choi. Accompanying the meal was a basket of anise flavored buttermilk biscuits.
Wine hicks that we are, we ordered a bottle of Geyser Peak Gewürztraminer with our meal, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I developed a very pleasant buzz, but when I broached the subject of ordering a second bottle, that did not go over too well with the Mrs. Fortunately for me the pleasant buzz from the single bottle lasted all the way through the meal, so I was happy. Upon reflection as I write this, I am enjoying that bottle of Geyser Peak even more, since a single glass of Sequoia Cabernet at Arroyo Chop House last night cost the same as the whole bottle of wine at New York Grill.
For dessert we had crème brulee and tirimisu and one coffee. Both desserts were very enjoyable, although I thought the ramekin that the custard came in was awfully shallow.
The total bill, food, beverages and tax (minus tip) came to $120.00
Now dont get me wrong, even though, in the continuum of steak experiences, New York Grill is not really up there with the finest examples, it is an exemplary dining experience when ones options are limited by The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire. So if one finds him or herself momentarily relegated to The Dining Wilderness, there is sanctuary at New York Grill. One other reason to visit New York Grill is this Saturday, when they will feature live jazz by the Dave Mackay Trio. Apparently they are doing live jazz once a month. Those booths in their bar will make for a very comfortable, intimate, musical experience.
Steak Number Two: Having a compelling reason to continue our business discussions beyond daylight business hours, two associates and I reconvened at Arroyo Chop House yesterday evening. After receiving sufficient lubrication from six mixed drinks (not six each, a total of six drinks between three drinkers, after all, we did have to conquer some prime beef later) we ordered as starters, one tomato and onion salad with creamy blue cheese dressing, one spinach salad and one order of pancetta wrapped scallops.
My dining companions seemed to enjoy their vegetable based starters, of course being fortified by Mr. Beefeater and Mr. Seagram, with an assist from the Chop Houses warm and crusty sourdough with sweet butter, and warm and crusty sourdough garlic bread, the starters were all the more enjoyable. In terms of the scallops, this is what I always order at the Chop House, and I never share it. The scallops are always all mine! The dish comes with four plump scallops that are wrapped with perfectly cooked bacon, the scallops are sweet and creamy tasting, the bacon is at a perfect state of crispy/chewy ness, and the scallops lie in a shallow pool of a wonderful sweet complimentary sauce. These are oh so good (catch phrase used with permission of Mr. Food), and I generally can resist the temptation to immediately grab them up and pop them whole in my mouth, and instead, I very deliberately slice each in half with my fork, and savor the flavor and texture.
We each ordered cowboy ribeyes from the nights specials selection. These were bone on ribeyes, cooked medium-rare, medium-rare and rare, respectively (all of us duly respectful of good beef). Accompaniments were braised spinach, lyonaise potatoes, onion rings, and sugar snap peas. One diner also ordered one glass of Sequoia Cabernet (at $15.75 it could have been three bottles of Sutter Home White Zinfandel, sigh). Dessert was one chocolate pecan pie with a scoop of espresso ice cream, one lemon bread pudding, and one cup of coffee.
Of course the ribeyes at the Chop House were far and away much better than the ribeye at New York Grill. They were bigger hunks of meat, in both the length of their perimeter and in their thickness. More tender, more flavorful and definitely juicier, with juices running on the plate as soon as the crusty exterior was pierced by a fork. Once I began tucking in to that beefy delight it disappeared all too rapidly. It was very difficult to resist the urge to pick up that big beefy bone and begin gnawing. This was truly a heroic chop. The steaks at the Chop House are served with a trio of sauces on the side, and I monopolized the Portobello wine reduction sauce. Now I know a good steak does not need any embellishments, but that mushroom sauce is so good, and it just takes the steak to another plane.
The braised spinach consisted of beautiful emerald colored leaves that melted in the mouth. The sugar snaps were crisp, but not very sweet tasting. A few of the peas were a nice deep green, but the majority of them had a faded green color, like they were possible cooked a bit too long. The potatoes were outstanding. Perfectly cooked discs of potato married to wonderful caramelized onions and butter. I, as usual, cleverly managed to spill onion infused butter on my shirt while transporting potato from plate to mouth. So I was able to enjoy that wonderful sautéed onion perfume the rest of the evening, long after the potatoes met their destiny.
The service was, as usual in this establishment, outstanding. The waitress was knowledgeable, did not intrude, and paced the service well. The runner and bus person served well, and timely, and also did not intrude. Upon arriving at the restaurant for our reservation we had to wait about 90 seconds while management broke up a ten-top in to a couple of four tops, (apparently they were set up for some no-shows) so that we could avail ourselves of one of the four-tops. (There were an ample number of booths available, but management must have wisely noted the not insubstantial girth of two members of our party, and made the decision that we would be more comfortable in a table as opposed to trying to squeeze in to a booth. Once we were seated the host also discretely approached me and asked if I would be more comfortable in an armless chair, this gesture and the way it was delivered (a whisper in the ear) were appreciated. They really know how to handle themselves here. Throughout the meal we were entertained by a live pianist who added to the ambience. I believe the Chop House is decorated in a manner reminiscent with the Mission style and history in Pasadena of Greene and Greene, and I always enjoy being in this space.
For dessert one of the not insubstantial members of our party opted for coffee, I, the most substantial member of the party, could not resist trying the lemon bread pudding, and the skinny guy, relatively speaking, was dying to try the chocolate pecan pie. As it turned out, there was a small wager made while dining on our entrees that the skinny guy would not be able to finish his steak, and, consume a beer battered onion ring. I dont know what it is with these skinny guys, they must all have hollow legs. This particular skinny guy has a professional reputation of being very detail oriented, and that carried over in to his steak consumption, it was detailed and slowly, carefully, methodical. The skinny guy was the last to finish his meal, but he certainly extracted every molecule of meat that was attached to that bone, and he ended up eating more onion rings than his two portly associates.
The skinny guy did not leave anything on his dessert plate, and I believe at that point he was experiencing an out of body experience from his pie. The lemon bread pudding was a nice, warm, soft pillow of moist bread pudding with a perfect lemon flavor. It was plated with a complimentary raspberry sauce and a great dollop of cold whipped cream. Each fork full of pudding and whipped cream represented a day in Heaven.
The Arroyo Chop House is a fine representation of a classic steak house.
Total tab, including tax (but excluding the tip) for three steaks, three starters, four sides, two desserts, six mixed drinks, one glass of wine and one coffee came to $260.00.
A Special Note for hounds contemplating any action that would require an alibi. Apparently the clock on the computer at the Chop House has not been set back to standard time (as noted on my receipt). So anyone planning on dining and criming, should make appropriate adjustments to their schedule.
New York Grill
950 Ontario Mills Road
(Fourth Street exit, I-15)
Arroyo Chop House
536 South Arroyo Parkway
Save your money, walk a block up to Houston's...
My girlfriend and I, being the carnivores that we are, tried out the Arroyo Chophouse last night to a far less than stellar experience. I'd hesitate to call it a disappointment because we love trying out new restaurants and we hadn't frequented this one yet, but the $150 price tab on our bill (a fair price for a superb dining experience) felt woefully overpriced compared to Houston's, which is just up the street and would have served up far superior experience for under $100.
For starters, the ambiance of the Chop House felt nice; A little pretentious for my own tastes, but certainly nothing to turn my nose up at. A live pianist/singer made for a pleasant atmosphere, and at 9:30pm, the restaurant was still on a brief wait. The artwork on the walls was a little low ball - and the overall layout of the seating felt cluttered and ill conceived as it made having nice, private conversations almost impossible. Sad to say, the waiter serving us our sourdough bread (quite delicious) was the high point for the night.
The service for the rest of the night felt overly polite and "forced" if there is such a thing. Instead of a natural, gracious staff, we were confronted with a staff that would bend over backwards with their "my pleasure sir!'s" and "certainly!'s" at the table, only to walk less than 10 feet away and carry on a loud conversation with their staffers, most of which were less than savory for a fine dining experience. Don't get me wrong - I was a waiter for a good deal of time and I'm far from naive to the inner mind of the serving staff - but this open, loud banter marred what would have otherwise been a pleasant atmosphere. Sure, it was 10pm, but this is still inexcusable as the restaurant was still full of patrons paying top dollar for a pleasant experience.
We began with their special for the night, a crab cake. It was tasty, but felt lacking somehow. The accompanying sauce felt poorly matched and the entire cake lacked any sort of kick that would have made it worthwhile. It was good, just nothing to write home about. We munched on half of it and pushed it aside.
Naturally, we both ordered steaks: my girlfriend opting for the Filet Mignon and myself opting for the 40day aged New York. Both came out rather late, both were charred "Pittsburgh" style when we only ordered them Medium. The flavor of the steaks were inadequate and we tasted more of their grill than we could taste the meat (not a good flavor in this case as they do not cook with wood).
Being a regular of Houston's for a while, these $40 ala carte cuts didn't even compare to the exquisite $32 cuts just a block away (which come with a side item for the price!). All in all, what should have been the centerpiece of the meal turned out to be a total dud. We weren't even offered the three side sauces that you mentioned, although the meat was actually so flavorless that this might have been like putting lipstick on a pig - pardon the pun. In my opinion a great steak never needs a sauce and the notion of having a sauce as a standard accompaniment suggests that the meat is less than worthy of being eaten on its own. The meat was good - not inedible or anything - just not nearly what I was expecting for such a well reputed restaurant. As you mentioned in your review of the New York Steakhouse - I could have gotten a tastier cut for $13 at Chili's.
The cuts themselves were fatty and full of gristle, which is fine if I'm grilling up a $7 steak from the local grocery store, but brought a certain lack of class to my experience. Again, I don't mean to harp on it - but at Houston's each cut of meat is trimmed carefully so that you can actually eat every little bite that's on your plate without need for a pile of fat set aside. Houston's cuts are consistently amazing and each bite is chalk full of flavor so rich you often need to slow down to savor each moment. Working through the Arroyo cut felt like more work than was necessarily - consistently having to poke at the meat to avoid biting into gristle. I finally gave up about halfway through.
The side items were mixed - with the "caramelized onion sweet corn" turning out to be pretty darn good - and the baked potato (a staple for any great steakhouse) turning out to be merely average. For anyone who has ever had a great baked potato - you'll know what I mean. This is another area where Houston's takes the cake - they've got baked potatoes down to an art form.
Aside from the meat (my biggest source of disappointment), I was also shocked by their subpar beer selection. Certainly, fine restaurants usually focus in on wine's as their drink of choice - but I've never felt okay about spending $15 on a great glass of wine when I can get a world class pint with my steak for $7. Well, that is unless I'm at the Arroyo Steakhouse - where the finest beer they serve is probably Guinness (this is a sad selection) and I could pick up ANY of their beers at the local gas station. Compared to Houston's, who carries no less than 6 outstanding beers that can match up with any type of meal you can imagine, I found myself grumbling as I opted for Arroyo's generic Heff (I think it was Widmer) for $4.50. I'd have happily paid an extra $10 just to have the option of ordering a nicer beer.
In conclusion - we opted out of their dessert menu - after waiting more than 10 minutes after completing our meal for the waiter to even walk by. It took another 10 minutes to complete the credit card transaction and get out. We left a more than polite 25% tip for the waiter's hard work (most of this wasn't his fault and we sympathize) and went our merry way. All in all we left feeling good that we'd tried something new, but slightly burned that we could have spent a good $65 less and gotten a far superior meal at Houston's, which is literally a block north.
So, while I strongly advocate trying out new things at least once (and the Arroyo Chop House is no exception), I'd take my wallet to Houston's any day of the week over this one.
Funny you mention the meat up the street, yet on my most recent visit to Houston's, the Santa Monica version as opposed to the Pasadena one, the meat was the one place where I was let down. I normally stand up for anything and everything about Houston's from the food to the service, yet on that visit I felt totally let down.
Yet, every visit to the Chop House has been wonderful, the room's layout and decor are perfect from a Craftsman-style perspective, and the food as good as always. One the hallmarks of the place is its quality and consistency. It strives for the Ruth's Chris/Mastro's/Arnie Morton's marketplace and is at least the equal to any of them.
As to beer vs. wine, the Smith Bros. as owners have always had a very strong policy regarding quality wines and booze, yet beer and red meat has never been their strong suit, and apparently it still is not. Too bad for beer lovers, yet good for us winos as we like it that way(g)!
Fantastic Revue! I "had" a business in Ontario/Rancho Cucamonga area. We had to wine and dine major players in our industry and sadly NY Grill is the only place to go in that area. Plus we only did lunches there, for dinners we had to come into LA. NY Grill does fairly well, I do not understand why a high caliber restaurant wouldn't work out there. By the way have you gone to Sycamore Inn? New owners a few years ago spruced up the place, my meal was decent but not special, then again it was right after the changeover.
incredible review (as always Chico Wayne!!)
I love a good steak, I am a CARNIVORE, so this is right up my alley. Thanks!!
I actually had a great steak at the Yucatan Grill in Seal Beach the other day. (10 ounce caribbean style with garlic, and special sauce).....different type of place altogether, but I just felt like adding.....