The Avenue renders an excellent homage to the steakhouses of yore on all fronts, except…
Cameron Mitchell getsjust about everything right at The Avenue Steak Tavern-the snappy retro dining room, the efficient servers in their crisp, white shirts and suspenders, the clubby feel of the place, even the huge neon "THE AVENUE" sign across the front of the building. Everything is primed for success at this Grandview spot. It's too bad the execution in the kitchen and the quality of ingredients don't always measure up.
Let's begin with the positives. The design of this place evokes those old-time men's club steakhouses of New York. The Avenue most closely resembles Manhattan's Sparks Steak House-among the city's best (although not nearly the oldest). The dining rooms sport bright red-leather banquettes and chairs, lots of pretty dark wood and like many of the New York houses, the walls are littered with framed black and whites of famous (and not-so-famous) clientele engaged in bonhomie, plentiful food and even more plentiful drink.
The Avenue's small outdoor patio faces Grandview Avenue, and just inside to the left is a beautiful, warmly backlit bar. The bar feels like the kind of place you'd want to sip a fashionable cocktail with a romantic partner, perhaps from one of the elegant martini glasses.
I had nothing but excellent service as well. Though the crew is mostly young (you were expecting florid-faced silver-haired Irishmen?) but they go about their business with earnestness and good cheer. I often make special requests to see how the staff will react; my demands were fulfilled promptly with smiles.
And the menu reads like a winner with all the classics: oysters Rockefeller, beefsteak tomato salad, creamed spinach, potatoes in all the steakhouse ways, lamb chops, fish and, of course, numerous cuts of beef.
On all my visits there were problems with both quality and execution. Although all the steaks, except the skirt and filet mignon, are prime grade, I found them lacking the sharp minerality and richness of truly great beef. The top sirloin ($27.99) is the best of the bunch. I didn't take issue with the preparation-but overall, the quality of the meat served didn't live up to (admittedly high) expectations.
The menu offers twin lobster tails ($37.99), served with asparagus and drawn butter. My plate sported two smallish broiled lobster tails (siblings, perhaps?), the white meat partially extracted for ease of consumption. Lobster is, of course, at its sweetest and most tender if it was swimming right before cooked. These twins from Maine had not seen water for a good while, having arrived at the restaurant frozen, resulting in a tougher tail with understated flavor.
The Atlantic salmon served here is farmed ($22.99). While fish farming techniques have greatly improved in the past decade, I hoped that a high-class steakhouse would offer wild-caught fish. The salmon here is fine, but is softer and fattier (you would be, too, if you were raised in a pen) and lacking the sweet tang of the ocean that only comes with truly fresh fish.
And what to make of the dinner rolls? Servers proudly explained they were from Grandview's own Stan Evans Bakery. The soft little things are as plain as plain can be, and except for a hint of rosemary, are nearly flavorless. Yes, they are like the rolls served in the '50s, but in this age of excellent breads, why these? (Indeed, The Avenue uses great local bread from Dan the Baker on some of its sandwiches.)
Preparation problems also marred each of my visits. One night's steak tartare ($12.99) was so over-seasoned that the raw beef was indistinguishable from the pickle and other flavorings-and so ice cold that it wouldn't have mattered anyway. The skirt steak featured in the steak frites ($27.99) tasted as if it had been recooked on a flattop where bacon or other meats had been prepared and was served well done despite a request for medium. The creamed spinach failed under the weight of too much cream and salt, while the Chop House Corn-a dish served at the original Mitchell's steakhouse-was wildly salty as well, not to mention greasy.
But not all is lost at The Avenue. There's nothing wrong with the pile of golden shoestring fries ($4 as a side). They come as crisp as can be-vigorously, but not excessively, salted and sport real potato taste. I had no qualms with the French onion soup ($6.50); it comes well-cheesed with a pungent Emmentaler, provolone and mozzarella mix floating on a round of brioche in a deep, salty (as it should be) beef broth sweetened with caramelized onion.
Likewise, the shrimp cocktail ($12.99) is a model of its kind-fresh, crisp crustaceans with that sharp, red, horseradish-laced sauce so loved in the old days and still today. Salads are fine, too-except beefsteak tomato, which should never be served out of season. The Avenue's Caesar ($5.99) has a rather tart, but tasty, garlic and anchovy-laced dressing. I recommend the blue cheese dressing for the Tavern and spinach salads; it's deliciously creamy with little crumbles of the ripe cheese.
As a category, desserts were somewhat better than the rest of the food, including a dark and strongly flavored (if a bit dry) chocolate cake, a nicely crackling crème brulee and better than average cheesecake. The Avenue's is a medium-heavy version with just the right amount of sweetness.
You can trust the bartenders here to make decent cocktails and, not surprisingly, the old-school recipes are emphasized. The classic martini, gin or vodka, is just right-cold as can be but not watered down, dry but not too dry. The wine selection is acceptable -prices are on the high side compared to state minimum retail, but not exceedingly so.
This place has such promise-I love the setting, the service and the menu. Mitchell and his group know how to make great food (see: The Guild House). But with another Avenue Steak Tavern planned for Dublin next year, it's time to give the ingredients and menu execution a makeover. Do that and The Avenue can become the high-class steakhouse it is meant to be.
Above, the wine selection