It has taken me a few visits, but I believe I’ve figured out the way this new ByWard Market steakhouse works best.
You want to order steak. Be not distracted by other items on the large menu.
The meat is good – nicely marbled, well seasoned, properly grilled and if it’s the commercially popular cuts of red meat you like (sirloin, rib eye, fillet) you will like it here.
There are other things to like about STeaK Modern Steakhouse. The comely service, say – handsome boys in black and young women with long flippy hair and short cocktail dresses that fit them well. The room is long and leggy, as much lounge as restaurant, decked out in black and red with wonderful walls. One’s done up in leather, another is a rippled white, a third a lovely liquid-scarlet. The bar is busy, the lighting is eclectic, moody and fun, and seating at STeaK is plush. I’ve been here on balmy summer evenings, and with the garage doors open to Clarence Street and the sidewalk patio jammed, this is a spirited place.
Opened this winter by York Entertainment (owners of The Cornerstone across the street, Fat Tuesdays, Bar 101, among other restaurants, bars and lounges in the city) STeaK is their first foray into high-end dining.
They’ve called this place a “Modern Steakhouse” and I suppose if you figure in the look, the music and the vibe, they’ve got that about right. But as the formula for most steakhouses is to stick with the meat and eschew pretty much everything else, the “modern” moniker is a bit misleading.
Starters range from not quite up to the mark to really quite bad.
Among the former, slot the wild mushrooms on homemade flatbread. These are tame mushrooms on thin rounds of something white and tasteless.
There are shrimp covered in slivered almonds and deep-fried with a spicy sugary sauce – more an interesting failure than a complete flop.
The Caesar is prettily splayed on a long white plate, its parmesan bits deep-fried in trendy fashion, but Caesars these days all end up tasting cloyingly of commercial mayonnaise to me, and this one didn’t surprise me in that regard.
Lemon gnocchi are absolute bullets.
The steak sushi is so bad I spit it out – one of those rare moments I wished for paper napkins.
You don’t want to get too fancy with the starch options with your steak. Choose fries over the wasabi-mashed or the double-baked.
As for sauces, I’m still laughing at what arrived when I asked for a side of BÃ©arnaise. The peppercorn demi-glace tastes of dark, treacly salt. You’re going to want to push aside the homemade ketchup that comes with these steaks. It is icky-sweet pinkish goo.
Fish tastes pre-frozen, pre-portioned and juiceless. I sent my first salmon back. The second one arrived only slightly less dry. I’ve tried the linguini, which may be “hand-rolled” but is horribly gummy, and the rosÃ© sauce tastes of tomato paste with vodka, cream and an uncomfortable amount of Tabasco.
The burger, however, is surprisingly good. I say surprising because the menu tells me it’s made with sirloin, my server tells me it’s ground in house, but when I ask for it cooked to medium, I was told it had to be cooked to the internal temperature of Hades or the food police would come calling.
But I ordered it anyway and though it arrived grey through and through and a bit sweet for my liking (the menu tells us there’s coffee and brown sugar in this burger, which seems to me a secret best kept secret) still (still!) it was a fat, juicy, tasty thing tucked into a very fresh bun.
Bailey’s crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e is one of my sonars for a restaurant that isn’t serious about food. So I thought I’d be disappointed with the cheesecake too, but it was just fine, with a nut crust, served with a swell strawberry sauce.
Carrot cake is two Easy-Bake Oven-size cakes that are fresh and moist but taste mostly of cinnamon and with an odd bridal train of cream cheese sauce.
If you’re a beer lover, you will notice the list speaks of devotion to Molson’s. You won’t find anything on tap, or anything local.
But the wine list may be, in fact, the one modern thing about Modern Steakhouse. It’s pretty predictable (best of Vintages Essentials, essentially) but it offers bottles of various price points, including some big reds for the big reds people, at extremely fair prices, and some bottles – and here’s the modern bit – at less than double their retail price.
So order wine and order steak and do not test the limits.