Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Whole Package

Everyone has something special they do for birthday, anniversary or Valentine's Day celebrations. Some of you like to have your favorite home cooked meal made for you, or maybe you have a special cake your mother has always made for your birthday. Zach and I do steak dinner. We will use any reason to celebrate by going out for a steak dinner. We do about three of these dinners each year: my birthday, his birthday, anniversary (sometimes Valentine's Day). We treat each other for our birthdays, and we try to find different places to go each time. The ones we have done since moving to Los Angeles include: Houston's, The Lodge (which is closed now, unfortunately), The Montecito Cafe, Ruth's Chris, and Fogo De Chao. A quick review of each, you ask? Why, of course:

Houston's: Although they have some in Florida, I never went to Houston's until I moved to Los Angeles. I would describe this place as the kind of restaurant that wealthy folks will go to for a hearty burger. It is nice, always busy, and the food is everything you want it to be when going in for a steak dinner: The steak is always cooked properly, the potatoes are creamy with a salty and crisp skin, and the wine selection is more than I can ask for.

The Lodge: Apparently, this place is closed now. It is a shame because it was definitely a restaurant to which I was planning a return visit. Oh well.

Montecito Cafe: We went up the coast about an hour and a half to Santa Barbara for our anniversary last year. This place was not a steakhouse. They had a variety of dishes, steak being one of them. The thing that impressed me about this place was the way everything went together. Usually at a steakhouse, I am just there for the steak and nothing else really matters, but this meal felt so complete. The side dishes (mashed potatoes and vegetables) and the appetizer (goat cheese pancakes) were outstanding without completely stealing the show. It was a nice overall experience.

Ruth's Chris: I always enjoy steak dinner. This one was delicious and satisfying as usual. However, I don't think I will be back. This place was a little too prissy for my taste. Of course everything was fantastic, but I prefer the laid back atmosphere of Houston's. I even prefer the steak at each of these other places to the steak here. Here is the gist of it: I like my steak to be tender, juicy and beefy; this steak was tender, juicy, and delicate which is fine... just not my preference.

Fogo De Chao: Holy cow! This place is intense, and by intense I mean life-changingly delicious. Lovely servers parade around the restaurant with skewers of filet mignon, parmesan encrusted pork loin, tender chicken wrapped in bacon, top sirloin, lamb, and other delicious things I cannot even remember. There is a salad bar full of fine cheeses, vegetables, and cold cuts. The bread is warm and gooey. This is definitely the most expensive place on my little list (start saving now!), but it is also an amazing experience. I have said enough on this.

Ah, steak dinner. It has been quite a few months since the last time we had one of these celebratory outings. I was craving this sort of thing the other day but had not the special occasion nor the special funds required to celebrate. Zach and I took a ride to the grocery store and bought the materials to make an extravagant steak dinner with all the fixings for just $9.00 each. $18.00 bought us 2 juicy filet mignons, fresh bruschetta on garlic clove artisan bread, balsamic roasted asparagus, and homemade sweet potato fries. We broke open a bottle of wine we had left from our trip to Sonoma that probably cost about the same amount as the entire meal. Either way, we enjoyed a $140 meal for a little more than it costs for a trip to the movies in Los Angeles for two. Anyone who knows me knows I love movies, but I do dare to call this meal:

Better than the Movies Steak Dinner:

In the leading role, we have: Filet Mignon

2 steaks (filet mignon and NY strip are among my favorites)
pinch of salt and pepper for each
dab of olive oil for each

Rub the olive oil into your room temperature steaks, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The idea here is to let the flavor of the steak take center stage. Grill steaks for about 10 minutes (5 minutes on each side) on med/high heat for a steak that is medium rare. That is according to our grill, but you should not be ashamed to slice it open a little to take a peek inside if you need to.

Did I mention we put sauteed mushrooms on top of the steaks?



2 medium sized tomatoes (heirloom tomatoes in different colors like red, orange, and yellow work nicely)
4 think slices of an artisan-style bread (about 1 1/2 inches thick)
high quality olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 clove garlic (whole)
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes (not too too small), and try to get rid of excess tomato seeds and juice. Add salt, pepper, minced garlic and 1 tbsp of olive oil to the tomatoes. Mix together and set aside.
Use a pastry brush to lightly coat each slice of bread with olive oil on all sides. Place the slices of bread in a nonstick pan over med/high heat until it turns a golden brown color. Flip each slice of bread to do the same on the other side. Rub the whole garlic clove into the surface of each slice for flavor.

Pile the tomato mixture generously on top of each slice of warm bread. The bread should be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Sweet Potato Fries

Two medium sized sweet potatoes
olive oil (to coat)
kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven 425 degrees F
Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly. Cut potatoes to shape and size of preference. Place potato slices in a Ziploc bag. Add olive oil, and shake the slices around in the bag to coat with the oil. Once the fries are coated with oil, add the salt to the bag and shake it around again to coat with salt. Spread the coated potato slices on baking sheet, making sure to keep a little space between each one. Bake for 10 minutes; flip each slice and bake the other side for another 10 minutes or until toasted to your liking (should take about 20 minutes in all).

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus spears
1/4 C olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven on to the broil setting.
Make sure to trim the base ends of the asparagus (if needed). Put asparagus spears, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a Ziploc bag. Shake it all about to coat. Spread asparagus spears out on a large baking pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Broil for 5 minutes and serve right away.

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