A dinner treat at Morton’s in San Francisco

I’ve never tried the famous steaks from Morton’s The Steakhouse before due to the prohibitive prices, but when my boss told me it’s less expensive in the US, I figured I might as well take the plunge and give it a go during our stopover in San Francisco on our way back from CES. It’s exciting to visit a place for the first time, having heard and read several recounted experiences, but it’s different when one is dining with another who has been through it himself; the comparative absence of uncertainty and a knowledge of how it all works in a place as storied and widely-known the world over is distinctly reassuring in an environment that could quickly turn snobbish and condescending.

Having made the ten-minute walk from our hotel to the restaurant along Post Street, we provided our name for the reservation and were led to our table through the dim interior that was already buzzing with diners sticking their cutlery into the starters. Comfortably seated, we were presented the menu with a quick overview of the server’s personal favourites (believe at your own risk) from each section, then left alone to make our decision. After placing our orders, I used the opportunity to take in my surroundings, marvelling at the wine room through its glass walls while trying to ignore the racket originating from the adjacent table of Korean tourists who seemed to be enjoying a celebratory dinner, oblivious to the other diners around them. Asians are indeed everywhere these days (no Singtel-esque error there).

Lobster bisque (US$17)
Lobster bisque (US$17)

Keen on an appetiser but also to avoid overeating, we split an order of lobster bisque and were surprised when each of us was served one of these bowls. If this was to be an indication of the portions that would soon greet us, we knew it was the right call to start conservatively. The bisque itself was velvety smooth and suitably rich in flavour, bearing the distinctive notes of roasted crustacean shells together with the sharpness from the alcoholic ingredients of which I’m unable to identify through my taste buds. Each bowl came with a healthy chunk of meat from the lobster tail, so both of us had no complaints. It’s probably worth pointing out that the bisque has a strong taste of pepper, so watch out for it if that isn’t one of your favourite spices. I loved it and appreciated that the kitchen wasn’t too heavy-handed with the cream.

16oz centre-cut prime ribeye (US$51)
16oz centre-cut prime ribeye (US$51)

Shortly after, my order of the centre-cut prime ribeye arrived – all 16 ounces of it. That’s just over 450 grams – insanely huge, in other words. This restaurant (and the country for that matter) doesn’t muck about with half-arsed portions, evidently. I ordered my steak medium-rare as usual, but this time I didn’t doubt for a moment whether the meat was pink inside with that tiny bit of red in the centre. Morton’s of all places would know how to handle and prepare their beef to customers’ orders, so it came as no surprise when I made the first incision through the salted crust with my steak knife. Each slice of meat was memorably delicious but if I had to nitpick, I reckon they could go a little easier on the salt crust because a little bit of the caramelised exterior with each slice of beef was enough to fill my mouth with a borderline-uncomfortable level of saltiness. And that’s taking into account my high tolerance of salt.

Bacon and onion macaroni and cheese (US$13)
Bacon and onion macaroni and cheese (US$13)

A gigantic hunk of steak with a generous side of bacon and onion macaroni and cheese – I imagine it might be a carnivore’s culinary wet dream. This was a shoo-in as one of our obligatory sides since the boss was adamant that we order it, because it has all the ingredients for a perfect iteration of the American classic. As one of the two sides we had on the table, in addition to my 16oz ribeye, I had to cruelly ration the limited space in my stomach (#Asianproblems) and therefore could only manage a few forkfuls of the mac & cheese. That said, those few morsels were enough for me to believe that I could have a pretty satisfying meal (portions-wise) with just a “side” of Morton’s macaroni and cheese. It’s actually getting embarrassing how I keep harping on their serving sizes.

Sautéed spinach and button mushrooms (US$13)
Sautéed spinach and button mushrooms (US$13)

Since the boss picked the mac & cheese, I had the option to pick the second side for the table. For what it’s worth, my decision was largely driven by the feeble attempt at a balanced diet. In the greater scheme of things, the spinach clearly wouldn’t count for much. It was tasty, no doubt, and the diced and caramelised onions did no harm to the flavour, but as I recall, it was again a little too salty for my palate. My partiality towards wilted spinach played no uncertain role in helping to gloss over this misjudgement in seasoning, which meant I helped myself to the greens more frequently than the adjacent side of rich carbs.

Despite my appetite and valiant efforts, I could not finish my steak, let alone the sides. There was simply too much of everything. In the end, I had to give up a medallion-sized portion of the ribeye, and if memory serves, the sides were only half-consumed. Being brought up and taught never to waste food if it can be helped, I felt a tinge of remorse as our server removed our plates. We went out of our way to make the point that the food was great but our appetites simply couldn’t match the quantity served, to which the server knowingly acknowledged, as though he’s heard this faux-apology much too often in his time at this restaurant.

I have to commend the restaurant’s service in particular, though. They replaced my glass of shiraz, explaining that the staff noticed there was a crack in the carafe storing the wine I ordered, and so they decided to make the replacement on their own accord. One might argue that this is a litigious country and so this would come as no surprise, but it didn’t stop me from being impressed with their pre-emptive service recovery, if ever there was such a concept. There was no extra charge for the glass of wine that was replaced, of course.

With all things considered, I would regard this meal among one of the most impressive I’ve had so far. Based on the food and service, this certainly ranks alongside the likes of the birthday treat by Pris at Wooloomooloo in Singapore (also a steak dinner) and the reverse dinner treat at Bincho (for the omakase experience). At this point, Pris would probably wonder, as might some of you (well done you for still reading this!) why I didn’t compare it with our experience at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner (read about our meal here) or Bistro Molines in the Hunter Valley. For me, these places had too much of a sentimental attachment for them to be compared fairly, so I don’t think it would be fair to put other restaurants up against them.

If you’re wondering whether Morton’s steaks are all they’re hyped up to be, you should just save up for a nice meal, make reservations ahead and find out for yourself. I reckon it’ll be money well spent – just make sure you skip the preceding two meals to free up as much space as you can.

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