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The Weekly Eater

BY NADINE KAM

Sunday, December 2, 2001


art
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Morton's, patrons are shown exactly what's on the menu.




Morton’s is a bit fussy and
pricey, but the food is great

Well, I see Morton's opened just in time. In the two hours I was there, I witnessed the "Happy Birthday Song" performed three times and heard the "Happy Anniversary Song" once. Who knows how many first dates were in the crowd? I guess it's the newest special-occasion restaurant. It has to be at these prices, with steaks running $31.95 for a Cajun Ribeye Steak to $38.95 for the classic Filet Oskar, topped with asparagus, jumbo lump crabmeat and sauce Bernaise.

When confronted with prices like these, my inner Scrooge rebels. Anyone can grill their own steak for much less, thank you very much. But, back to reality. Unless you have access to the best cuts of beef, and are rich enough to have an industrial kitchen, you're unlikely to get a steak as good as at Morton's. Tell you why later. Allow me to ramble.

With a restaurant as celebrated as this one, backed by 63 restaurants and a 23-year history, I had my B.S. detector on high, as I dislike falling for other writers' hype. When I arrived at 9 p.m. -- the only time slot left open by steak enthusiasts -- starving and tired after a day of work and shopping, I was ready to sit down and eat. Instead, I had to wait to be seated by the maitre d', who was trotting about the room checking on other patrons. It seemed silly to wait an extra 10 minutes when we could have been seated by the hostess. Given the little elevator jaunt to the restaurant from the Ala Moana mall level, behind Banana Republic, it already seemed too fussy.

Once we were seated, I realized the crowd volume is set at a constant high, so "talking" is really a controlled yell. By this time I wasn't expecting much at all. Then the show began. In grand European style nearly everything on the menu was displayed in a lengthy show-and-tell session as one of our waiters recited the entire menu while waving Porterhouses, filets mignon, onions, fish fillets, broccoli and a lobster before our eyes (the lobster I didn't really want to see).

Seeing the raw ingredients wasn't particularly appetizing, and my brain started to shut down after the fourth steak, but I was mesmerized by his memorization skills after two weeks of training. Don't worry, if you're visually inclined, you can get a printed menu, and you can request to skip the spiel.

Though the hostesses required polishing both in person and on the phone, the wait staff was excellent: energetic, personable, ready, willing and for the most part able to answer questions about the menu, and some personal ones as well. Most of our questions were directed at the Tom Cruise look-alike Brian from Sacramento's Morton's. (Girls, you won't believe this, but the man has charm and intelligence to go with those looks.) I was sorry for disparaging Cruise's name earlier this week after learning he's been cast in the film version of Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain." "There's no way he's Inman," I had railed, channeling the spirit of Anne Rice, who also had to eat her words over Cruise's portrayal of her vampire Lestat.

But enough of the beefcake, Morton's is about beef alone, USDA "prime," the top rating for beef, that is then aged for flavor and tenderness.

As a warm-up act we did try the three broiled jumbo sea scallops ($13.95), wrapped in bacon and accompanied by apricot chutney. It was all quite perfect, without a trace of bacon grease. The chutney was superfluous in the company of these flavors.

If you're wondering what to choose for your main course, the consensus on steaks is that the rib eye is the most flavorful, followed by the short loin (including the top loin or strip steak, Porterhouse and tenderloin). Of those, the tenderloin, or filet mignon, is the least flavorful, though it is the most tender, if that is your criterion.

The quick broiling method used here locks in juices and produces a slight and amazingly crisp crust. As I said before, forget about doing this in your dinky oven. Morton's broiler reaches 1,200 degrees.

The 24-ounce Porterhouse is Morton's claim to fame, but that seemed too huge. Instead, we tried the Cajun Ribeye ($31.95), which is not your usual spiced and blackened cut. Here, the spices are pressed in and the steak marinated to achieve a mellow, subtle heat. The crisp crust also registered beneath the Steak au Poivre's ($35.95) layer of five-peppercorn cognac cream sauce. You'll likely end up walking out with a silver foil pouch no matter what you order.

Side dishes are served a la carte, and even the spinach and mushrooms ($6.75) were fresh and vivid, quickly sautéed rather than tossed about until it turns into a dark, jumbled mass. Hash browns ($5.75 for two) were also crisp and grease-free.

They had a dessert presentation ready for the end of the meal, but we had placed an order earlier for the Godiva Hot Chocolate Cake, knowing it takes time to prepare, as do the Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two and Upside Down Apple Pie.

It was quite a yummy evening.



MORTON'S

Ala Moana Shopping Center / 949-1300

Food

Service 1/2

Ambience 1/2

Value 1/2

Hours: 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Boardrooms open daily for private breakfast, lunch and dinner events.

Cost: About $100 for two, without drinks



See some past restaurant reviews in the
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

excellent;
very good, exceeds expectations;
average;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to nkam@starbulletin.com



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