Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cole's Chop House

Sarah's boss was in town for a business trip, and he's a big fan of steak (Ruth's Chris being a regular weekly meal for him -- guess that's easy to do when you are a VP), so I had suggested we book a reservation at Cole's Chop House, but it was too last minute so we gave Rotisserie & Wine a try instead. Fortunately, their business day went late and he was too jet-lagged for that dinner. (I say "fortunately" because I think he would have found both the hipster-casual environment and the meat at Rotisserie and Wine to be subpar -- especially considering they were out of the only beef item they had on the menu.)

However, when that occurred I figured we should book the next night's dinner at Cole's Chop House in downtown Napa. I had never been to this restaurant, but you can't go wrong with a good chop house, and I'd heard this one was decent -- I figured, looking at the menu on the website, that with prices like that, it'd better be good! I had also seen the interior when dining at Ubuntu next door for my birthday a couple of years ago, and we have also tried Celadon, Cole's sister restaurant down the street, which is also decent and with a menu that's a little more varied and intriguing.

Cole's bills itself as a "Classic American Steakhouse" and it definitely has the standard old-school chop house vibe -- not unlike Ruth's Chris, but it's nice that Cole's is a unique location, not a chain. The atmosphere works well for this "gentlemanly" type approach: it's a lofty old brick building, which is in fact the 1886 Williams-Kyser building. Rather than describe the history of it, I will let their own website do the talking:

Named after its original owners, the Williams building was the first commercial block constructed north of the Napa creek. The hand-hewn native stone structure cost $26,000 to build and its designers were San Francisco architects Wright and Saunders.

While owned by the Williams family, the Main Street structure was used as an exhibition hall during the 1890 Napa and Solano counties fair. Three years later, the building was outfitted to be the temporary home of the local armory. At about the same time, D.S. Kyser became a tenant when he relocated his furniture and undertaking business to the Main Street block.

In 1897, the Williams Building became the site of both civic pride and notoriety. Shortly after the arrival of that year, January 15, 1897, the Napa County Courthouse was the scene of the last public execution held in California. That day, Billy Roe was hanged for murdering Lucina Greenwood of Napa in 1891. Kyser attended the execution in an official capacity as the Napa County Coroner. Eventually, Roe’s remains were delivered to Kyser’s Main Street undertaking business.

So, there you have it. Now on to the service and food. The waiter, like the atmosphere, fit a "classic American steakhouse" well. He was professional and well-mannered, serious but not aloof or unfriendly. He had the sort of "old world" service demeanor that I know some people are very fond of.

The menu is a little overwhelming at first, especially for someone like me who (I'll admit) is not exactly a beef connoisseur or meat expert. I have enough trouble distinguishing different cuts, let alone special features like Wagyu, Dry-Aged, or Certified Angus. The prices for any of the steaks are not cheap, most of them being close to $40 (some as high as $60 or $70!), and this is without any sides, which are served family-style separately. I opted for a special they had for the evening, mostly because it did come with sides and they sounded pretty great: a marinated New York strip with mushrooms sauteed in fois gras, served with truffled mashed potatoes.

However, the sides were a little unnecessary, considering we also ordered asparagus (cooked just right -- tender but bright green and a little crisp. I never know how they manage to do that at restaurants), creamed spinach, and mushrooms -- not just any mushrooms, but a seasonal special of sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic, shallots, red wine sauce, and truffle oil. This was fantastic and I'd say well worth the $15 (for a large portion that could easily be enough for 4 people).

After seeing the petite filet and filet mignon ordered by Sarah and her boss, I was a little disappointed in my selection. The sides were, in fact, pretty good, but the steak was not so tender (despite being ordered medium -- and served actually medium rare); the filets were clearly much more juicy and tender (to be expected, but my New York strip was pretty sub-par even when compared to ones I've ordered at places like Outback steakhouse, to give you some comparison). I tried Sarah's Double G Brand (Red Lodge Montanta) 7 oz. petite filet and it was, in fact, excellent -- very fresh, flavorful, juicy, tender.

We also ordered wine, for a few reasons: (1) what is filet mignon without a good red? Blasphemy, that's what. (2) Cole's has a very decent and pretty extensive wine list -- to give you some idea, it includes a table of contents, with local Napa wines being divided up by AVA -- how cool is that?? On top of that, although the markup is still pretty high, it still seems to be more reasonable here than at some other restaurants (such as Rotisserie & Wine). The corkage here is $25/bottle, which is absurd, but might still be the best route if you have one you know you like. We went with a Chimney Rock 2006 cabernet sauvignon, since that is one we know and like, but it was $105 (retails for $65). I'm going to stand by my belief that: (a) corkage should be reasonable, and (b) wine markups should be on par with corkage fees. One would think a markup of 40% would still net them some profit, instead of the 60% markup they charged for this bottle.

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