CARNIVORE CRUISE

Sometimes a man's got to do what a man's got to do.
Fifty weeks a year I suppress all the instincts that Freud warned us about. Instead, I sublimate them through dutiful rounds of household activities: shopping for groceries, cleaning the pool and chauffeuring the kids.

But every six months the ancient primeval urge, which drove my paternal ancestors from the safety of the cave and the security of the family, possesses me. I am gripped by an irresistible impulse I cannot tame.

I must have male companionship, bourbon and water, and a slab of prime rib.
Clearing the excursion with our wives, my friend John and I set out for two Valley restaurants that don't put umbrellas in their drinks or heart-healthy logos next to their menu dishes.

Our first stop was Treulich's, a Valley landmark for more than a generation. If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep during the Eisenhower administration and woke up today in Treulich's, he'd wouldn't think an extra hour had passed.

There are dark brown vinyl booths, dark red carpeting and wooden beams. Pictures of horses adorn the walls, and a portrait of John Wayne greets you near the restrooms. Just inside the door hangs a plaque announcing the weekly Rotary luncheon. There's not a potted plant in sight. Dim pool-hall lighting and slow moving ceiling fans complete the effect. Treulich's looks like the fanciest restaurant in a small Midwestern town in 1960.

The dinner menu is trapped in the same spot on the time-space continuum. It's heavy on meat, and you won't be bothered with any foreign-sounding sauces or methods of preparation. The poultry and seafood items don't cross any culinary frontiers either, unless Southern fried chicken and deep fried breaded butterfly shrimp are your idea of adventure. While I got primed with some bourbon, John warmed up with a scotch and soda and a forbidden cigarette. Fully fortified, we plunged back to the age of the hunter-gatherer, when manly men drank, smoked and ate red meat to demonstrate their virility. Unfortunately, the shrimp cocktail appetizer tested only my manly ability to withstand unpleasantness without complaint. It tasted like it had been around since the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Five medium-sized rubbery shrimp rested on a plate, surrounding a cup of cocktail sauce. When I ate out as a kid, I used to plead with my parents to shell out $1.75 for a shrimp cocktail. Every once in a while I'd find the perfect whiny pitch and they'd cave in. But I couldn't imagine anyone begging to eat this $6.95 appetizer.

A half-rack of baby back ribs, on the other hand, came meaty and smoky with a mild flavorful sauce. Meals here come with soup or salad, and we sampled each. I felt sorry for the clams in this night's New England clam chowder. No chef even raised a sweat over them. The chowder tasted as if the only kitchen implement wielded in its preparation was a can opener. I began to suspect that if it doesn't come from a hog or a cow, Treulich's is not going to be terribly interested in it. The chilled tossed salad provided confirming evidence. It was absolutely ordinary, just some romaine lettuce, a few slivers of beets, some packaged croutons and a forgettable dressing. Happily, though, a warm loaf of pumpernickel kept us from drinking on a stomach only a few ribs away from empty.

Most of the effort here does go into the meats, but my aroused desires never got entirely satisfied. Although nicely cooked just south of medium-rare, the New York sirloin lacked the marbling and juiciness that can anesthetize my carnivorous cravings for six months at a time. Accompanying the steak was some acceptable cauliflower absolutely ruined by an inedible citron sauce. My fork puckered before it even reached my lips.

The prime rib at Treulich's is probably the best thing going here. Tender, hefty and moist, it's full of flavor and hardly needed the little metal cupfuls of Ôjus" and white horseradish dip. But the rice alongside was a disappointment, as bland as any office cafeteria version.

Like the food, the service is Midwestern friendly and informal, with lots of ÔHow're you guys doin'?" When we asked about dessert, the waitress paused dramatically and announced she'd actually show them to us. While she went for the platter we amused ourselves by guessing what would turn up.

It wasn't hard. We just tried to imagine what Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs might have expected. Nothing looked particularly tempting, and the German chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookie pie we settled on added nothing but calories to the evening. As John got in his final smoke, we realized that maybe 1960 seemed like a great time only in retrospect.

If Treulich's is stuck in the Eisenhower era, Chubb's hasn't gotten past the Carter years. Dark plush booths ring the room, and there's lots of dark wood and dark green carpeting. Lighting is subdued enough to encourage napping. As at Treulich's, the walls are decorated with horse prints. (Query for restaurant consultants: Do you really think diners want to look at pictures of horses when they're eating meat?) But because we're in the late 1970s here, there are lots of plants and greenery and an intrusive music system piping in loud pop and soul.

In the corner of the dining area stands a cigarette machine. Two ashtrays rest on every table and several cigarette stains are burned into the heavy wood. A glance at the menu and puffing customers confirms our suspicions: Chubb's exists in a world that never heard of the Surgeon General, coronary bypasses or nouvelle cuisine. It's a darned good world, at least for an evening.

Fulfilling childhood longings, I again tried a shrimp cocktail. Chubb's version is worth nagging for. Six decent-sized shrimp had the flavor and texture that I recall from my youth, accompanied by the sharpest horseradish cocktail sauce I've ever encountered.

Chubb's also serves a superb half-rack of baby back ribs as an appetizer. These are lean, meaty creatures, cooked crisp and crunchy, with a terrific sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce. They're about as good as I've had at a non-ribs place. As at Treulich's, dinners here come with soup or salad. The soup, at least, doesn't suffer from benign neglect. The evening's Southwestern bean soup had a homemade touch, stocked thick with white beans. Pieces of smoked ham in the savory broth indicated that somebody back in the kitchen cared about rustling up some flavor.

The salad, though, was strictly routine: some iceberg and romaine, unredeemed by a few slices of fresh mushrooms. Warm pumpernickel and some tasteless white bread occupied us while we waited for our main courses.

I went for the Chubb's extra cut of prime rib, enough for two, a slab of beef on the bone so monstrous it looked like it came from an elephant. Perfectly cooked from its pink interior to the light brown edges, the prime rib was wonderfully juicy and crammed with flavor. This was just the kind of red meat I require to put my meat-eating urges on hold for the next few months.

Just as good was Chubb's filet, about a half-pound of filet mignon topped with crab and bearnaise sauce. The meat was rich and fork-tender, just as I'd hoped. But part of me also feared it would be covered with that dreadful imitation krab" that restaurants try to pass off as the real thing. Instead, a nice portion of real crab (a piece of shell I bit into confirmed it) made a good foil. And the chef showed a bit of restraint with the bearnaise, putting on only enough to enhance the combination of flavors, not drown them. The side dishes also showed off Chubb's attention to detail. Instead of bland white rice, we got some stir-fried Oriental rice seasoned with soy sauce and green pepper. And the thick-cut french-fries, crispy and light, actually managed to slow down our demolition of the steak.

The only place Chubb's seems to have overlooked detail is in busboy training. We couldn't put our forks down, in earnest conversation, without someone swooping by to whisk our still-full plates away.

Desserts come from Oscar Taylor, except for a homemade chocolate mousse. Perhaps Chubb's should make its own desserts, because the light, bittersweet mousse was the perfect ending for this gut-expanding meal.

It's probably inevitable that prime rib and steak joints are going to seem stuck in a vanished time, like a Bogart movie or an Elvis tune. Tastes and styles change. They don't make movies, music or restaurants like they used to. But we still occasionally fire up Casablanca" on the VCR, and Jailhouse Rock" on the CD carousel. The solid predictability that hopelessly dates them is also their greatest strength. Same for Treulich's and Chubb's.

JERRY'S SECRET BATTLE PLAN... v5-20-92

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