PAST KNIFE REGRESSION

Monti's La Casa Vieja, a longtime Valley meat emporium, is another place that hasn't fully come to terms with the fact that the 21st century is fast approaching. Former senator Carl Hayden was born in this building back in 1877. I don't think he'd have much trouble recognizing his birthplace today. The main room has a rustic, Western lodge look. Wooden beams crisscross the ceiling and a strong stone wall holds up the roof. Low, red lights and red booths recall an old-time saloon. A bear head, guns and insipid cowboy art from the John Wayne school line the walls. A fountain, gently burbling in the corner, is soothing, but somehow seems out of place. I suspect a reincarnated Senator Hayden wouldn't have any difficulty recognizing the fare, either. "Deep-fried" and "beer-battered" are adjectives that precede all the appetizers except the shrimp cocktail and Buffalo wings. Zucchini, mushrooms and cheese sticks are the predictable options. There are deep-fried vegetable sticks, too, a cheese-tinged, commercially battered pur‚e of vegetables that sports a pleasing crunch. The shrimp cocktail, though, featuring six small, nondescript crustaceans, won't cause any desert dwellers to pull up stakes and stampede to the sea. Actually, there's little reason to fill up on appetizers, since you can gorge for free on Monti's Roman bread. It's focaccialike, warm and fresh, and suffused with enough rosemary to cause permanent olfactory damage. I'd have been perfectly happy just to make a meal of it. The dinner salad offers little reason to stop munching on the bread, except if you're a big-time spender. Because for an extra 65 cents, Monti's will dish up real Roquefort dressing that turns the greenery into a treat. If only all of life's pleasures could be so cheaply acquired. Monti's longevity--it's been around since the Fifties--is no fluke. It gives the people what they want, at a price they can handle. That means meat, often for about the same price as a large popcorn and soft drink at a local moviehouse. The most expensive steak is the special cut sirloin, at $12.50. The kitchen did a first-rate job broiling it, and the juicy slab should satisfy even the most intense carnivorous cravings. But quality can be found at the other end of the price scale, too. Monti's must have cornered the pork-chop market to offer them at such a bargain rate. And the two meaty chops should make your taste buds feel as good as your wallet. The prime rib, unfortunately, won't remind anyone of Beef Eaters' hand-carved hunk. It had significant amounts of fat and a stringy, chewy texture. And though I requested it medium-rare, it arrived barely singed by flame. Three of the side dishes--French fries, baked potato and rice--are strictly routine appetite suppressants. The spaghetti, though, is weird: The cheesy, saucy glop looks and tastes like something from a coffee-shop kids' menu. No reason to linger for dessert, since a stroll down Mill Avenue will yield much better results. The sweets have a heavy, institutional touch, from the cafeteria-style apple pie to the characterless turtle cheesecake. True, the desserts are cheap; unhappily, they taste like it. Why send people out wiping their lips, instead of licking them?

@7col:Beef Eaters Restaurant: Sole … la nantua $4.95 Tournedos 16.95 Two lamb chops 18.95 Crepe suzettes (for two) 9.00 Monti's La Casa Vieja: Vegetable sticks

$3.00 Pork chops 5.80 Prime rib (large) 11.20 Turtle cheesecake 2.00
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@pq:Beef Eaters is a shrine to our distant, meat-eating past.
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@hed:Past Knife Regression
@by:By Howard Seftel
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@jump:Cafe
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@cut:Prime interest: Veteran meat-and-potatoes man Jay Newton holds court at Beef Eaters Restaurant. @body:

Proofer: Style change: Since we use the word "crepe" with no accent, this will now apply to all crepe dishes, i.e., crepe suzette, etc.

Thanks, Scott

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