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Karen Salkin Out to Lunch

         Restaurant Reviews and Commentary from Karen Salkin
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Quick quiz to my readers, viewers, and friends: what do I always say is the best way to get a good review from me? Answer: assign my party a cute waiter! Now, for extra credit, what could be even better than a cute waiter? Answer: a fabulous waiter who just happens to be cute! That’s what The Lodge provided on my recent visit, so what follows is a mainly very positive review, thanks to Keith McDuff, our waiter, the highlight of the night.

About a year ago, Jerry and Karen, my friends from Aspen who always go to the new happening places, very generously took me here, and we were all in agreement that there was nothing good about it. But my notes got lost, so I kept putting off the bad review. Some critics like to pay multiple visits before their critique, but if I have a bad time someplace, I rarely return to the scene of the crime. But, I met a girl at an Oscar Suite who talked me into paying a second visit to The Lodge, so I ventured there again, this time with Mr. X, and I’m glad I did.

I want to get the few negatives out of the way first, but you must read on to the many positives. The place is so noisy, I actually felt like my eyeballs were going to rupture from the pressure of yelling across the table. (That’s a feeling I had many a time during my late, lamented career as a club promoter, and the noise level was definitely one of the worst parts of the job.) This isn’t a great place for a first date, unless both of you want to practice your sign language skills.

And, unless there are four to six in your party, you’ll have to sit at one of the very large, uncomfortable tables that, despite being beautifully crafted from tree sections, are so wide you feel like your date is in another area code! If I didn’t find cell phone use in restaurants abominably rude, I would have just phoned Mr. X to make it easier to communicate. But a lot of people have nothing to say, so the disquiet doesn’t bother them. And some actually like it because it feels more nightlife-esque.

My one food complaint is nit-picking, but this is a pretty expensive establishment, and the fact that they charge $2 each for sauces to go with your steak just seems so gauche. At around $40 for the entrée alone (sides are extra, too), would it kill them to throw in the sauce?

Okay, now that I got all that out of my system, here’s the good stuff. After about eighteen months in business, the joint is still jumping. Everyone seemed to be having a good time when we were there. As a matter of fact, near the end of our meal, a party of twelve took over a big, round table next to us. At first I noticed songwriter and music producer David Forster. Then I saw the person two seats over from him was Hugh Laurie, television’s Dr. House. I wouldn’t have figured the connection between them, but then I heard that the whole dozen were making a movie together.

I wanted to tell Mr. X who the guy was sitting behind him, (not that he ever cares about that sort of thing), but was afraid that as I shouted it out, above the din, it would all of a sudden get quiet, like what happens to all of us in movie theatres. (Or maybe that’s only me.) So, I figured I’d just give him a clue as to Mr. Laurie’s identity. So, I said, “What do we live in?” hoping to elicit the response, “House.” Mr. X’s answer? “Misery.” Touché.

Anyhoo, back to the review. I was so unhappy with our seats, that I didn’t initially think I could have a good time. But Keith came over, and magically made me feel better right away. And not in that creepy, phony waiter-who-acts-like-he’s-your-friend way. He was just genuinely nice and very easy-going and accessible, all great attributes to possess in the service industry. I said to Mr. X, “Keith is darling, right?” And he said, “Yeah, lucky for him.” Correct again.

For purposes of this review, we ordered more than two people really need to eat in one sitting, but actually ate most of it. (Mr. X doesn’t love doggie bags, though just about everyone around us had leftovers, in shopping bags, no less!) We had two unbelievable appetizers. The chopped salad was much different than the one at LaScala, this town’s definitive one, but delicious in its own right. It was kind-of hearty, in a way, and had blue cheese and bits of the scrumptious bacon that they serve at the bar. The shrimp scampi was probably the most delicious I’ve ever tried. Mr. X said it reminded him of lobster in size and flavor.

I had the Kobe Beef Rib Eye, which was tender and tasty, but I ordered it medium well (I know, I know--not the best way to judge meat), and it came medium rare. I was kind-of full anyway, so I just ate around the sides, and took it home to re-cook the next day. I tried several of the aforementioned $2 sauces, and the only one I loved was the actual steak sauce. It was perfect with my Kobe.

Mr. X said his sautéed Wild King Salmon was one of the best he’s ever had. And it was a very generous portion. He went nuts for the chimicurri sauce that he chose for it. His fish was accompanied by coleslaw, oddly enough. That’s almost worse than the nothing that comes with all the meat dishes.

This is one of those steakhouses where you have to order your own sides, a concept I’ve never cottoned to. Two out of our four were incredible. We both went nuts for the Lyonnaise Potatoes, agreeing that the onions mixed in made it the winning dish (which kind-of made up for the onion rings in the next paragraph.) The Fried Sweet Potatoes were the most perfect fries ever; crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. I order these everywhere they serve them and they’ve seriously never been as tasty anywhere, ever.

I love beets, but the roasted market ones here were just okay. And Mr. X ordered the crispy onion rings that we both erroneously expected to be some special gourmet version of the usual ones. But they were exactly the plebian ones that I get in every burger joint in Brooklyn, so nothing special here. And, just my luck, it was the most plentiful dish of the night.

When I ordered dessert, Mr. X was appalled. We were both way past full. I know that dessert reviewing is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. And it actually is mine! So, to his horror, and Keith’s amusement, I forged ahead. The Strawberry & Short Cake (their wording, not mine) I fought so hard for was good, but not great. Beautiful presentation, though, and they certainly didn’t scrimp on the strawberries.

The chocolate cake was even more stunning. This was not your father’s chocolate cake. It was somehow creamy, sliced in half horizontally, with vanilla ice cream and bananas in the middle and hot fudge all around. The menu said that chocolate mascarpone was also involved, but not to my naked eye. That might just be the ingredient that made it taste so different, though. I’ve been craving it every day since I had it last week.

To sum up, this visit definitely was far superior to the first. So much so that I just may dine there again soon. But only if I can be in Keith’s section, even if I have to endure those tables and chairs again. Comfort of soul beats physical comfort every time.

The Lodge Steakhouse 14 N. La Cienega Blvd. 310-854-0024

Re-runs of the two most recent installments of “Karen’s Restaurant Revue” air on March 16 and 23, 2007 both at 9:30PM on Time-Warner Cable, Channels 98, 77, 37, or 3. Check the listings in your area.

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