By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Long live those dinners that start with martinis and shrimp cocktails and progress to baked potatoes, creamed corn and lush steaks crowned with sautéed mushrooms.
Since the early 1800s, the American steakhouse experience has survived myriad culinary trends and economic depressions. The Texas-based Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse is no exception; it’s been around since 1981 and has become synonymous with epicurean luxury in nearly 20 cities around the nation.
The two-story restaurant arrived to San Diego in late October with a $10 million modern design featuring bars, dining rooms and outdoor patios on both levels — your first clue menu prices aren’t cheap. Anchored in the new InterContinental Hotel, and with somewhat tricky points of entry, customers are greeted by a dizzying wine collection shelved in glass-paneled walls that follow you along the interior stairway. In terms of views, the upper level puts you in eyeshot of San Diego Harbor.
Portions for most dishes are Texas-sized. Take the thick-cut Nueske’s bacon au poivre. As a twosome, we expected a few slices of the bourbon and molasses-glazed pork, similar to what I’ve encountered in trendy restaurants over the past decade. To our shock, this was like an elongated steak offering chunky mouthfuls of smokiness, sweetness, and heat from rings of red peppers on top. I’ve never been served bacon this big and beautiful.
The “chilled shrimp tasting” was also substantial. It featured six perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp divided in pairs and set in three different sauces: classic cocktail, mild garlic, and a mayo-heavy remoulade, which least complimented the sweet flesh of the crustaceans.
Conversely, the Caesar salad that our waitress touted because of its “award-winning dressing” measured up to a mere single serving. Using romaine lettuce leaves in their long form, the salad tasted more garlicky compared to other Caesars, yet not earth-shattering. Even after a few inquiries, I never learned where the supposed honors for the dressing originated.
The main event of the dinner — two different steaks — resulted in a partial letdown. My companion’s 22-ounce bone-in prime rib-eye was cooked to his exact liking (medium-rare plus), but it lacked depth of flavor. The fine marbling inherent to prime grades of beef also seemed missing. He rated it as “good but not great.” I concurred after taking a couple of bites.
My prime strip steak, cooked medium-well, was everything I expected — nicely seared, beefy, and naturally firmer than the rib eye. Much to my liking, it was seasoned decently with black pepper and restrained measures of salt.
For reasons that are probably meant to showcase their lusciousness, the steaks are served plainly on white plates with nary a garnish adorning them. The presentation may appear sexy to some and sadly lacking to others.
Perhaps it’s also because the days of inclusive steak dinners are long gone, with no more potatoes and veggies filling out the plates. Everything’s a la carte, which here includes options such as three preparations of potatoes — au gratin, mashed or baked. The latter features fontina cheese and shaved truffles on top.
There’s also onion rings, asparagus, creamed spinach and Brussels sprouts. We chose creamed corn accented with shishito peppers, plus a medley of sautéed mushrooms strewn with pearl onions. Both dishes were commendable, particularly the mushrooms because of their diverse variety.
In addition to a good number of dry and wet-aged steaks, not to mention pricey wagyu beef hailing from Japan, Australia and Texas — each sold in 3-ounce portions — carnivores can indulge in dry-aged Colorado lamb, king salmon, broiled lobster tail and roasted Jidori chicken.
Our drink intake included glasses of earthy Del Frisco Cabernet from Sonoma and a beautifully structured blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre from Washington state. We also tried “The VIP,” a sweetish martini made with Svedka clementine vodka that’s infused in-house with pineapple. The loveliness of the fruit sprang forward with every sip.
For dessert, a slice of six-layer lemon cake was as humongous as the “chocolate motherlode” cake you’d find at Claim Jumper. Unfortunately it was a similar case of quantity over quality, as the frosting was too sugary and the crumb was dry and flavorless. But my companion’s butter cake was irresistible. The light, spongy construct was draped in caramel sauce and served ideally with butter pecan ice cream.
Del Frisco’s aims ambitiously for robust flavors, sizable portions and a wide breadth of food and drink choices. The operation is well-staffed with attentive servers, some of whom cohere to fine-dining decorum better than others. But regardless, the spirit of indulgence descends upon you.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.