Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Birthday Dinner: Starker's Restaurant

My birthday was Friday. That means I’m another year older, but more importantly, it meant BIRTHDAY DINNER!

We do four special dinners a year – anniversary, Valentine’s Day, both of our birthdays. Previous entries include Bluestem and Michael Smith. We don’t tell the other person where we’re going beforehand.

When it’s my turn to be surprised, it’s always exciting to get in the car and start running through all the possibilities based on which direction we’re headed. (We’ve also learned that varying our driving routes and taking unnecessary turns adds more fun to the game.)

We eventually landed at the Plaza, and my list narrowed considerably. We typically go somewhere we’ve never been before, no chains, with interesting food and at least a modicum of formality.

We parked, started walking, and finally I knew we would be dining at Starker’s Restaurant.

I had been looking forward to trying this place. It’s located above Restoration Hardware on 47th, which makes it easy to miss if you’re just walking by.

First things first: this restaurant is known for its wine. It has won numerous awards for its list, including Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. The list is 51 pages long, but it’s organized quite well. As you may imagine, you can order a $25 bottle or a $2500+ bottle.

We like wine, but I’ll let you guess which end of that scale we’re on. Your guess is correct. We enjoyed a nice Malbec (Madena was the label, I believe). It was tasty, as red wine tends to be.

On to the food!

I really liked the layout of the menu. On one page is the list of Starker’s Classics. These are your year-round dishes. On the other page is Seasonal Favorites, which focuses more on in-season ingredients. This list changes frequently…in fact, the current menu is different from the one from which I ordered 4 days ago. They provide a list of local providers, which is nice.

Each page offers one soup, two appetizers, two salads, and four entrees.

She started with a cream of heirloom tomato soup. It was rich, with a surprisingly strong smoky/chile flavor, topped with sourdough croutons. You could really taste the freshness of the tomatoes. I had a fresh (green) bean salad, topped with feta and lardons. I was pleased with this as well—a simple dish taken to another level by using fresh ingredients.

(I originally ordered a braised pork belly appetizer, but they were out.)

My entrée was an herb-encrusted rack of lamb. It was super juicy, cooked perfectly, and…well, let’s just say I had to discreetly pick up each bone to get the last bite off of it. It was too good to sacrifice any of it. The summer squash was, as with all the ingredients we had, fresh and delicious.

She had rainbow trout. If I had known fish could taste that good, I wouldn’t have gone most of my life not liking it. It was (you guessed it) very fresh and served with Minnesota wild rice; this last fact probably pushed my fiancée toward the dish for a taste of her homeland.

We finished by sharing a slice of chocolate pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. How can you go wrong with that? It was a great end to the meal.

The service was professional without being stuffy, and attentive without being smothering. In other words, ideal for a special meal.

I was very pleased with the restaurant overall. A couple quirks: the clientele was certainly on the older end of the spectrum. Not a problem, except that a couple of the people at the table behind us were hard of hearing and talking REALLY LOUD AT TIMES. We mostly laughed it off because some of the stuff they were talking about was kinda funny (the self-esteem movement and how it’s ruining kids, how beer doesn’t taste like it used to, how one of their neighbors thinks he's--and I quote--"hot shit").

Also, the layout is a bit odd. To get to the restrooms, you have to walk down a narrow hallway past the busy kitchen. There’s a logjam of servers there waiting for plates.

But these are minor, minor quibbles. This restaurant is about the food and wine, and they deliver both admirably. The food is a great value given the quality; most of the entrees come in at no more than $30. If you’re looking for even more of a bargain, Monday through Thursday they offer a 3-course meal for $33.

Give them a shot! You won’t be disappointed.


Craig said...

Looks like Starker's is Hot Shit.

The DLC said...

Oh man. Nothing gets my blood pumping like the phrase "herb-encrusted rack of lamb." I need a cold shower!

Harper said...

The neighbor in question is undoubtedly Seymour F. Rogers. That sonofabitch thinks his H2 is the envy of the neighborhood. Well, it's not, Rogers, you hear me!? YOU ARE A CHUMP-ASS.

JJSKCK said...

@Craig - It kinda is.

@DLC - It goes in the lexicon with such phrases as "slow-smoked brisket piled high" and "dry-aged, hand-cut prime beef seared to its juicy best".

@Harper - That, and Chump Ass Rogers needs to return my Skil saw and keep his grandkids off my hill - it's not for sleddin'!