Filet mignon

Filet mignon

Photos by Bettina Monique Chavez 

Rich food for rich folks

Arroyo Chop House’s huge cuts of meat are guaranteed to please

By Erica Wayne 11/24/2010

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We first wandered into the Arroyo Chop House for my husband’s birthday soon after it opened in the halcyon days of 1997. We got a brief glimpse of the luxurious main dining room (which, with a build-up of cozy booths and rich woods, seemed very inviting) before being escorted to a side room whose windows faced the parking lot it shares with sister restaurant, Parkway Grill.
 
This room, unlike the other, was full. There were several parties of two seated at peripheral tables, watching the valets jockey their charges, and a large, boisterous gathering of yuppie corporate twentysomethings in high-style (baggy for boys, skimpy for girls) business suits at a long table in the center.  
 
Wary, we asked our server if they were almost through and were assured that they were “on dessert.” But they were still there (having vintage port decanted and charged to expense accounts) when we paid our bill two hours later, long after the room’s other occupants had bolted. 
 
Luckily, my mate and I had said everything we needed to that day (possibly that year), so we could concentrate on the menu. We thought it might take a while (we’re used to the complexities of Parkway’s multi-ingredient offerings), but the Chop House’s list was so limited and terse that our ponderings took less than a minute.
 
We came back next for an anniversary several years later, and our experience was almost the same. Although we asked for a booth in the main dining room, we were told the wait would be long and were ushered into the same “annex” with not one but two large parties that my husband termed “the bowling banquets.” The groups were in high spirits; ours a little less so.
 
Nothing much on the menu (except prices) had changed in the nine-year interim. Instead of six appetizers, there were eight; also five salads. Entrées included nine cuts of beef, lamb chops, veal chop, pork chop, rotisserie chicken, fresh fish “of the moment,” king crab, ahi tuna and whole Maine lobster. 
 
Last week, after another hiatus of four years, we were back, this time with a Swedish colleague of my husband who had specifically requested to dine at a “steak house” since nothing like it exists (according to him) in Sweden. What does exist there are universal health care, free university education and wonderful pensions, but, of course, the high taxes that pay for such things probably don’t allow for $42 hunks o’ meat.
 
It was possible with the expiration of tax breaks that the Chop House might see a drastic decline in diners, but after the midterms, such a revision seems less likely. No doubt the well-to-do will continue their patronage, and the Chop House will continue to prosper with prices aimed at those whose 35 percent maximum tax rate can justify the extravagance.
 
Oddly enough, on this visit the hostess again tried to usher us into the side room, again occupied by a huge party at a central table that took up most of the seating space. This time, though, we stood our ground and demanded a booth in the main room. It took an extra 10 minutes, but we were rewarded with a much more pleasant ambiance.
 
The Chop House’s main claim to superiority is its beef, exclusively USDA prime. So, we ordered some: my mate a filet mignon ($39), me a New York ($41) and the Swede a rib-eye ($39). The menu is completely a la carte, which means that, if we wanted any respite from protein other than bread and butter, we had to turn to the 16-item list of sides ($8-10 apiece).
 
Onion rings seemed obvious. We also opted for asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. Other potatoes: baked, lyonnaise, scalloped, shoestring. Caramelized corn, sugar snap peas, creamed, braised or steamed spinach, green beans, broccoli and sautéed mountain mushrooms were additional options. Hubby ordered a $12 spinach salad, with apple, pecans, bacon and a balsamic vinaigrette. All good, but not great.
 
We took a gander at the wine list, way more extensive than the menu. Like the food, beverages are on the expensive side, most ranging from the mid-$30s to the mid-$70s with some impressive $100 to $1,800 (YES, I said $1,800!) vintages. We ordered a $45 red, which was certainly drinkable; but I could see the waiter’s respect for us notching down with our choice, and he probably suspected us of voting for Jerry Brown. 
 
The filet was a towering, juicy, velvet-tender delight; the New York just a little less tender, but just as juicy and visually impressive. Our guest’s rib-eye was, unfortunately, the least eye-popping, since it was about a half-inch to an inch lower to the plate. The meats come with three sauces (peppercorn sherry cream sauce, béarnaise and blue cheese-smoked bacon-cabernet reduction), all superfluous. 
 
Dessert was a no-brainer. We passed on pies, cheesecake, sorbets, etc. ($8 to $9) in favor of $12 chocolate soufflés. Fabulous! Our bill was close to $250 without tip; and I have to ask, at least rhetorically, what the difference is between unadorned New York steak for $39 at the Chop House and New York Steak with scalloped potatoes AND summer vegetables ($38) at Parkway? 
We sent our Swede back to his socialist state full of prime beef and (we’re sure) envy of the capitalist nirvana that allows the most deserving such culinary indulgence. And while we await next week’s meeting between our president and congressional leaders to finally talk turkey about the impending tax-cut vote, I’ll do a bit myself — Happy Thanksgiving to all Weekly readers. May you prosper enough to dine occasionally at the Arroyo Chop House!

Arroyo Chop House
536 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena
(626) 577-7463
Full bar/Major cards

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