Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Outback Steakhouse

South County

Maybe you’ve heard of this place, maybe not. There are over 900 locations worldwide, including over 100 in South Korea. I don’t know why. There are even a few in Australia which sounds really silly. The whole theme is ‘Australian as imagined by Americans.’ The company is in fact based in Florida and the Australian guy in the commercials is actually from New Zealand. I imagine they couldn’t find any Australians that appeared Australian enough to convey their message to us geographically ignorant Americans. Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) is 70 now and not looking nearly so rugged and carefree anymore.

The Place:

The one we visited is situated next to a floor and carpet outlet, near Baptist Church Road and Lindbergh Ave. There’s plenty of parking and around the corner you can see a movie or get your license plates renewed. The inside of the restaurant was very dark, heavy wood and black ceiling. It was pretty much bar-dark. The music was adult rock (70’s – 80’s), tame, and too loud. We didn’t have to wait to be seated. We’d arrived early, around 5:30. Had we been much later and we would have been given one of those awful flashing beeper thingies.

Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness I noticed Australian themed artwork and bric-a-brac on the walls. Australian themed art is made up almost entirely of pictures and paintings of rugged men shearing rugged sheep.

We were led to a booth (we were not offered a preference this time so I can’t blame Angel.) and handed menus. On the table were cloth napkins, classy. Unfurling them revealed two heavy forks and a substantial steak knife. No spoons, as no self respecting outback Aussie would ever get caught using a girly utensil like a spoon. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke and were told that the bread would be out soon.

Mounted above our heads were a boomerang, an aboriginal shield and a couple of pairs of old iron sheep scissors. The scissors, or ‘shears’ were pointy, rough and downright scary looking. I explained to the family that they were used to cut off sheep testicles which grow back each year in Australian sheep, or so I’ve been told. Angel tried to correct me by saying they were just used to remove the wool, I didn’t think that sounded rugged enough, especially for such a vicious looking tool. We agreed to disagree.

The menus were compact and not overflowing. The menu was limited and did not even include vegemite sandwiches. Vegemite is a mixture of vegetables and dynamite (or termites), a disgusting treat favored by rugged Australians but virtually unheard of in civilized countries for obvious reasons.

It took us a while to make our choices, there were so many things that looked tempting. In the meantime the bread arrived. It was a small loaf, very dark, and served on a wood paddle with a substantial steak knife stuck in its side, as if they’d just hunted it down and harpooned it.

I was worried though, dark bread usually means heavy bread and I don’t like heavy bread. They did serve it with actual butter (kangaroo or koala butter maybe?) so I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. It tasted like a good dark whole wheat bread and was no heavier than that. The tea was fresh, dark and tasty, served with a lemon in a glass made out of actual glass.

The Food:

We were tempted by the appetizers, Angel assumed I would ask for the Blooming Onion, I did not though. I like breaded and deep fried onions as much as the next guy, but the monsters (one pound) they serve at Outback contain up to 1500 deep fried calories and bloat me up like a dead possum. I wanted steak. The onion would be simply too heavy.

Most meals offered included a side dish or two. The list of sides was only five items deep, four of those were potatoes. I ordered steak and shrimp with a baked potato, Angel asked for the prime rib and added scallops, a Caesar salad, and a baked potato, Adam asked for the pork tenderloin, green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.

We sucked down the loaf of bread and they soon brought another. It was also served on a knife.

Angel got her salad, and Adam immediately grabbed a crouton. He loves croutons, he even snacks on them at home. He didn’t really care for these though, too light and crispy, he prefers stale, tough and leathery. I also grabbed one and agreed with Angel that the dressing was a bit strong, a little too peppery.

While waiting for our main courses a Doobie Brothers tune blared around us. Angel asked why they didn’t play Australian music, I reminded her that it was probably because there are only three Australian songs in existence: “Tie me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, “Waltzing Matilda” and “Land Down Under”. I added that songs by the BeeGees and Olivia Newton John didn’t count since although they were Australians, their music never actually played well in Australia. I knew this for a fact since I think I once did some research. In the late 70’s-early 80’s when the aforementioned were hot in the U.S., the number one group in Australia, by a wide margin was ABBA. I also added that any song that involved the use of a didgeridoo obviously didn’t count as music. A didgeridoo is little more than a long stick with a hole through it and it makes a sound like a tenor-mosquito. Think of it as a four foot long kazoo. The modern, improved version of the didgeridoo is the South African vuvuzela made famous at the recent soccer matches. That’s right the vuvuzela is an improvement. The Swiss have similar horns used in the Alps by lederhosen-clad sheep herders, I think its called a Ricola horn.

The food arrived and it looked awesome. My steak was cooked perfectly to order, the seven-spice rub was apparent but not overwhelming. There was a problem with the shrimp though, there were only three of them. They tasted great. They were served on a bed of basil and sautéed cherry tomatoes. The baked potato was perfectly cooked and contained nearly six pounds of butter and sour cream, sprinkled with green onions.

The glaze on Adam’s pork tenderloin was sweet and fruity. I tasted it and detected peppers and honey. Adam was tentative at first but quickly learned to really like it. He didn’t care for the mashed potatoes though. I tried them and agreed that they had been overpowered with garlic. His green beans were steamed then sautéed and were perfect.

Angel’s prime rib was bright pink and melt-in-your mouth tender. I never saw the scallops, they were gone too quickly. The prime rib was served with a sauce, I asked Angel what kind it was, she replied “Au jus.”

“What?” I asked as if I didn’t hear her.

“Au jus”

To which Adam replied, as I knew he would: “Bless you”. That’s always funny.

My steak toughened as it cooled, even the hefty and rugged steak knife couldn’t get through it near the end. I wasn’t disappointed though, it just meant I would have room for dessert.

Three cheescakes, two coffees. Angel and Adam opted for the chocolate sauce topping, I ordered mine commando. I was right. The chocolate sauce was very rich and almost overwhelming. Mine was perfect without it.

The bill arrived.

Summary:

The food was well above expectations. The tastes were all balanced and multi-dimensional. Nothing besides the mashed potatoes was too spicy or too salty. The portions were just right and the service timing was spot-on. It was kind of pricey at about seventy two dollars before the timid tip, but like I’ve said a billion times, excellent food is well worth a higher price.

The service was timely as I said, but rather impersonal. Not rude or brusque, just not overly friendly.

All in all it was very, very good, much better than most of the other similar chains. I highly recommend it and we’re already talking about what we’ll order next time. Perhaps we’ll try the lamb, which as it turns out is actually from New Zealand, as most authentic Australian things seem to be.

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