Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Outback Steakhouse

5240 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
South County
St. Louis Mo.

We're back. We've eaten out since early July, but not together... Family emergency, all is better now, thanks for asking.
Angel chose this place. She'd seen commercials. One word: 'Snow Crabs.'
Okay, that's actually two words.
She saw some commercials featuring the sea bugs and thought she'd like some, so we went. We've been to Outback before, but not recently. I scanned ahead at the menu online and decided on my choice rather quickly. Two words: Snow Crabs.
The Place:
On the way, we discussed Outback. I mentioned that there is absolutely nothing 'Australian'  about the franchise. The companies that started and own the chain are based out of Florida, which according to Wikipedia, is not in Australia, nor has it ever been. In fact There are only five Outback steakhouses in Australia, which may sound like a lot, but not if you compare that to Korea where there are about thirty, Japan, has five or six, and Saudi Arabia has three. Yeah, Saudi Arabia. That's in the middle east, atop Africa.
"G'day, mate!" In Arabic is pronounced يوم جيد، ورفيقة
In Japan it's 良い一日、仲間
And in Korean 좋은 날, 친구
I teach, it's what I do.
The whole Aussie theme is contrived, made up. However the franchise does go out of its way to make each location look and feel just like I imagine Australia looks and feels. By that I mean that Australia must be a lot like Ruby Tuesday's or TGI Friday's because that's what the place is like on the inside.
Dark, very dark, lots of TV's playing sports. Not those sissy Australian sports like sheep carving, crocodile whittling and boomerang ducking, no, this place showed real rough and tumble American baseball.
We were seated at a booth near the noisy bar. There weren't really many people at the bar, the noise was coming from a dot-matrix printer. Remember those? It sounded like a Dremel rotary tool cutting through small sheets of thick plastic. I can only think of a few more annoying noises, children laughing or poetry, for example.
We were greeted by Mike, a jocular middle aged man who seemed to really like his job. He told us where the menus were and that he'd be with us shortly.
I scanned the menu to see if it held any delights other than that I'd seen online. It didn't. I was satisfied with my original choice.
Adam and Angel debated appetizers. Angel said she was craving a blooming onion, a trademark item at the Australian-themed joint. Adam won't eat onions, so that meant the one-pound onion, breaded and deep fried just like Australians probably never actually made, would be split between her and I. This frightened me. I wanted steak and crab and feared that the carb-load offered up by the onion would fill me up prematurely. Also I had a memory of the last time I'd had the treat, it was at a local fair where they apparently cooked them a day or two ahead off time. Maybe not, but the thing got soggy and greasy really fast and tasted sort of like cotton candy or funnel cake. That taste memory sort of made my face wrinkle up.
"Too big." I said.
"Yeah, you're right" Angel said to me, for the first time, ever.
So they decided on the wings, medium  heat. I'm not a hot-wings guy, so I said I didn't care.
Mike brought our drinks, tea, tea, and Coke. There was something odd about the tea, I could see right through it. Even in the dimly lit place it seemed transparent. Angel noticed too and tasted it. "It tastes like lemon water." I agreed. This was absolutely the weakest tea I'd ever been served. When Mike stopped by again I did something I've never actually done before. I sent my tea back. He said he'd try to find a pitcher of darker stuff. He eventually did, and it was indeed darker, but not by much. I'll howl more about this later.
He also brought us a small loaf of bread on a wooden platter, along with a knife that was big enough to whittle a crocodile. It wasn't very sharp though, so it sort of ripped the bread into pieces more so than actually slicing it..
The bread was very dark, like rye, or burnt toast. Alongside the bread was a generous doovalacky (Australian for do-hickey) of butter. I slathered up a shard and tasted it. My tongue expected rye-grainy-darkness, but it wasn't. It tasted like light, sweet white bread.
The Food:
I ordered my six-ounce sirloin ( I couldn't justify the extra ten bucks for a Victoria filet) and snow crabs. I asked for a side of garlic mashed potatoes.
"That's a problem." Mike said. "We're not able to serve mashed potatoes this evening."
I assumed it was due to a local zoning ordinance or something since I couldn't imagine why baked potatoes were plentiful and mashed ones were not. Mike didn't offer further explanation. Perhaps the mashed potato chef was down with a case of the wobbly boot (drunk), or worse, on an extended walkabout.
Angel changed her mind, again, and instead of getting what she came for, she ordered the Great Barrier Trio, a dish containing Ahi tuna, coconut shrimp and an avocado and crab meat dip-thing. Adam asked for the Diablo Steak, a sirloin coated in a hot-ish pepper sauce, and Aussie fries.
They also asked for the appetizer. Mike said the wings would take about ten minutes. Mike did this a lot, telling us how long the next thing would be. I liked that.
I was a bit worried at this point though, they already epic-failed the simple task of making ice tea, and they couldn't remember how to make mashed potatoes. Outback's kitchen was not impressing me so far.
The wings arrived and they looked different. They had not been dipped into neon orange Tabasco like other places. They looked like fried chicken wings. I tried some, they were hot, but temperature-wise, not pepper-spice wise. They were spicy, but not overly so. I had an entire wing and regretted having had three rips of bread. I wanted my steak and crab, so I was being careful not to gorge on the precursors. I sipped some more on my tea-like drink. The refill was just a little darker, but you could still read through it, in the dark.
The food arrived shortly after the wings were all but gone.
 My steak looked tiny, but it was thick. There were only a couple of crab legs and that was fine with me. The baked potato looked pretty good, so I mashed it up with my fork. I was careful to not let the staff see me perform that bit of dark magic, fearing they would kidnap me and make me make mashed potatoes for everyone.
Angel's Great Barrier Trio didn't appeal to me much. Part of the tuna was drenched in a yellow-green sauce. I tasted a chunk of tuna but could only taste the sauce, which tasted a lot like a house dressing you might find in a high school cafeteria. I tasted no tuna, nothing fishy or meaty at all. There was a doovalacky of some kind of marmalade in the middle of her platter. She tasted it with a dip of her finger, wrinkled up her nose, then gagged. I don't recall her fingers tasting all that bad so it must have been the marmalade.
"I never want that stuff on my plate, ever again." She said.
Adam said nothing about his steak, or Aussie fries, which oddly enough, looked exactly like French fries. I suggested he mash them up with a fork. He gave me a funny look.
Angel ate one of the shrimp. She put on another peculiar look. The next two shrimp she ate only after she de-nuded them by peeling off the coconut. This of course turned the dish from 'coconut shrimp', to 'shrimp'.
On my plate was a shiny, mechanical, plier-like device that I assumed was originally intended to castrate sheep. Australians love to castrate sheep, I'm not sure why unless it has to do with jealousy. I hoped the device had been thoroughly cleaned, I sniffed it and could not detect any sheep-crotch scent. I also discovered it was quite handy for cracking open the crab legs. I did not have a whole crab, just the legs, so I couldn't tell if the tool could also be used to castrate crabs.
The steak was fine, though the pansy-edged knifed tended once again to rip rather than slice. The crab was fine but of course there was much more exoskeleton than meat. My 'mashed' potato was excellent.
Angel said she liked the avocado-crab dip stuff better than the tuna and shrimp. Adam said "Good." When I asked him about his meal.
I managed to finish the steak, and the crab and about half the potato.
Summary:
Outback is a lot like Ruby Tuesday's in ambiance, price and food choice, just not as good. In fact there was nothing they did especially well that would make them stand out. I was really, really bothered about the tea. How hard can it be to make, then quality check, a simple batch of tea? Serving tea like this would be like making a Mai-tai but leaving out the troublesome rum.
No mashed potatoes? Really? What does this say about a place that features mashed potatoes as a default side on dozens of meals? Not only did they not have any for me, but Mike had said they wouldn't be available for the entire evening. What is that?
 The meal cost us fifty five bucks, which isn't terrible, but the offerings just really didn't quite rise up to that level. Some of the food was fine, but only that.
Mike was exceptional, he took care of everything quickly and let us know how long things would take. I really liked that.
Angel later agreed, there simply wasn't a draw, a signature, or singularly good item that would pull us back. We can get basically the same food at Ruby Tuesday's and they have that awesome salad bar.
Sorry Outback, we just weren't impressed.



Outback Steakhouse on Urbanspoon




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