It's A Steak World We Live In
[from May 2000 issue]

One wag has called the beef scene in DC "steakwars." You could just as well call it steakmania, since the titans of beef have lined up on almost every corner, just waiting to serve you the rarest, tenderest, most flavorful beef this side of Texas. You'd almost think that Washingtonians had in the past been deprived of something very rare, and I don't mean the color of the meat.

One of the newest players in this red-meat game is Bobby Van's Steakhouse, which opened up earlier in the year to some fanfare and to assorted reviews. If this place is not foremost in your thoughts, or is not tops on your must list, then it could be that you already know that parking's a drag (unless you wait 'till evening for valet parking), service can be very slow (lunch recently totaled nearly one-and-a-half hours for a steak salad), and the prices are really geared for expense account pocketbooks.

To have my steak and eat it too meant settling for something less than a chunk of rare filet mignon or sirloin with veggies. To get around the price barrier, I opted for their Caesar salad with filet (rare, please, which it really wasn't). A steak salad in this prestigious steakhouse, which according to some ranks Number Two in the country for steakhouses, may seem absurd, but regardless of whether this is fine, prime, dry-aged beef or not, it's hard to justify paying $27.50 for an entrée at lunch. No expense accounts here.

Of course, you can notch down the tab by ordering something not from the grill (also grilled: lamb chops or a very thick veal chop), such as medallions of beef with mushrooms, boneless short ribs, roasted lamb loin, or some seafood dishes like lobster, scallops, or crab cakes. But you can't escape the idea that beef is Bobby Van's game and you'd better play it right.

Check the specials blackboard before ordering: The soup of the day was a completely outstanding clam chowder, a bit out of season, but very satisfactory with its butter-cream base, chunks of clams, and--surprise--scattering of rye seeds, which added a delightful flavor to an otherwise bland soup. For what reads like a totally stolid, middle-America menu with few flourishes, this creative touch warmed the heart. After all, the executive chef is Will Biscoe, formerly of Great Falls' fancy Indigo restaurant.

Just as good was the Caesar salad, when it eventually arrived. Loaded with garlic in its creamy dressing and topped with abundant crunchy croutons, (no anchovies, I fear), this steak salad appeases the thwarted steak eater in us all and indulges us in America's favorite combo: steak and salad. That and the designer olive bread that comes with drinks added up to fine dining midday.

But after such a wait, dessert seemed a remote idea at best, so perhaps on another visit, the apple pie crunch with ice cream or the peanut butter pie or chocolate truffle cake will get some attention. But not on a day with a parking meter set to expire a few blocks away.

The décor suggests men's club, or some other rugged destination where feminine or light-hearted touches don't count much. Nevertheless, according to a press release, the interior was meant to be "cheerful," in order to appeal to women. Maybe a switch from mahogany, Bordeaux wine, and caramel colors to something softer and pinker might do the trick.

All that notwithstanding, should you crave something red and beefy, you might want to give Bobby Van's a try. You'll undoubtedly eat well, drink well, and converse well. You just may end up washing the dishes to pay the tab.

Bobby Van's Steakhouse, 809 15th St.; tel., 589-0060. Hours: Lunch and dinner daily. Dinner entrées: $17.50 to $31. Major credit cards accepted.

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