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Granville's Steaks a Claim on Quality Food and Service

December 19, 1991|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants weekly for The Times Orange County Edition

The great American steakhouse is supposed to be a dying breed, but Granville's at the Disneyland Hotel breathes new life into the genre.

This dark, rich-looking room, all brown wood, carved glass and deep shades of burgundy, flies in the face of the bright California steak pit and its casual traditions. It's a throwback to more formal masculine establishments such as New York's Peter Luger or the clubby steakhouses of Chicago and Kansas City.

The restaurant didn't start out that way. It was named for Bonita Granville, a child actress and later leading lady who starred in a number of '30s and early '40s films ("Nancy Drew," "Ah, Wilderness," "These Three," etc.) and was married to Jack Wrather, the original owner of the hotel. Their vision of fine dining ran to French cuisine and compulsory dinner jackets for gentlemen--attributes that do not apply to the restaurant today. The conference-goers and Japanese tourists who make up the bulk of the hotel guests never really embraced that concept, so in December, 1989, after slight remodeling, Granville's reopened in its current incarnation. It has been virtually packed ever since.

With good reason. This place is a class act, with solicitous service, comfortable ambience and food better than you have a right to expect from a hotel restaurant. Everything served is oversized, from the 20-ounce Kansas City strip to the 20-layer chocolate cake. And that information doesn't appear to be privileged. Don't stop by on a whim at 7:30 and expect a table.

Appetizers and salads are announced to you by the waiters, a fresh-faced, Disney-happy bunch at least a generation younger than the hardened veterans who wait at Eastern steakhouses. The best of these appetizers are typical steakhouse fare: Caesar salad, oysters Rockefeller, thick-sliced tomatoes with Roquefort. The dense and muscular Caesar is highlighted by a creamy dressing with real bite that clings to the good greens for dear life.

There are man-sized chunks of real Roquefort on these tomatoes, too--ripe, red rounds not a bit mealy or sour. And the oysters, despite their pedigree, are real down-home. Five are served in their shells on a bed of rock salt, in a hearty sauce thick with chopped spinach and baked to a bubbling golden brown. Only a dish of bland, buttery sauteed mushroom caps fails to live up to steakhouse standard.

After you have polished off the first course, the waiter delivers the coup de grace in the form of a large marble-topped cart. This cart is laden with steaks, chops and seafoods. You're on your own.

You may notice a lobster tank as you enter the restaurant, but if you happen to miss it, the lobster on the cart will certainly grab your attention. It's a real Maine beauty, between 2 and 3 pounds, ready to be baked and stuffed for your pleasure (for $39.95, by far the most expensive thing on the menu). One of us couldn't resist, and the rewards were considerable. The tasty, coral-colored crab meat and bread crumb stuffing, though, seems a bit like overkill. Lobster meat dipped in drawn butter needs no embellishments.

But then, neither do these magnificent-looking steaks and chops, rosy pink and waiting to be charred or broiled to your specifications. Filet mignon is the smallest, and in this context, perhaps the most sensible. Mine came, as requested, charred rare--a bit too black on the outside, perhaps, but perfectly tender and juicy through and through.

As with all steaks here, this filet is dry-aged Kansas City prime and possibly the best of the lot. The dieter in our group threw up his hands and went for the Porterhouse, another monstrous cut, bone in. The Porterhouse here isn't nearly as tender as some I've tasted, but is still a good piece of meat. I wouldn't say that about the tough Kansas City strip, though. You can't beat it for sheer volume, but it is the most gristly cut the restaurant serves.

For steak avoiders, there are a few intelligent alternatives. Fresh salmon and swordfish steaks are also available, as well as free-range chicken. A five-rib veal rack is another dish the restaurant is proud of. It is served juicy and charred, wonderfully tender.

Side dishes include baked potato, Minnesota wild rice, creamed spinach and asparagus hollandaise. Except for the slightly mushy potato, these dishes are a virtual dead heat. The wild rice is fragrant and grainy, and the creamed spinach light and fresh. If forced to choose one, though, I would go with the asparagus. These are narrow, crunchy spears draped with a frothy, lemony hollandaise.

If there is room for dessert, plan on a chocolate binge. The 20-layer cake is not idly named. There really are 20 layers of fudgy cake, and a thick chocolate glaze on the top . . . well, on the side, really. The cake is too top heavy to sit upright. Next best would be the peanut butter cream pie, an individual pie with pudding-like filling sitting in a chocolate crust. Both these desserts come smothered in thick whipped cream.

I should mention Granville's beefed-up wine list. The old Granville, despite the French theme, had a limited selection of California wines. This list, loaded with reds, spans the world and has good values like an '86 Guenoc Lake County Cabernet for only $24.

Granville's is deceptively expensive because practically everything is a la carte. Appetizers are $3.95 to $8.25. Salads are $3.50. Entrees are $14.95 to $39.95. Side dishes are $1.95 to $3.75. Desserts are $3.50 to $4.25.

* GRANVILLE'S

* Disneyland Hotel, 1150 W. Cerritos Ave., Anaheim.

* (714) 778-6600.

* Dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly.

* All major cards accepted.

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