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MEAT YOUR MATCH : Ever Crave a Nice, Juicy Sirloin? Dig a Knife and Fork Into These Steakhouses

March 11, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants weekly for The Times Orange County Edition.

Steak. The fashionable scapegoat for the health conscious.

The buzz is that it makes you aggressive.

Clogs the arteries, too.

Just char mine around the edges please.

Once, steak was the undisputed star at top American restaurants. Back then, the red-boothed steakhouses--clubby places that stocked all the best Scotches and cuts of Certified USDA Prime--proliferated. These places hosted all the important social functions. Customers reveled in 32-ounce Porterhouses and onion rings the size of small Hula Hoops.

But things change, and beef-bashing, helped along by the recent hamburger scare, is a fact of life. Oh, new breed restaurants such as Ruth's Chris and Arnie Morton's--both in Los Angeles--have breathed temporary life into the genre, but red meat is on several hit lists right now, including those of environmentalists, animal rights activists and nutritionists. And we're told that more people forswear it every year.

So how come these restaurants are still tough tables on a Saturday night? I recently stopped by Corona del Mar's Five Crowns, for example, only to run into a 2 1/2-hour wait. The Chart House in Newport Beach, one hour. Cattleman's Wharf in Anaheim, 45 minutes. What gives?

Not much, it seems. I went out on my very own Orange County steak hunt, and found that little has changed. The restaurants visited are, I hope, a good cross section of local steakhouses. I did eat at one chain (the Chart House) but places like Sizzler, Stuart Anderson's Black Angus and others of that ilk are not covered, since they are already familiar to most people.

Oh, and by the way--I'm on brown rice until further notice.

Granville's

There's no doubt in my mind that Granville's is the best steakhouse in Orange County. There's also no doubt it is the most expensive, with various cuts ranging from about $20 to $40. (The Ritz in Newport--see below--is a more expensive restaurant overall, but its steak selections are in the $20 to $30 range.)

That's because steaks here can be dry-aged Kansas City Prime, the best meat money can buy. The Kansas City strip steak falls into this category. (Some other cuts are Top Choice. Ask your server for an exact breakdown.)

Granville's steaks are hand-picked by the diners from a rolling marble cart, in the style of great American steakhouses like New York's Peter Luger or the new Arnie Morton's of Chicago on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. Furthermore, appointments are lavish in this room, all dark, rich-looking wood, carved glass and deep burgundies.

Filet mignon is the smallest steak you can order, and it's great. Mine came, as requested, charred rare, a bit too black on the outside, perhaps, but perfectly tender and juicy through and through. Granville's Porterhouse is one monstrous cut, bone in, not nearly as tender as some I've tasted, but still a fine piece of meat. I wouldn't say that about the tough Kansas City strip. For sheer volume, you can't beat it, but it is the most gristly cut the restaurant serves.

Accompaniments include an especially fine creamed spinach and crisp spears of asparagus in Hollandaise sauce.

Granville's in the Disneyland Hotel, 1150 W. Cerritos Ave., Anaheim. (714) 778-6600. Open daily for dinner only, 5:30 to 10 p.m. $$$-$$$$

Pinnacle Peak

For price-quality ratio, you can't beat Pinnacle Peak, a rustic Garden Grove steak outfit that is part of a small, San Diego-based company.

I know of nowhere else where you can eat a 32-ounce monster like the restaurant's trail boss and pay only $11.95. Even the cowgirl, a relatively small steak here, is a super bargain. Just imagine. One pound. $7.95.

As if that weren't enough, the meat tastes great. It isn't Prime, of course, in fact it isn't even Choice. The meat is Select, exactly the same grade you get at the local supermarket (though Pinnacle Peak buys its from a private meat company). What makes it so good? Simple. This is the one restaurant that uses real mesquite to barbecue steaks, giving them a homey taste you can only match in your back yard.

The steaks are cooked on a huge fire pit that must be 20 feet across, and the pitmen are adept at doing them up exactly the way you like. That explains the crowds, people lining up in pickups, trailers, RVs and yes, even a Mercedes or two at the 5 p.m. opening time.

There are only a few things to go with your steaks here, but all are delicious: smoky, peppery beans, thick slices of white bread and salad that comes with large blobs of dressing. Oh, and don't wear a tie if you come here. If you do, someone might sneak up, cut the thing off, and hang it from the rafters, alongside the thousands of tie remnants already here.

Pinnacle Peak, 9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove. (714) 892-7311. Dinner only, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 10 p.m. $-$$

The Chart House

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