Maybe it was the gray window light or the lack of patrons on that winter afternoon, but lunching in the lux and leather-boothed Brickyard felt like dining in a Cadillac Escalade on an empty showroom floor. Maybe after sundown--or better yet, after a few years of first dates and anniversaries--this new steakhouse will feel a little more lived-in.
Still, the first bite of the wild mushroom papardelle ($11) warmed up the place considerably. There's nothing like a plate of well-made pasta on a winter's day, and those wide noodles in a rich creme fraiche and parmesan sauce were as comforting as the crackle of a hardwood fire in a cozy lodge. They were also handmade--and nothing matches the glorious texture of from-scratch pasta. Sadly, on a return visit in January, the kitchen had turned to packaged pasta, which was good but less memorable.
Perhaps less seasonally suitable than a rich plate of papardelle, but nearly as satisfying, was the tuna tartare ($13). A spring-green mound of raw ahi, diced avocado and edamame over a bed of greens spiked with a pickled ginger vinaigrette, the salad had a rich, yet clear flavor reminiscent of Chandler's signature Tower of Tuna.
Chandler's Steakhouse shares another, if counterintuitive trait with the Brickyard: At both, the non-steak entrees are more interesting than the steaks. In fact, the weak link in most American steakhouses is steak. The highly consolidated, commodity beef industry is largely to blame, often profiting from quantity over quality while reserving its meager output of dry-aged, prime beef for large metropolitan steakhouses.
The fact that the Brickyard sourced its Kobe-style sirloin ($15) from the Idaho-based but large-scale Snake River Farms did little to make that slab of meat more than mildly flavorful and a little too ropy in texture.
Another interesting departure from average steakhouse fare was the Brickyard's Crab Shots ($12). I enjoyed the deep-fried crab fritters' crisp texture and the three dipping sauces that accompanied them--a cool parsley pesto, a spicy habanero marmalade and a creamy tartar-like vinaigrette.
It's those kinds of dishes--the ones that aspire to something more varied and visionary than a chunk of feedlot beef--that make it easy to endure the Brickyard's austere lunchtime setting and even the dueling pianos offered at night. For the cold-weather comfort of that from-scratch pasta alone, I'd go back to the Brickyard. If only they'd start making it again.