Sophisticating the Primitive
Steakhouse Sixty8 matches complex flavors and classic quality.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Forcing my top lip over my incisors, I walk under the chic Steakhouse Sixty8 sign and into the airy angles of the newly opened establishment, ready to empower my inner animal in a way that only a steakhouse allows.
The warmth of the welcoming committee gives me cause to straighten my Cro magnon posture. I hustle to my table. Thanks to the foresight of my lunch buddy James Charles, who arrived ahead of me, an appetizer plate of mesquite-grilled prawns ($8.95) already awaits.
The four meaty prawns dent my appetite. Unexpectedly, something subtle happens: The mango salsa, cradled in crispy wontons, rekindles a dormant appetite for tropical flair. The olive, garlic and rosemary marinade and sweet Asian chile sauce must have something to do with it. I dig my tongue into the tails for the last tiny morsels as discreetly as a savage can.
My open-faced crab sandwich and clam chowder lunch special ($9.95) follow the form of the prawns—complex but representing a legitimate opportunity to eat 15 percent of my body weight. Each experiential bite begins with a smooth alfredo cheesy richness that melts seamlessly into the unique sweetness of fresh crab. I identify Jack, cheddar and parmesan cheese and the garlic foccacia bedrock beneath the crab, but the sauce is as different as it is delicious—enough to explain why Chef Emil Agib keeps it secret.
The massive bowl of clam chowder is rich in its own right. With quarry this prodigious, I get halfway through before I need to hibernate.
My lunch companion, recruited in large part for his decades of Peninsula burger expertise, confronts his own challenge: a Sixty8 Burger and fries ($8.95). The burger’s sophisticated presentation—cheddar roasted buns and apple-wood bacon—doesn’t distract from the food mass, namely two Angus beef patties, Jack cheese and avocado, making the burger a five-inch tower of carnal wonder. Ultimately, the wealth of savory support ingredients helps overcome the surprisingly pedestrian patties, which are requested pink-in-the-middle-medium-rare but arrive a dry medium-well.
The lunch experience sets the bar high for my return dinner visit with my mate Alexandra. The scene is livelier, with conversation bouncing off the high vaulted ceilings and the tall rectangles of glass that open onto the surrounding oak trees. Around the U-shaped solid mahogany bar—part of the redesign the Fernandez family put together as the first tenants here in two and a half years—patrons celebrate the end of the work week with Ultimate Manhattans ($6.50) and Mai Tais ($6.50) while watching a game on the big flat panel.
The service starts off as attentive as it was for lunch—with my water never dropping past half and our smiling server bringing seasoned garlic bread and a respectable wine list—but grows a little neglectful as the joint fills up. Fortunately the menu, with its seafood appetizers, deli-style sandwiches, salads, burgers and (gulp) 12 steak, rib, and lamb options, is robust enough to keep my animal attention.
When our server shakes free, we take the opportunity for a fusion-style trip to the Far East with the Spring Rolls & Shanghai Lumpia ($8.95). Both are elevated by the same spicy-sweet chile sauce that came with the jumbo prawns.
At our gracious server’s suggestion, we share a Spinach & Maytag Blue Cheese Salad ($6.95 to split). The house white balsamic vinaigrette somehow bridges the flavor divide between the caramelized pecans, bleu cheese, calmatas, Asian pears and baby mandarin oranges.
Meanwhile, a bottle of one of their three house reds, a 2001 Monterra Cabernet ($20), arrives to help prepare the palate for the meat to come.
Our entrées display the polished presentation I recall from lunch. My 12-ounce medium rare Prime New York Steak ($27.95) is angled nicely, pillowed by garlic mashed potatoes, decorated with fried potato crisps and framed by stalks of asparagus and a tomato carefully stuffed with spinach, parmesan cheese and cream. The accompaniment helps me maintain my civilized composure as the green peppercorn sauce begs me to get primitive with my steak.
The aged, corn-fed, mesquite-grilled Creekstone steak seems preordained to my taste: cooked just enough to give each tenderly rare bite a charcoal exterior. The sides are tasty and satisfying in their own right: the green stalks crispy, the tomato a delicate bonus.
Alex’s grilled Pacific Salmon ($16.95), meanwhile, is moist
and flavorful; the basil and lemon buerre blanc demand patient
enjoyment, which I leave to her. I’m busy devouring my
abundant cut, careful to use my utensils.
1200 Olmstead Rd., Monterey
11am-10pm daily. | Bar open until 11pm | 373-6868