Monty’s Steakhouse, Springfield, VA

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Monty’s Steakhouse last night, and I kept it that way on purpose. It’s in the Old Keene Mill Shopping Center which also contains the Springfield Whole Foods (there are quite a few shopping centers around that intersection, so that’s your reference). Immediately, I was impressed by the clean, dichromatic decor of white walls, and dark (black, brown) trim which dominates the restaurant’s ambiance. Although the restaurant was full at 7:30 on a Saturday night, we managed to get a two-top after just a couple of minutes, and it was a good thing we weren’t any later because a line of patrons began forming behind us.

As I walked to the table, I looked at people’s food, and knew that I was going to probably like this restaurant quite a bit, and I was right. There’s a lot to choose from on this front-and-back page menu, and while some people were having burgers (which looked terrific, and provide an inexpensive alternative in a casual fine dining atmosphere), most people were there for a steak, and so were we.

I have two concerns about Monty’s Steakhouse, the first of which is beverage pricing. My young dining companion stuck with ice water, while I ordered a Gulden Draak ($14) from a fairly long, but somewhat ordinary, page of beers without prices next to them – I would have never ordered this beer had I known it was an astounding fourteen dollars. Gulden Draak is a very fine, widely available beer which retails for about $5 per 11.2 ounce bottle, so we’re in triple-retail territory here for an already expensive beer. The lady, whom I believe may have been the owner’s wife, struggled mightily with the pour, producing mostly foam, and had to return to the bar. A minute or so later, a fairly small glass appeared filled to the brim, without the bottle, and I suspect several ounces of this beer had been lost to the angels.

We could not have chosen better appetizers. Hot Artichoke & Spinach Dip ($8 for a small) is the type of thing I go out of my way to avoid at TGIFridays, etc. because it’s generally a gooey (but tasty) calorie-fest that is ultimately not worth the poundage; here, it was also gooey, but this dip was delicious in a way that was worth every calorie, served with toasted slices of baked baguette topped with what could have been an orange parmesan-styled crumble. I tend not to like these dips, but this one was really good. Every bit its equal was the New England Clam Chowder ($5 for a cup (we had actually ordered a bowl)), a thick, brownish chowder, loaded up with clams and potato, surely flavored with some form of bacon. A wonderful, heavy-styled chowder that I cannot imagine anyone not liking except for absolute purists. I recommend both of these appetizers, and it will be difficult to move on and try others the next time I’m here.

Monty’s features several dry-aged cuts of steak, all of which are locally grown (according to our friendly server, Ari), and dry-aged for them by the distributor. We went all-in, and ordered the Dry-Aged Porterhouse For Two ($45, menu says 26 ounces), the most expensive item in the restaurant as far as I can remember (the porterhouse for one was $38 for 14 ounces, so ordering this just made good sense). We ordered it medium-rare, and that’s exactly how it was cooked. Monty’s offers a variety of interesting sauces, all of which are included in the price, and you can order several to taste and compare – we thoroughly enjoyed our trio of Bernaise, garlic jus, and horseradish cream (and were cheerfully brought a second ramekin of Bernaise when I asked for it) – I don’t see how these sauces could have been any better than they were. Humorously, Monty’s offers Yum-Yum sauce as one of their options. Knowing this thread was on the website, it brought a smile to my face. This was a very fine porterhouse that was indeed quite large – it’s possible for one hungry man to finish it, but it’s certainly sized for two average people. Better still, the price of the steaks includes two side orders (re-read that sentence), and our side orders were every bit as good as our appetizers. Pommes Gratin and Creamed Spinach were the perfect compliments to our porterhouse, and both were not only executed extremely well, but also divided into individual portions and served to each of us on our own plate (almost surely, the pommes gratin was two orders, as it was baked and served in the same dish). The creamed spinach used fresh leaves, and very, very little cream – just enough so you might know it’s there. Some of the food, including the pommes gratin and porterhouse, benefitted from a few shakes of salt (not a problem, and I’d certainly rather have this than the opposite case). With my steak, I enjoyed the least expensive red wine by the glass that Monty’s offers, the 2010 Jacques Perrin Côtes du Rhone ($8), a perfectly serviceable vin de table that, if I recall, was selling for $28 a bottle. If you have two adults, and are looking for an inexpensive red with your steak, you won’t go wrong with this (their wine list, in general, skews expensive, but I did notice a bottle of Monastrell for, I believe, $21 if you want to go cheaper still; I’d go with the Côtes du Rhone).

As stuffed as we were, there was a little postcard on the table with a quote from one of the internet sites, raving about the desserts. We asked our server about them, and she said they are all made in-house, and are presented on a tray. Wow, another nice little surprise. So we asked her to bring it out, and were both mightily impressed with what we saw: fully eleven house-made desserts, all of which looked worth ordering. The chef apparently has some extensive training in pastry, and it shows. We happily ordered a Lychee Tart ($9), a dessert I don’t ever recall seeing in this area before. Matt had never before tried a lychee, and this was a fine introduction, the lychees distributed around, and on the top part, of a well-made pastry crust that, despite looking very “wet,” had a bit, just a bit, of a dryness to it. Nevertheless, a fine effort, and I would urge diners to save room for dessert here because it’s worth it.

If this post sounds like a rave, it pretty much is. But I haven’t gotten to my second concern about Monty’s, and I’m not quite sure how to even bring it up. The service here was as friendly as it could possibly be. Monty himself brought out our appetizers, and ground whole peppercorns over our clam chowder. Ari, our server, could not have been more pleasant. The lady I believe might be Monty’s wife was the one who served me my beer. Enthusiasm abounded, and everyone was delightful which is why I feel like a creep for saying that the service here has problems. We were both left with an overall feeling that when we really needed something, we couldn’t flag anyone down (we were absolutely not being ignored; there was just nobody around). It’s possible they were short-staffed, and that would explain things, but there’s something intangible about the timing of everything that was just “off.” One example is that halfway through my steak, I finished my wine and would have loved another glass, but nobody ever asked – we were there a good thirty minutes after that point. Yes, I could have flagged someone I suppose, but this is just one example. Another is that we never got dinner rolls, and we noticed the tables on both sides of us had a basket of them (and they looked very good) – we didn’t notice this until late in the meal, or I would have surely asked for some. These problems are eminently fixable, however, because they are rooted in good intention and friendliness. I hate to push myself as a restaurant consultant (and won’t), but I could have this restaurant running like a finely tuned machine in just a few days. I honestly don’t think the owners recognize the service issues or they would surely address them, and it most certainly was not our server, who was as friendly and cordial as could be – it was all timing and focus, nothing more, nothing less.

More than any other restaurant, Monty’s reminds me of Ray’s The Classics. However, with the possible exception of the steaks, every single thing we ate here was at a higher level than Ray’s. Matt argued, perhaps correctly, that Ray’s bisque was as good as our clam chowder, but the appetizers, side dishes, and desserts – as well as the very fine, reasonably priced steak we had – vaults Monty’s Steakhouse strongly into Italic in the Dining Guide, as well as securing its place as the top restaurant in Springfield with nary a challenger in view. It is not often I am taken so completely off-guard by a dining experience, but I was extremely impressed by Monty’s Steakhouse, and I think you will be, too.

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