Ah, Morton’s. I know I said I wouldn’t review national chain restaurants here, but I’m making an exception since the experience was so very different than my perception.
We ended up at Morton’s because we couldn’t figure out where to go to dinner. This is a usual Friday night for Julie and Terry. We go to our favorite bar, order a beer (a diet Coke for me) and relax after our long weeks. Our favorite bartender asks us where we’re going, we say, “We have no idea!” and he laughs, and tells us how much it amuses him that we go through the same thing every week. This Friday was no different. Nothing sounded good, but to Terry, a steak always sounds good. As we exited the parking garage out of the Westin (I’ll admit, I was trying to drag him to Via Vite, but the suggestion didn’t make it out of my mouth), he pointed and said, “Morton’s!” So Morton’s it was.
Morton’s is known for being a traditional steakhouse– there are Morton’s Steakhouses all over the country, the first (and best known) being in Chicago. In Cincinnati, Morton’s used to be underground in the Carew Tower, but recently, it opened above Boi Na Braza on the second floor of the same building. It is, indeed, a beautiful restaurant in a very old fashioned sort of way: leather banquettes, humongous flower arrangements everywhere, dark wood, bottles of wine as decor and a tuxedoed Maître d’. The ambiance is definitely very “special occasion”, and the view on the Square is beautiful.
At 9:30 on a Friday night, the restaurant had about three or four tables. Our waiter was very cordial and knowledgeable: he quickly got our drink orders, and wheeled over The Visual Menu. As I had only been to Morton’s to have cocktails before this, I’d never experienced The Visual Menu. Our waiter, with the enthusiasm of a flight attendant giving us the pre-flight safety instructions, reviewed the menu, and thankfully gave us a paper menu for follow-up, as I really don’t remember much from it besides, “Wow, that’s a really huge lobster.”
Terry decided on a ribeye, and I decided on my standard: seared ahi. I find most steakhouses do tuna steaks well, and this one was sesame-encrusted and served with a “spicy soy ginger sauce”. Sign me up! We started off with a wedge salad: this one was very average, and the blue cheese dressing was not particularly spectacular: there was no pungent bite of blue, only creaminess. Wedge salads are really only vehicles for blue cheese dressing delivery, so it was only “okay”.
Our entrees arrived. I had ordered my tuna medium rare, which was what the Chef recommended. I should have ordered it rare. My first bite was well done, but I generally expect the outer parts of meat like a steak or tuna to be be more well done than the center. The second bite was well done. The next bite was less well done, but the center was a sickly grey. The waiter had already checked in, so of course, I didn’t discover this until after. It took a while for the waiter to come from out of the kitchen and notice me (he only had one other table), but he was very apologetic and put in another order. By this time, Terry had finished his steak (which he had ordered rare, but was more medium-rare), so we ate fries (which were okay, a bit mealy and pale) and garlic green beans (very garlicky and perfectly done) until my second entree came out. This one was pink and not grey in the center (I know that some species of tuna are not the CO-infused bright pink we’re used to, but that visual menu got the best of them: the ahi was bright red). Unfortunately, though it was better than before, it still wasn’t great: the saltiness of the soy overwhelmed any ginger and wasabi, and the meat itself was bland and flavorless. I was disappointed. Terry was disappointed as well: though his steak was good, it wasn’t spectacular. He described it as, “Competent, but only a step above a chain like Outback. I really want an aged steak from Ruby’s.” He also mentioned that he had been to the Cincinnati Morton’s before, and thought it was much better. Maybe it was an off night, but I’ve talked to other diners who have had similar experiences recently. I hope they improve to match both their reputation and their ambiance.
We skipped dessert, and I took half of my tuna home (and it’s still in the bag in the refrigerator, I probably ought to throw it out). Overall, we were both underwhelmed to the point where we were disappointed the next day. There’s nothing like an unsatisfying, overhyped meal to disappoint you. If I’m looking for a steak, I think I’ll stick with a Jeff Ruby restaurant, or perhaps head to Embers in Montgomery.