The Epicurean: “Steakhouse of Lies” Dashes Hopes

Matt Segall, Columnist

I should have known better than to go to an “upscale” restaurant located in Crocker Park, a so-called “lifestyle center” and the go-to retail platform closest to Oberlin since the indoor mall was declared dead in 2008.

It was a Friday morning. I was plugging away at an Art History assignment due in a matter of hours. Still, I managed to procrastinate on Facebook, where I discovered that Cleveland Restaurant Week ended the next night! I texted two of my close friends and eager dining companions to make sure they were down for a night out. Right away, I began researching my options. My assignment cried out “Finish me,” but I neglected it in pursuit of crispy calamari, strip steak and chocolate soufflé.

In an ideal world, I would have been able to dedicate all night to the outing, but I had responsibilities back on campus at 9:30 p.m. So I limited our options to the west side suburbs, which, unlike downtown, are not renowned for their dining selections. By then I’d heard back from my dining companions, so we began to rank our preferences. The first choice was booked all the way until 9 p.m. Maybe I should have given up at this point. After all, this whole plan was hatched as a desperate ploy for procrastination. But I went ahead and booked a table at our back-up: Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse.

My first thought on arriving was that they must have skimped on the design costs, because the ambiance was bizarre. We were greeted with a large painting of a Boston terrier in a smoking jacket. Once seated, I noticed that the table dividers were conspicuously high. I got the feeling that if I had inspected the hardwood, brass railings or really any of the luxury furnishings, I would have discovered that they were fake; fortunately for the restaurant, the service was quick enough that I didn’t have time.

Whoever designed the menu was a bit over-ambitious. As noted in previous columns, I am not a fan of large menus at upscale restaurants. Hyde Park is a first-degree offender on this charge. Lobster mashed potatoes, garlic whipped potatoes, potato Gruyère gratin, baked potato, fries; creamed spinach, spinach with mushrooms, garlic spinach. Can’t they just choose one of each and do it well? Even if the execution wouldn’t change with more limited offerings, it would have given me a bit more confidence. However, the dishes sounded tasty enough.

Service was strange. Our main server came by three times in the first 10 minutes of our meal to get our orders and encourage us to buy drinks. We never saw him again. In hospitality, there is a delicate balance between being attentive but not overbearing. Our server hit both extremes — overbearing early on, then mysteriously nonexistent for the rest of the evening. Subsequently, 10 other staff members served us during the evening, bringing our food and filling our glasses. This inefficiency is likely due to poor management. One of too many managers came by to inform my companion that the kitchen ran out of the salmon that he had ordered. He awkwardly crouched next to our table and was overly apologetic. When asked where the mahi-mahi was coming from, he replied, “It’s a Hawaiian fish,” not so cleverly avoiding our obvious inquiry: From where was the product sourced?

Great food could have saved Hyde Park. But their food was not great. It was bad. Not “I paid $50, this should be good” bad. It was “I would rather be eating at The Feve” bad. The wedge salad included an entire head of brown-edged iceberg lettuce, chopped in half and covered in watery blue cheese. They could’ve offered a less gargantuan salad with better greens or maybe even offered a non-salad starter on the restaurant week menu, but that probably would have been too much to ask.

My “twin filets” were the scraps from the beef tenderloin, cleverly pressed together and wrapped in bacon to look like one steak. The meat was raw in the center, undercooked despite my medium-rare request. The cut lacked significant beef flavor. I’m not even convinced it was USDA Choice grade, which is the lowest any high-end steakhouse should be serving. The bacon was thin and stringy, creating a tangled mess on my plate. My companion’s chicken Milanese still makes me chuckle. The breading was shiny with grease, a result of improper frying technique. The white winelemon-caper sauce tasted like a melted popsicle.

Everything lacked balance and finesse. We were hopeful that they wouldn’t screw up the most classic dessert — chocolate cake. False. It was so dense the fork barely moved through it. It was more like a mass of poorly made fudge than a cake. They even had the nerve to top it with an unripe raspberry. We called it a “neutron star cake” because it was so dense and we’re nerds.

Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse is a microcosm of Crocker Park as a whole. The lifestyle they try to propagate, much like the food in the restaurant, is tacky and contrived. The table dividers were probably so high in order to keep diners from commiserating on the poor experience, organizing and staging a riot.