(2008) Red and lots of it is the right shade for a steakhouse, as anyone who has made the pilgrimage to Bern’s in Tampa, the Bay area’s reigning homegrown, over-the-top exemplar of the form, knows full well. Hyde Park Steakhouse in downtown Sarasota (the mother ship is in Cleveland) employs a more subdued and varied interior design palette, but red is prominent, from the quilted ceiling in its reception hall through dining room and bar seating and accents. Fold in dark woods, artful lighting and jacketed waiters and you have an atmosphere plush enough to suit the opulence, and commensurate prices, of the aged steaks at the core of an agreeably varied menu.
The bar was doing its usual brisk business on a recent evening, and it took a few moments for our cocktails to make their way to table. They were worth the short wait. Mine was the classic chilled Grey Goose martini with three olives in an oversized glass, which was just what I had in mind, but Colette’s citrus mojito was a work of art, with the requisite mint truly muddled, not just smooshed around in the bottom of the glass. She anointed it her new fave.
Overall, service was as smooth and unobtrusively attentive as it ought to be but often isn’t in a luxe class restaurant. When I asked whether that evening’s oysters (a quartet of fresh bluepoints for $8.95) was accompanied by a mignonette or the more common red horseradish sauce, the waiter was momentarily perplexed but vowed to see what he could do. When the starter arrived it was accompanied by not one but two ramekins of the minced shallot and wine vinegar sauce, whipped up on the fly by the chef just for me. Bravo!
Colette started with a steakhouse staple, a simple salad of sliced beefsteak tomatoes and bleu cheese crumbles with a bit of sweet onion thrown in for good measure ($6.95). She found the tomatoes sufficiently tomatoey to declare her first course quite satisfactory. Hyde Park’s salad list is big on retro, with that dressed iceberg wedge that is so inexplicably popular again in the top slot.
The wine we chose that evening, a scrumptious Newton Claret ($56), arrived a bit ahead of our steaks (What? You thought we’d order the fish?) to breathe and give us a gawking interval. We were seated in a cozy side room that accommodated just four formally set tables. The agreeable sound level is typical of the larger main dining rooms, as well, which is all to the good. I hate shouting at waiters over the hubbub, don’t you? Oddly, the ceiling in our little nook hosted several horizontal pictures in ornate frames, which I’m guessing are meant as a goad to the conversation invited by the acoustics.
And now for the steaks. The list is divided into two columns, one headed Traditional and the other Specialty, plus a box to showcase “limited availability” Japanese Wagyu beef ($110 to $160, depending on portion size) for unreconstructed big spenders. We ignored the box and chose one steak from each column.
Colette went straight for the Big Wally of the traditional list, a perfectly gorgeous 22-ounce prime bone-in ribeye ($39.95). This mouthwatering wonder, served precisely medium rare with a dainty crust, completely covered its ample plate, leaving no room for a side dish. Just as well, since the sides are ordered separately from a longish list. At some places this strategy comes annoyingly close to nickel-and-diming the customer to puff up the bill, but Hyde Park carries it off. The accompaniments are of the same high quality as the meats, and the portions are generous.
We chose hash browns with sour cream and caramelized onions ($7.95) and were profoundly glad we did. Two super-sized potato pancakes (we split one and took one home, along with about half the ribeye, to devour with eggs the next morning) proved to be the apotheosis of hash brownness, crisp and brown without, moist and fluffy within. We were tempted by the asparagus béarnaise, a wild mushroom sauté and the “colossal” beer-battered onion rings, but really, where would we have put them? Best to try one item each visit, unless you’re feeding teenagers.
From the specialty list I chose a longstanding favorite, steak au poivre ($36.95). Hyde Park’s version features a luscious 14-ounce New York strip, pan-seared and, like the ribeye, precisely medium rare as ordered. The steak unadulterated would be fabulous, but the fresh peppercorn crust encasing the meat and the Cognac bordelaise saucing it rendered it celestial. This dish is highly recommended for those who like their steak with a bit of bite.
Were we foundered? Practically, but we soldiered on and ordered cheesecake ($7.50) for the finale. Lucky us. The high, pale-yellow wedge we shared was lighter than thistledown but full of flavor and with a texture light years distant from the gooey cream cheese stuff “cheesecake” so often turns out to be. Now that’s my kind of wedge.
Hyde Park Steakhouse
35 S. Lemon Ave., Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 366-7788
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; until 9 p.m. Sunday; bar opens at 4 p.m. weekdays. (The management tentatively planned to open for lunch beginning this month, but it would be wise to call and confirm.)
Cards: V, MC, AmEx, Discover
Parking: Complimentary valet
Handicapped accessible: Yes