Thursday, May 15, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Donovan's Steak and Chop House

Disney’s Haunted Mansion in its heyday, before the ghosts arrived and when high society graced its doors, was the feel upon entering Donovan’s. We squinted to adjust to dark wood and non-existent lighting, antique chandeliers eking out the dimmest of watts, but enough to glimpse the well stocked bar with a lazy-Susan of fruity condiments shining like precious gems. We were welcomed enthusiastically by the entire staff and our waiter, Lucky, who was as valuable as his name implied.

We started out with a cocktail and when my scotch-loving sweetie ordered Macallan 12 year with two ice cubes, Lucky suggested, “Would you prefer our gigantic ice cube specifically for single malts?” This perfectly square glacier fit like a puzzle piece into the glass for a novel, classy touch. Lucky was also an expert with the wine list and helped us choose the light bodied Chianti (Isole e Olena, 2005) that is now my reigning favorite.

The service and décor was top notch, but unfortunately the food fell a little short. Fried calamari was tender, but not memorable and the fact that it was served with tartar sauce furthered our disappointment. Crab cakes were engorged with lump meat, but their addition of raw, red pepper overwhelmed the dish. Lump crabmeat can (and should) stand on its own without any extra filler (also served with tartar sauce- can we get a little diversity in the condiments people?)

I got the 14 oz center cut veal chop as my entrée and about 6 oz of that was fat. What? Fatty veal, I’ve never heard of such a thing! I still regret not saying anything to Lucky, who would have promptly solved the problem in some way I’m sure. My eating accomplice ordered the lamb, which was superb and perfectly cooked, so I forced him to share. The skillet potatoes with peppercorn gravy (upon Lucky’s recommendation, of course) were one of my favorite attractions here with thin, round slices covered like a mud-wrestler in peppercorn gravy and sautéed onions.

Donovan’s old money vibe could be felt from the starched attendants to the high prices and reminded me of a night at the theater where I needed to use my “inside voice”. The atmosphere dripped sophistication from its dark booths (already reserved by bejeweled, older couples that had been coming here for years) and secured its hushed etiquette like a stylish neckerchief. The time transcending appeal of this “functioning Haunted Mansion” and Lucky were probably the best part of the meal, which didn’t say much about the food. It also wasn’t enough to blind me to Donovan’s obvious shortcomings- summed up: pricey and dicey.

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