Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tahoe Joe's

I have had a lot of interesting food adventures lately—so many that I don't have time to do justice to all of them in writing.

For example, I would like to rhapsodize about the chicken tikka masala and onion kulcha at the Taj Palace in Chesterfield MO, where I dined on linen table cloths one cold, drizzly evening within the past week; but there have to be many still-more-spectacular dining experiences awaiting me in that little storefront restaurant, since tikka masala is merely the gateway dish to many other delights, hardly even Indian when you get down to it. I mean, I've read somewhere that the dish was invented in Scotland; so it's about as Indian as General Tso's chicken is Chinese. But still, it was a really good dinner.

Then there is the shrimp po'boy sandwich I had last night* at the Schlafly Tap Room in downtown St. Louis. I thought it was something special, but what do I know? I had never even had a po'boy before. I wasn't even sure how to go about eating it, a task that seemed equally a matter of picking bits off with the fork as of hefting the entire hoagie-bunned, red-sauced extravagance with both hands and biting into it. I was equally at a loss today* at Denny's when, for a brunch-break during a walk in perfect hoodie-sweater weather, I ordered a Bacon Slamburger, complete with ground beef, hash browns, hollandaise, and an egg cooked to order, in my case a poached egg whose yolk burst and ran all over the plate when I tried to pick the sandwich up. In the end I just picked off the sesame-seed bun and went at it with a knife and fork, finishing by mopping up leftover yolk and hollandaise with the remaining bread and crinkly steak fries.

But the honor of a full restaurant review, with enough stars to grace a fireworks show, goes to the new Tahoe Joe's steakhouse that opened in Chesterfield two weeks ago. A few nights ago* I stopped there for dinner and learned that it is the first restaurant of its small chain to open outside the state of California, which is quite an honor for the Chesterfield Commons shopping area, even if it is the largest open-air mall in the U.S. (Document that for yourself. I don't remember where I read it, and I'm too fat and happy to go researching it now.) But what you want to know is that Tahoe Joe's is exactly like a restaurant that you might see featured on the Food Network, from its distinctive look (based on glossy wood paneling and columns trimmed with smooth rocks cemented together) to its chatty wait staff, all the way to the unusual but staggeringly delicious signature dishes which come to your table in architecturally stylish arrangements.

I started with an appetizer called "Railroad Camp Shrimp," which was ten large, peeled shrimp, breaded and fried in something of a tempura style, and formed into a sticky tower on top of a salad tossed with fried wonton chips, crispy chow mein noodles, and an Asian-inspired dressing. All of this was arranged on a funky pedestal-shaped device and accompanied by a cup of sweet brown dipping sauce, similar to the stuff you dunk pot stickers in at a Chinese-American restaurant. I was literally still savoring the flavors of this dish when my waiter presented me with an unsolicited cup of chicken noodle soup, which (I must admit) tasted a little funky coming down off a mountain of sticky-sweet Asian tempura shrimp salad, but improved vastly after I cleansed my palate. With what did I cleanse it, you ask? Have I not mentioned the mason jar full of tart-sweet lemonade that came with my meal? I instantly pegged it as one of the three best lemonades I have ever tasted, its flavor so profoundly tangy that I almost suspected a hint of rhubarb in the recipe.

But all that was prelude to the main dish. My waiter explained that Tahoe Joe's signature dish of all siganture dishes, notwithstanding their excellent ribs and pork chops, is a number known simply as Tahoe Joe's Steak: a juicy sirloin steak that is first slow-roasted for 19 hours before being grilled to anywhere between medium and well-done, more or less just to add that final touch of charcoal-smoke flavor. But a little lower down on the facing page of the menu is what I actually ordered: the Tahoe Joe's Steak Sandwich.

This sandwich came, first of all, with a pile of fries so huge that I groaned when I saw it. I picked at only a few of the fries. The waiter was nice enough to bring me a cup of horseradish sauce that I requested before I tried the sandwich, but after tasting it I couldn't bring myself to change a thing about it, so I used the horsey sauce to dip the fries in and that proved to be an excellent idea. Nevertheless, the pile of fries remained pretty much untouched when my meal ended, and it ended simply because I was too full to eat one more bite.

The sandwich itself was huger than I expected, sliced into two halves that overlapped each other on the plate, each mounded high with slivers of beef cooked in such a way that it seems equally right to call it a pot roast as a steak. The meat was delicious, tender, and juicy, and the bread was that really crispy type of grilled bread that probably has parmesan cheese grilled right into it, forming an especially stiff crust on the outside of the sandwich to complement the gushy goodness within. In with the meat in that goodness were large slices of grilled pepper, long strands of grilled onion, a stretchy layer of melted white cheese, some kind of tangy sauce, a couple of slices of bacon (which I discovered with a guffaw of disbelief), and slices of little round grilled mushrooms and of one big juicy tomato.

This is a sandwich whose awesomeness cannot be sufficiently described, or if so described, believed. It must be experienced. So when you get to the bottom of this post, close your browser, grab your wallet and keys, and drive with all the speed that public safety and the Missouri Highway Code allow to 17258 Chesterfield Airport Road, a wee bit east of the Boone's Crossing ramp off I-64. Don't tell your waiter I sent you, because that won't add anything to your experience. Just take my advice: order the sandwich I described, and save room for dessert. I'm going to have to use one of those "call this number to tell us what you think and we'll comp you a slice of cheesecake" gimmicks before I get to try their New York-style cheesecake. The one thing I regret about my first visit to Tahoe Joe's is not having enough room even to think about ordering dessert. In fact, I was so full after the shrimp, the chicken soup, and a second mason jar of lemonade that I only managed to eat about 88% of my sandwich, and that in spite of having passed the point of pain & being obliged to pick bits out of it with a knife and fork (which seems to be a keynote of my sandwich-eating career, lately).

I explained to the waiter, as I fished for fragments of bacon amongst the remnants of congealed cheese, that it is a sin to leave bacon uneaten; I don't think he got the joke, but the restaurant got my enthusiasm and, I expect, will keep it at least long enough for me to try everything on its menu. There aren't that many dishes on it, a good sign if you salivate for the kind of gourmet-quality comfort food you see regularly on the Food Network, but rarely in real life. I'll keep you posted if any more of Tahoe Joe's menu offerings change my life the way that sandwich did.

* Timeline: I started writing this review the night of my visit to Tahoe Joe's, as the date stamp on the post shows; my visits to Schlafly's and Denny's took place on Friday and Saturday respectively. Because I dragged out completing this review until Saturday afternoon, the verb tenses and time tags throughout the review are kiddywumpus. But what is a journal for, if not to make virtual time travel possible?


Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Don said...

Hey Steve! Great post on Tahoe Joe's. We were wondering about it, and, thanks to you, we know it's a winner. If it makes you think of a place on the Food Network - it's good enough for us!


Don 'n Deb St Charles County