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C&L - Now Closed

A New Home for Steak

In the realm of celebrity San Francisco dining, few have made the splash of famed Aqua restaraunteurs Charles Condy and Laurent Manrique. Well-versed in a poetic approach to the ways of seafood since Aqua opened its doors in 1991, the dining duo now have a new fire to stoke. They've branded their name into a revisionist American steakhouse with a concept menu based on cooking from America's best steak cities: Denver, Chicago, New York.

The old Charles Nob Hill location remains intimate, and has been transformed into a den of deep-piled velvet banquettes, tasteful taut-painted fabrics, and a classic bar from which to stir a stiff martini or pour through the thoughtful wine list. You may even forget that you are in California altogether and be tempted to fire up a fat Cuban.

However meat doesn't swim, and the svelte blending of subtle flavors that makes Aqua a culinary standout of global proportions in seafood offerings must further be netted to make C&L its culinary twin. Let us not mince words: the steak is outstanding. Quite likely the best you'll ever eat. The meat is brought from Painted Hills Natural Beef in Fossil, OR, featuring robust hormone and antibiotic-free cows fed on grass, corn, alfalfa, and barley. Transformed into a piquant black pepper crusted sirloin, the steak was serious and terse, flavorful and intense -- made more so by its full-bodied bourbon reduction -- and cooked absolutely perfectly. As was the rib-eye; a succulent marbled filet of buttery meat made tender from a delicate dry coffee rub, served under a quail egg yolk "bull's eye" and a smoky baked bean dipping sauce. Both were sublime and will require a future visit to relive their unmatched eloquence.

Accompanying side dishes, served family style, included: the Ferry Building Market Special, grilled asparagus (the first of the season) perfectly accentuated with a few shreds of manchego and the creamed spinach, the perfect steakhouse classic with just the right accent of nutmeg, but which was so overly rich when paired with the steak that most of it returned from whence it came. Our server, attentive and professional throughout, tried to steer us toward the cone of pommes frites, but we felt the elegant surroundings merited a more adventurous carbohydrate component, and instead chose both the twice-baked potatoes, attractively served on a bed of rock salt, and the cheddar grits, lightly cheesed, chewy, and paired with sweet Vidalia onion. Both were aching for salt, and neither burned the iron red hot. And while the table service was good, the pacing set by the kitchen was erratic -- at times waiting an eternity between courses, other times rushed before the fork hit the plate.

Starters and desserts left us nearly chilled. The Oyster Pie was a toothless broth of oyster, bay shrimp, fennel, and lardons sealed in a delicate puff pastry. The black-eyed pea salad seemed tongue-tied and the prawn "hush puppies" were more like tiny corn dogs, and its dainty, sweet flavor were overpowered by the hyper-vinegary (yet delicious) legumes. A few leaves of romaine, dressed in its own strong, creamy dressing, spiraled the dish on a collision course reminiscent of polka-dots over plaid. And the desserts? Neither the Bananas Foster nor the pecan pie merited a second date. My sweet tooth will be taken elsewhere. But my steak craving now has a place to call home.

Nob Hill