Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge a standoutRestaurant Review Thursday, April 7th, 2011
Cities all over the country seem to have their fair share of steak houses and San Diego County is no exception. From the typical over priced chains to several local favorites, there seems to be one, and sometimes more than one, in every neighborhood.
There is a little one that stands out above all the rest and offers a different take on the popular concept. The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge is a hidden gem on the strip of Washington Street in Mission Hills. With barely 40 seats, the sexy atmosphere is welcoming and quaint.
Shiny black leather booths sit in the corners, while the sides are lined with classic banquettes. There are no windows, dark and boldly colored wallpaper lines the walls and scattered mirrors give you the impression that the space is bigger. All this comes together to create a ’40s supper club that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Marlene Dietrich would have frequented weekly.
Living up to their name, the Martini list is the best in town and generously served in big stemware. Start with a traditional one or branch out and try their original creations. There is not much room to grab a drink at the tiny bar, so arrive at the time of your reservation and settle in at a cozy table.
Attached to the Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar by both the chef and kitchen, chef and partner Brian Johnston plays the dual role of executive chef for both. At The Wellington, chef Brian stays true to a typical steak house menu with salads, appetizers and entrees reflecting the theme.
The House Wedge Salad ($8.50) is the best version in town. The generous wedge of crispy iceberg lettuce, crunchy applewood smoked bacon and pickled onions soak up the well made creamy buttermilk dressing.
The standard table starter of a Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($10.50) doesn’t disappoint. Chucks of artichokes can be found in this creamy spread. Goat cheese tops the dip and offers a different twist.
Although I do love it when chefs take on classic dishes and put a spin on them, here the Crab Cakes ($14.50) are a good example of the saying, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Moist and made with jumbo crabmeat, I am confused by the use of kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes.
The Steaks and Chops is a collection of appropriately portioned and well-priced selections. Two filet mignons, a 6 oz ($23.50) and an 8 oz ($33.50), are both tender as can be and showcase the cut well. My favorite from this section is the 10 oz Charolais New York Steak ($30.50). Perfectly seasoned every time, the top grade strip melts in your mouth. You can be assured that chef Brian uses only the highest quality beef and it shows in every bite.
The steaks are à la carte, and so are the sides. Each comes with two selections at no additional cost, a concept foreign to all other steak houses. The variety of the à la carte offerings can really keep your dishes interesting each time you dine.
Asparagus Spears are crunchy and delicious while the Sautéed Mushrooms are loaded with different varieties. The Mac-n-Cheese are gooey and a bit too much for me. Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes are non-offensive, but the Roasted Dijon Yukon Potatoes are the best with the steaks. In addition to the great sides offered, you get a choice of five house made sauces.
Of course with a name like The Wellington, you would assume the iconic dish would be a signature. Not being my favorite item on the menu, the Beef Wellington ($33.50) overall is executed well, but lacks the luster of what I would expect from the dish. It might have been just an off night for chef and his team.
I hate to point out such a negative of a restaurant I truly enjoy, but one of the largest downfalls of the restaurant is the wine list. Poorly selected, it is dominated by your grocery store brands at restaurant prices. There are two or three decent bottles, but those hit above the three figure mark. When you go, my suggestion is to pull a nice bottle out of your collection and pay the corkage.
The great lesson The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge has taught us is not to be afraid of steak houses anymore. Here, they have proven that the concept can be executed with quality, done in an affordable way and set in a swanky setting. Ladies, grab your clutches and gentlemen your hats, and take your evening over to an era when dining was meant to be sexy, the steaks were rare and the martinis just flowed.
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