These are crazy times in the restaurant business as you all know. One day they’re open for limited indoor dining, the next week they’re out in tents only, then takeout, curbside pickup and delivery only and then back to some variation of the above. Lawsuits are filed, some desperate businesses openly defy what the governor says and it’s your guess what’s next.
I’ve learned a few things. I make reservations, call ahead to see what’s happening today, not tomorrow, and when I get orders to go, I’ve learned to check the bag after receiving what is supposedly my order as I sometimes have taken home some other guy named Pete’s food. That was embarrassing.
Through it all, Hungry Hunter Steakhouse has done a lot of different things to keep the bills paid. For a time, they offered happy hour specials whenever they were open (and they have great happy hour values). Like many, they put a tent out back, and when they could go indoors, they spaced everyone out and left booths empty. This is the primary reason that reservations are a must. Many really good restaurants aren’t even allowed to keep everyone happy. They are trying to keep us alive. Hungry Hunter even started selling the seasoning mix they use as a rub on their popular prime rib for $13.99. That’s about as cool as when Luigi’s started selling their sauce in bottles.
The creativity hasn’t ended there. They offered holiday meal packages either to go or in the tent in the back, with a 10 percent discount for those spending $500 or more on gift certificates for employees to replace the holiday party. You can also get their food delivered through five different companies. The innovation has undoubtedly kept the doors open.
Nimbleness is positively required. In the face of all that, they rolled out a new menu about six months ago that is a near perfect elevation in my book in that they didn’t ditch any of our many old favorites: the garlic lovers New York steak, the whiskey peppercorn top sirloin, the prime rib, the steak Diane, the Norwegian salmon, the hot and spicy shrimp appetizer, the amazing half-price deals during happy hour, the lamb chops, the forest mushroom chicken. Pretty much all we’ve written favorably about in the past.
So, we ventured into new territory while dining indoors, my companion briefly tempted by the bruschetta chicken ($23.99, two breasts topped with provolone and marinated tomatoes) and ended up ordering the sun-dried tomato chicken ($23.99), which I thought I sampled before as a special. I had to choose the flame-broiled swordfish ($26.99) because I wanted to see if the kitchen was as adept with seafood as they were with beef.
There are some adjustments due to the pandemic. If you’ve visited before you know they bring out that wheel for your salad, which is like a portable salad bar of 10 ingredients that allows you to customize the toppings and the quantity of them (“more garbanzo beans please,” said no one ever). but now our waitress Taylor (who deserves a raise — she’s that good) merely asked me if there were any ingredients I wanted left off the plate. No, and the salads here still have a distinctive freshness that makes me look forward to them. My companion got the cream of broccoli soup, which was merely all right, as you could imagine in comparison.
Everything else in the meal was perfect, as you get to choose two sides with each entrée from the list of 14 options: I went with au gratin potatoes and onion rings, she chose crispy onion-battered green beans and red potatoes. My companion commented on the portions being more reasonable than so many restaurants served though getting only three onion rings, large as they were, made me wonder if a few fell off as the plate was being carried to the table. The au gratins are so rich that I’m glad they didn’t give me too much. We’ve loved those fried green beans for a long time, the onion taste in the batter subtle enough, and steamed red potatoes are great with anything.
The chicken (two large breasts) was seared and served with a house-made, light, creamy Parmesan cheese and sun-dried tomato sauce worthy of a fine restaurant. My swordfish was more simply prepared, with a finish of just a brush of garlic butter that was adequate enough to make its presence known without being overwhelming. I wanted to taste that fish, and I could.
Our waitress was a picture of grace throughout the dining experience, handling other tables with a quiet charm, perfect in her timing while checking on us, quite knowledgeable about the food and the restaurant. I really had the sense that she enjoys her work, and that really made it a wonderful night.
Alas, we had no room for their great desserts, many made in house such as that creation with the Oreo cookie crumbs and vanilla cream cheese pudding and that carrot cake that was raved about last time. If your will is weak, don’t ask to see the tray.
Hungry Hunter Steakhouse can be recommended for a fine dining experience.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @pftittl.