Red, the Steakhouse might be the only restaurant in town with the balls to serve a $50 entree on a stark white plate without so much as a parsley sprig for embellishment. When you're selling the best steaks in town, you neither need nor want anything – be it parsley, sliced tomato, your server – competing with the beef for attention.
With the recent opening of Red, downtown got the sort of punchy modern American steakhouse it justly deserves. Located on Prospect, near the mouth of East Fourth Street, the restaurant nicely complements the current offerings in that area by combining top-notch food with a high-concept space that's built for deep-pocketed diners.
Taking more than a few design cues from the Beachwood original, the interior – like the punch line of an old joke – is black, white and red all over.
The location, ironically enough, is on the site of a former pawnshop, where customers actually managed to escape with more money than they walked in with. That's not the case here, where diners can expect to pay north of $100 per person, easy, not including tip. But you don't go to Red and places like it to pinch pennies or count calories; you go to Red and places like it to upend boozy martinis, carve into fat-ass steaks and lie about how much money you made last year.
That's why management's approach to menu pricing is a tad bewildering. Every item, from the appetizers, to the entrees, to the sides and sauces, is priced (much like the corner gas station) with a .9 ending. The belief, of course, is that a $50 steak or a $12 side dish will appear less costly when written as $49.9 and $11.9. If the difference of a dime or two were that critical, I certainly wouldn't be eating steak.
In most ways, Red adheres to the steakhouse code. That means it's less of a chef-driven operation than an ingredient- and technique-driven one. Dishes are familiar and extravagant; when you're dropping this kind of coin, nobody likes surprises. Instead, diners get reliably delicious, dependable and decadent food.
Meals here start with Ketel One martinis ($16), oysters on the half shell ($16.9/half dozen), shrimp cocktail ($17.9/half pound) and beef tenderloin tartar ($14.9). Three lengthy hot peppers ($12.9) bust at the seams with zesty Italian sausage. They languish in a broth of roasted tomatoes. A half dozen stuffed and baked clams Casino ($13.9) arrive in fallen-domino fashion, each resting on its neighbor to the south. The clam meat is on the chewy side, but that doesn't stop us from making quick work of them.
Salads are predictably fresh and full, the ever-popular Chop, Chop ($10.9) being high on the list thanks to the addition of briny anchovies and crunchy bits of toasted pita. There's a classic wedge ($10.9), dressed here with a peppery ranch dressing, and a roasted beet ($11.9), gilded with pecans and salty ricotta salata.
At Red you get steak – not salmon, not chicken and certainly not pasta, but I can't control my dining companions. A plate of "linguini with 24 clams" ($28.9) indeed has many clams, but each is the size of a quarter and needs wrestled from its shell. It's a delicious pasta, with waves of garlic and lemon and butter and parsley, but it's no steak. A half-pound portion of salmon ($26.9), its flavor boosted with a summery pesto, is heartily enjoyed, but it's no steak.
You know what's steak? A fiercely charred, two fingers-thick USDA Prime ribeye ($42.9), seasoned with little more than salt and pepper and cooked to a perfect and consistent medium-rare. Also excellent is a 14-ounce aged Certified Angus Beef New York strip ($38.9), one of eight available cuts and weights and the relative bargain of the bunch. Don't forget to order a steak-making side of Béarnaise ($2.9), which makes everything it touches taste better.
There are more than a dozen wonderful side dishes, like deeply caramelized mushrooms ($11.9), pancetta-spiked Brussels ($8.9), milky creamed spinach ($9.9), and macaroni and cheese ($10.9). Potatoes come baked, truffled, whipped and french fried, but our favorite is the million-layer potato au gratin ($9.9), which arrives beneath a mantle of melted cheese.
Our celebratory but lengthy meal was punctuated by a few delays between courses, stretches we happily filled with glasses of red wine off the meaty list. If there were a qualm, it disappeared quickly, because then came dessert, which for us included warm, powder-dusted doughnut holes ($6.9) served with chocolate, caramel and raspberry dipping sauces. And all was quickly forgiven.