Steak purists won’t be disappointed at Morton’s.
When the godfathers of fine dining at Morton’s The Steakhouse say they serve the best of the best, they mean it. The restaurant’s flagship dishes consist of exceptional meat: rated USDA Prime by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a coveted distinction earned only by 2 to 3 percent of the beef produced in America. On top of that, the restaurant’s purveyors must age prime selections to Morton’s specifications, in order for proteins to be perfected at the establishment. Carefully selected steaks are just one facet of the iconic eatery’s dedication to quality, and just one of many reasons it remains a cut above the rest.
As guests arrive at the Ala Moana Center eatery, via a private elevator, they are stepping into an uplifted dining experience in more ways than one. A polished restaurant greets patrons with enough dim lighting, dark woods and Art Deco details to make them feel as though they’re having dinner in one of the traditional steak houses of Manhattan or Chicago. In fact, they are partaking in an American institution that dates back to the first Morton’s, which opened in the Windy City in 1978.
Meals are best started with a preliminary drink in Morton’s intimate bar, situated next to the main dining room. Though this space is ideal for a pau hana nibble on petite filet mignon sandwiches and parmesan-truffle match-stick fries, I venture here on a recent winter evening simply to order a drink before the rest of my party arrives. After glancing through an extensive wine-and-cocktail list, the personable bartenders help me decide on the Last Word: a 1925 classic mixed with Death’s Door Gin of Washington Island and herb-infused Green Chartreuse liqueur. I spot guests surveying the impressive bottle-scape behind the bar, which includes a glass-encased crystal bottle of Louis XIII by Remy Martin, complete with a 24-karat gold collar. It’s a fine view indeed.
Once our party is seated in the main dining room, our meal begins with a mingling of appetizers, per general manager Zyron Schoniwitz’s recommendation. Succulent filets may rule Morton’s menu, but we enjoy an initial taste of the first lady of steak houses—sultry seafood— in a chilled prime ocean platter. Jumbo shrimp cocktail and lump crabmeats are served alongside huge raw oysters, Alaskan king crab and Maine lobster in this sharable starter.
The eatery’s lobster moves into mind-blowing territory when it’s married with fresh cream and brandy in scrumptious lobster bisque— something worth foregoing manners to scrape the bowl clean. All of the menu’s supplemental dishes are more like small-scale works of art, showcasing an attention to detail that takes an ordinary Caesar salad and turns it into something extraordinary with the thoughtful addition of large, fresh shards of Parmesan.
Sharp suits and cocktail dresses spotted out of the corner of one’s eye contribute to the dining room’s warm buzz, as wine glasses clamor over crisp white tablecloths. In today’s predominantly casual restaurant culture, it’s nice to know there still is a place where patrons can get dressed up to go out for a nice meal if they’d like to. They’ll also be met with old-fashioned chivalry from the generous wait staff, and fine-dining favorites Morton’s has popularized over the years, such as chicken Bianco or shrimp Alexander. Guests often will find themselves rubbing shoulders with VIP customers, from local celebrities to international dignitaries, who make Morton’s part of their dinner repertoire.
On this particular evening, our informative server brings the courses we’ve all been waiting for: center-cut filet mignon and porterhouse steak. Without further ado, we finally cut our steak knives into the establishment’s exclusive chops. Widely considered to be the tenderest beef, filet mignon lives up to its reputation, cutting like butter and exuding incredibly savory juices. Th e meat’s USDA Prime rating does authenticate its supple, moist flavor, but its temperature-controlled, wet-aging process also plays a key role in reaching an upper echelon of quality. Morton’s luxurious meats are vacuum packaged, with juices and all, for two and a half to three weeks, allowing the cuts to thoroughly tenderize, open up in flavor and gain richness and texture. “It’s like letting wine breathe,” Schoniwitz says.
Visitors may taste the clean, luscious result of the aging process in Morton’s porterhouse, a selection that just about steals the show. A combination of filet mignon and New York steak, each presentation of this 24-ounce slab must be at least 2 by 2 inches on the filet side to even be offered at Morton’s. The crème-de-la-crème of cuts is a fantasy of charred perfection, with burly, caramelized edges locking in silky interior meat. Specialized ovens in the kitchen reach 1,100 to 1,200 degrees to achieve such dramatically delicious sears. And when it comes to flavor, Morton’s signature blend of seasonings are all these steaks need, as their natural characteristics speak for themselves. Stemming from corn-fed cows kept on specific feeding schedules, the beautifully marbled beef flirts with sweetness, staying clear of any overbearing gaminess.
Ready to build upon the glorious flavors filling our palates, Schoniwitz brings the table a 2012 Chappellet The Double C red blend—of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc—created especially for Morton’s. Like the better part of the steak house’s substantial wine selection, this pour pairs well with a wide range of red-meat creations. To round out the meal, we also enjoy a host of old standards on the side, including bacon-speckled sautéed Brussels sprouts and jumbo asparagus drizzled with balsamic glaze. For the purists, creamed spinach and sour cream mashed potatoes are noteworthy choices as well.
Guests may think they’re out of room for dessert, but one whiff of Legendary Hot Chocolate cake or key lime pie accompanied by espresso will quickly prove otherwise. Both selections are appropriate endings to an unforgettable evening, which is just another night at Morton’s The Steakhouse.