As Mad Men comes to its sad conclusion, there are certain elements to this romantic era that we just can’t give up. After years of neglect, Don Draper and company helped bring the long-unfashionable, dying art of tableside cooking back into vogue.
Not everywhere, mind you. But here and there, you can now find nitro-frozen ice cream (Bearfoot Bistro), carbonated egg creams (Eleven Madison Park), and bong-smoked oysters (Desnuda), prepared with dramatic flair by highly skilled servers right next to the very table where you eat them.
“It’s a higher standard that lavishes attention on our guests,” says Neil Aisenstat, president and CEO of Hy’s Steakhouse Restaurants, where tableside classics have never gone out of style.
Caesar salad, Chateaubriand, and Bananas Foster have always been prepared tableside at the venerable Canadian steakhouse, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. But when the company began refreshing its menus last fall, they realized that more and more young diners –not just the old-guard traditionalists– were lapping up the flambés and tableside sizzle.
Hy’s Steakhouse is now offering a special four-course tableside series, available for large groups at all locations with advanced notice. We joined a preview dinner at Hy’s Encore in Vancouver this week and were wowed.
It may not be prepared tableside, but no dinner at Hy’s Steakhouse is complete without an order of its famous cheese toast to start. So utterly addictive are these thick slabs of ooey-gooey goodness, they’ve inspired dozens of blogs dedicated to unraveling the secret recipe. (We hear that aging and pre-toasting the bread is part of the allure.) Fun factoid: The recipe is uniform across all the restaurants except Winnipeg, where the locally revered version is more akin, in Mr. Aisenstat’s words, to “Cheese Whiz with parmesan.” He said it, not us.
The Hy’s caesar salad is a traditional favourite with its garlicky Tabasco-spiked dressing. We especially appreciate that the dressing can be customized to taste. Bring on the Spanish anchovies! But the spinach salad, also served tableside, is a worthy competitor. Tossed with warm sautéed mushrooms and onions in slightly sweet, lightly creamy vinaigrette, the wilted spinach leaves are garnished with crisp bacon and crumbled hard-cooked egg for a divine combination that would make Popeye swoon.
Chateaubriand or Steak Diane — do we really have to choose? We didn’t. We ordered both, yet still we can’t decide which we prefer more.
Chateaubriand, named after Francois-Ren de Chateaubriand, the founder of Romanticism in French literature, is not a cut of meat, but a method of preparation. At Hy’s Steakhouse, it’s made from a thick cut of dry-aged, prime filet mignon, which is cooked over the grill in the kitchen and carved beside the table into bright red, char-crusted slices. It’s served with roasted tomatoes, crisp broccoli potatoes, and two sauces –a rich red-wine jus and decadently buttery, tarragon-flecked béarnaise– in self-serve gravy boats that encourages one to indulge in much more than one should. The diet can wait.
Steak Diane, named after the Roman goddess of the hunt, slays us every time with her mouth-watering beauty. The steak, also filet mignon, is cooked at the table from start to finish. The medallions are flambéed with brandy, Dijon mustard, and fresh mushrooms to create a thick, rich sauce. It may not be couth, but we say this dish cries out for French fries for dipping.
Bananas Foster is a classic with a most captivating scent. If one tables order this dessert, dozens are sure to follow. The preparation begins with bananas sautéed in butter, brown sugar and fresh orange juice. As soon as that sugar starts caramelizing, the whole restaurant is hooked. Then comes the dramatic spectacle of shooting flames when rum is added to the hot pan. Served in a melting puddle of vanilla ice cream, the warm confection is the stuff that childhood dreams are made of.
The dinner wouldn’t be complete without this flaming digestif. The flaming brandy is poured with a ladle into a sugar-rimmed glass that crackles and pops as soon as the booze hits the crystals. Coffee is poured overtop and layered with whipped cream. Hy’s will not serve the drink with a straw. The contrast of cold cream and hot coffee between salivating lips is all part of this unforgettable experience.
What are you most excited from Hy’s Steakhouse’s new Tableside menu? Let us know in the comments section below or follow us at @ViewTheVibe.