Wellington Wednesdays At Porterhouse
My appetite for red meat comes nowhere close to that of my husband, aka Meat Boy.
But admittedly, I have a weak spot for beef Wellington.
Maybe it’s the retro vibe, the stately tradition, or celebratory nature that ropes me in.
So, I couldn’t pass up a chance of partaking recently when I was invited in as a guest of downtown San Mateo’s Porterhouse, where fittingly, Wellington Wednesdays are de rigueur each week.
Dry-aged beef is a specialty here, as you can tell from the moment you walk through the doors and spy the dry-aging refrigerators loaded with hefty cuts of mid-West beef.
Hamdi “Bruno” Ugur has owned this classic, old-school steakhouse since 1987, and you’ll see him greeting guests at tables nightly. Hospitality runs in the family, as his son, Steve Ugur, is not only the director of butchering at Porterhouse, but co-owns Pausa in San Mateo, and the just-opened Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen in Palo Alto.
Big-band music plays over speakers in the Porterhouse dining room, that’s decorated with framed photos of actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Fred Astaire, and movie posters from classics such as “Casablanca,” all of which Ugur has been collecting for decades.
Warm bread and butter arrives at the table, all the better to dunk into an appetizer of escargot ($19). This version is especially garlicky, with plenty of visible minced garlic in the buttery sauce, so brace yourself.
Oysters on the half shell (6 for $20), plump and briny, arrive with cocktail and mignonette sauces to spoon on.
Crab cakes ($25) are done smaller here and come in a trio. They’re like little pucks, each the size of a day-boat scallop, that are crisp on the top and bottom, and creamy inside with a good amount of crab meat. Swipe them through the creamy, piquant Cajun remoulade for a perfect bite.
The namesake porterhouse steak can be enjoyed in either a 20-ounce portion for one ($66) or a massive 30-ounce portion for two ($110). My husband opted for the former — and managed to finish it, thus living up to his nickname of Meat Boy. Tender, juicy, and bodaciously beefy tasting, the steak was served with a cheesy, twice-baked potato, and sweet tasting, sauteed carrots and zucchini.
The beef Wellington ($75) was presented perfectly medium-rare as requested. Its rosy center was enveloped by a layer of classic mushroom duxelles, all wrapped up inside a thin pastry crust. Other Wellingtons elsewhere may get a more fanciful crust, but this simpler one was plenty crisp. Carrots, zucchini, and the twice-baked potato also were the supporting players on this plate, along with a rich, deeply flavorful demi-glace sauce that amplifed the beef flavor even more.
Chocolate and Grand Marnier souffles are a mainstay for dessert. But so is the Bananas Foster for Two ($34) that just like the beef Wellington harkens back to different golden age of dining that shouldn’t be missed.
Ugur does the honors, himself, wheeling the cart to the table that holds a burner, saute pan, and bottle of rum.
On a busy night, he may make as many as 13. Since 1987, he says, he’s flambeed 36,000 orders. But I’ll let you do the math.
I’m too busy rapt by his smooth control of the pan, flipping the bananas in the brown butter and brown sugar until they caramelize, then pouring in the alcohol to let the real show begin.
When the flames subside, he spoons the saucy, warm bananas over cold vanilla ice cream. It’s a theatrical dish that never gets old and never ceases to create a magical moment.
Much like a marvelous beef Wellington.
More: A Visit to Pausa