Hotel dining rooms are rarely regarded as temples of gastronomy. Aside from Las Vegas, where a new four-star restaurant at a casino resort seems to open every week in a casino resort, hotel dining in America is generally considered the domain of business travelers.
At the Renaissance Meadowlands Hotel in East Rutherford, CK?s, the hotel?s restaurant, certainly draws its share of corporate and professional sports-related clientele ? largely due to its location. But CK?s also deserves to be on the short list of anyone seeking a classic steakhouse menu and atmosphere, with gracious service and surprisingly reasonable prices.
Tucked in around a corner from the hotel lobby and pub-like bar, CK?s is warm and intimate, with high-backed booths along one wall, a coffered ceiling and traditional furnishings. Contemporary artwork adds a spark.
?CK? is owner Charles Klatskin, a partner in the hotel and a renowned wine collector and connoisseur. Klatskin has compiled the enormous wine list, which can be somewhat daunting to study. Fortunately, the restaurant?s maitre d? is quite knowledgeable and can help guide selection. Members of the mostly European wait staff have the same willing demeanor. Professional and charming, they serve to elevate an evening from good to great.
The food is consistently good, and occasionally great. Starters include standards like an excellent ?wedge? salad of iceberg lettuce, blue cheese dressing and shards of maple pepper bacon, a nicely done crab cake and a ?Caesar salad Napoleon,? which layers the richly dressed salad between parmesan crisps. When the kitchen steps out of steakhouse mode, it often shines. An example is the Thai-style seared Ahi tuna. Our waiter warned us that the pepper-dusted fish packed some heat, yet it was cooled by the papaya and lime in the sauce. Avocado and jumbo lump crab cocktail fell flat. The crab was perfectly fresh, but there was little avocado to be found and the light dressing lacked the promised citrus zip.
The prime steaks are first rate. We enjoyed both the simply grilled filet mignon and its fancy-dress version ? wrapped in apple wood bacon and napped with warm gorgonzola.
A luscious steak au poivre gussies up a New York strip with a crust of black peppercorns and a buttery red wine sauce. Rack of lamb is presented as four plump double chops. The meat was moist and delicious, enhanced by a slightly sweet Zinfandel syrup drizzled on the plate, but its bed of lentils was too firm. Grilled swordfish was the only major miss. Described on the menu as accompanied by roasted fennel, saut饤 shrimp and tomato, the thin cut of fish was overwhelmed by a copious portion of creamy, Pernod-laced sauce that filled the dish and hid the flavor of the other ingredients.
Desserts are worth lingering over, particularly the bourbon bread pudding ? grown up comfort food ? and berries with airy, Marsala-infused zabaglione. The satisfying finale is further proof that CK?s is worth the trip ? for business or pleasure.