Steakhouses are an undeniably hot restaurant trend. Every big-name celebrity chef seems to be launching a culinary temple to red meat: Wolfgang Puck (Cut, Los Angeles and Las Vegas), Mario Batali (Carnevino, Las Vegas) and Bergen?s own David Burke (Primehouse, Chicago). Much closer to home, however, a young, talented chef you have probably never heard of ? Michael Ostros ? turns out some of the area?s most impressive steakhouse cuisine; and at least for now, reservations are easy to come by.
The owners of Regina?s have transformed the former Saints Caf頩nto an elegant, yet welcoming space. Deep-gold walls with dark wood trim, burgundy upholstery, large potted palms and a curvy, casbah-style banquet against one wall lend the restaurant a vaguely Moroccan air.
A warm greeting at the door by genial manager Ralph Aloi ? or on weekends, Regina herself ? sets the tone for an easygoing evening. But the laid-back vibe, which is reinforced by the friendly, capable waiters, belies the seriousness of the food.
Semolina-dusted fried calamari were tender and tasty, as was the slightly misnamed lobster roll ? in fact, a crisp egg roll filled with substantial hunks of lobster meat and crunchy vegetables, served with wasabi aioli and ponzu sauce. An excellent crab cake had perhaps one too many accompaniments on the plate: a pile of greens, pineapple salsa and chipotle remoulade. House-cured salmon ?pastrami? was deliciously paired with creamy avocado salsa, but not improved by a soggy herb fritter underneath. A steakhouse classic, the ?wedge? salad ? iceberg lettuce, bacon, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese dressing ? was perfectly executed.
The same perfection was evident in the preparation of both the steaks we ordered: New York strip and cowboy rib eye, which were tender and flavorful. Lamb chops, too, were done just as requested, but a special of broiled bronzino (a Mediterranean fish) was, perhaps simply by comparison, uninteresting.
The sides were all worth the extra calories they contained. Crispy sweet potato fries, mashed potatoes with just enough garlic, and rich creamed spinach were all tasty, but the star was a masterful mac and cheese, which Ostros notes includes cheddar, Monterey jack and gruy貥 cheeses.
One hallmark of a fine steakhouse is a good wine list. Here Regina?s falls short, but Ostros says that improvement is forthcoming in both the quantity and quality of the selections.
Sweet endings were as pleasurable as the rest of the meal. A gooey bourbon chocolate pecan pie was rich and satisfying, as was chocolate peanut butter pie.
Although it opened in the summer of 2005, Regina?s remains largely undiscovered. With chef Ostros? skill and the staff?s genuine eagerness to please, the restaurant deserves to be as hot a ticket as the trend it represents.