Sunday, August 31, 2008

Frisco Road Trip, Pt. 2: Paying Our Respects

Everyone has their touchstones, places they return to again and again, whether it's the house they grew up in, a lake in the mountains where the dock was long and the water cold, or maybe a romantic spot where love first blossomed. One of those places for us is Jack's Grill in Redding, an old-line steakhouse from the era when a steak dinner was not a prissified affair with balsamic reductions, wilted arugula or, heaven forfend, "ambience."

A simple room in a small stucco building downtown, it was originally a second-hand store, befitting its working-class attitude. A bar where strong drinks are served as you wait for your table runs halfway down the right-hand wall, the thirty-year-old ice machine sits squatly at the end and the bartender has been there almost as long. Fewer than twenty tables serve the crowds that come here most nights, but early in the week as it was on this trip, we had our choice of even the sacred booths that line the walls.

Classics are the strong suit here, and we always have martinis while we wait in the dimness, and as soon as we'd drained them the hostess ushered us to our booth in the corner. The only part of the menu you need to look at is on the left, where the steaks are listed in order of size. We've heard people say the prawns and chicken are good, too, but that's just so much blather in a place as dedicated to the appreciation of the holy bovine as this is.

The only other decision after specifying the level of doneness of your meat is to choose your starch, whether garlic bread, French fries or baked potato with the obligatory butter, sour cream and chives. And each one comes with a side salad that is mixed tableside in a (usually) chipped plastic salad bowl with one of four house-made dressings.

Steaks here are fried, not grilled, and my brother (another devotée and the one who turned us on to this jewel) says each one is first dipped in vegetable oil, then salted, peppered and thrown onto the superhot flat-top to sizzle to perfection. And those steaks, oh my lord, those steaks, even for died-in-the-wool grill freaks, are so tender and delicious they'll compete with the best you've ever had.

A word to the wise about Jack's wine list: While I love this place, their list is on the mediocre side, so it's worth bringing your own wine and paying the modest corkage fee, since meat this sublime deserves nothing but the best from your cellar. Our choice was an '06 Syncline syrah from Lyle, Washington, in the Columbia River Gorge, a deeply rich but not over-the-top red with lots of subtlety and spice to enhance the beefiness of our steaks. Perfect!

Details: Jack's Grill, 1743 California St., Redding, CA. Phone 530-241-9705.

Read the other posts in this series: Getting There, Resting in Redding, Schmoozing in Sacto, Home Away from Home, Off on the Right Foot, Choosing Chinese, The Ferry and the Hog, The Point of It All, and The Last Meal.

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