We may say we're going out for a meal, but at many restaurants, what we're really getting is a mini-vacation. Eating out can offer an escape from the everyday that excites our senses while requiring little travel and no luggage. To this experience, ambience is central. Mexican restaurants should evoke sun and the saturated colors of South of the Border; seafood places should give a nod to the nautical; and from steakhouses, we expect one of two themes: cowboy kitsch or classic clubroom.
In the case of the latter, the destination is less a locale and more a state of mind. It may not be possible to sneak into the Duquesne Club, but at the Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, for a few hours at least, one can fancy oneself a robber baron.
An Akron import that's the first retail establishment in the North Shore development area between the stadiums, Hyde Park achieves a plush, polished ambience with dark wood, cream-colored walls, and ruby-red upholstery and draperies. Men in suits with pocket squares look very much at home. But a few contemporary touches, such as chairs with retro-stylish striping and a circular bar that includes a lower lounge level, blow away any hint of mustiness.
The menu is almost entirely traditional, favoring classic over creative preparations. There is one gimmick: steaks named in honor of local sports heroes. Thus, Mario is represented by garlic butter and mushrooms, while Roberto, apparently, would have enjoyed filet with bacon, bleu cheese and bordelaise sauce. The McClatchy is a $33 rib-eye steak; perhaps they overestimate the Pirates in Akron.
There is surf to go with the turf, mostly in shellfish form, although a market-fish selection varies from night to night. Knowing we'd both have steak for dinner, we started with the "Dr. Jekyll" chilled shellfish platter for two to four diners (the Mr. Hyde serves four to eight). It was enough food to make our upcoming steaks superfluous: a dozen tiger shrimp, a half-dozen oysters (three from each coast), three crab legs and an entire quartered lobster. The presentation -- three tiers of ice-covered plates -- and the quality of the shellfish were spectacular. We were let down only by the accompanying sauces. Fresh shaved horseradish made for an adequate cocktail sauce, but the mustard was harsh, and the basil aioli was well suited only to the crab, overwhelming the lobster.
Torn among the many steak options, Jason got two-for-one with the 24-ounce Joey Porter Porterhouse, a T-bone steak that included both the strip and filet portions. The 1,800-degree broiler chars the meat so swiftly that even medium rare is cool pink in the center; yet, even with such a quick time in the flame, the sear was too much in some bites. But those bites that were well balanced were delightfully beefy and juicy, and the filet side was the best tenderloin Jason's ever had, in any form.
Angelique declared Hines Ward her hero: an 8-ounce filet mignon broiled with garlic, pepper, roasted shallot and Cabernet butter. Like a cake of steak, the filet was so tender that Angelique expected crumbs when she cut it, but it was meaty, too. Coarse, cracked pepper lent texture as well as seasoning beneath a luxe, creamy, burgundy-colored sauce.
Chophouse salad tossed delicious ingredients -- bacon, cucumber, tomato and hearts of palm -- with pale iceberg lettuce and bland dressing. We found the seasoning in our side dish of creamed spinach, which was beautifully green, richly creamed and saltier than fast-food fries. Hash-brown potatoes -- patties of fine shreds -- were likewise on the salty side, but here sweet caramelized onions and sour cream balanced the effect.
After such a rich meal, we decided to forgo our usual chocolate dessert for refreshing key lime pie. The crust was slightly gummy, but the filling had authentic key lime flavor and the creamy character of a true custard, garnished with candied lime rind and whipped cream.
Hyde Park's service was exceptional, smoothing over any imperfections in our actual meals and heightening our sense of a two-hour getaway. Steak lovers owe it to themselves to make Hyde Park a destination.