Dining in the clouds is no longer the experience it once was. When you fly, you've got to bring your own burger, unless you're going first class. The good news is that everyone goes first class at the Celestial Steakhouse -- not quite in the clouds, but certainly high above the city.
The Celestial Steakhouse is near the Rookwood Pottery building in Mount Adams. Forget the usual Mount Adams worry: There's a dedicated parking lot across the street with loads of free spaces. The building looks dated from the outside, but inside the restaurant is crisp, classic and understated.
I was a bit sad not to have a window seat on the night of our visit, but there's really not a bad view in the house. Tables, mostly for two, are elegant with crisp white linens, the silver tops on the salt-and-pepper shakers polished to match the candle lamps.
The Celestial added the "Steakhouse" appellation last year, and it's been very successful for them.
According to the general manager I spoke with on follow-up, their business has quadrupled since they relaxed their coat-and-tie policy. Among foodies, though, the appeal is less sartorial and more salubrious -- the new owners also operate the Mt. Adams Fish House, with its well-earned reputation for the freshest possible ingredients.
The crab cake appetizer ($12) certainly added credence to that theory. I've never tasted crab so fresh -- you certainly couldn't buy it at any market locally. But why would you? These are perfect, garnished with just the right details: razor-thin, crispy fried yucca chips and two sauces -- dark balsamic vinaigrette or savory Dijon cream.
My grape leaves appetizer ($9) was equally delicious and cleverly prepared. They are stuffed with light, delicate goat cheese and served atop a simple drizzle of the finest olive oil. Of course, the presentation is lovely, but the real beauty is in the taste.
My husband chose the wine.
He's very good at this, but if he weren't I think the server would have made an honest recommendation. I asked him for assistance several times, and he never tried to up-sell to inflate the check. That's professionalism.
Our salads were just as impressive as what came before. Mine was topped with gorgonzola crumbles and pecans ($8), garnished with pear slices at the absolute minute of perfect ripeness. My husband had the retro iceberg wedge ($7), with slivers of intense red onion and tomato, dressed with decadently creamy gorgonzola.
We were happy to linger over each course, surrounded mostly by couples enjoying the romantic view. Actually, the couple next to us might not have noticed the view; there were some murmurs about spankings from that table. I refrained from saying, "I'll have what they're having," since I'm on my best behavior when my readers are at stake! After all, you want to hear about the lovely butter pats shaped like pansies, not about the Polaroids they were discussing. Right!
So I nibbled at the foccacia and saved all my lust for the main course -- a perfect Pork Chop ($22) grilled to perfection, with apricot barbecue sauce. Pork is so lean nowadays that the little bit of fat discreetly trimming the edge of the chop is like pork heroin. I was blissed out. The only quibble of the night were the Szechwan Green Beans -- lackluster beans, too overcooked by half, and the flavoring was clumsy. I'll try the herbed risotto next time.
My dear husband was completely pleased with his choice: a free-range chicken breast served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes ($18). I managed a taste, and I have to give them credit for finding chicken that actually has some flavor. Again, this is the advantage of good suppliers, and the Celestial has found some excellent ones.
Two cups of strong espresso ($6) gave us the fortitude to try dessert. While the Crème Brulée ($8.50) was worthwhile, the Apricot Bread Pudding ($8.50) was superb. With contrasting tastes of warm bread, cold cream, sweet fruit and savory butter all woven together, it was absolutely delicious -- and even better leftover for breakfast the next day!
Again, the service was superb. The waiter was never pushy, never chummy -- just helpful and unobtrusive. One awkwardness: The intimate-sized tables don't mix well with the giant menus. If you choose to keep the menu between courses, there's little room for anything else!
The Celestial Steakhouse isn't the place to go for complex presentations. They let their prime ingredients shine with just a hint of flourish. There are six steaks on the menu, ranging from a $19 sirloin to a $48 Kobe strip, and other grilled selections include Veal Chops ($32) and Venison Chops ($33).
Non-red meat eaters have plenty of choices. The Chilean Sea Bass ($27) is the third most popular entrée, after the two Kobe beef steaks, and that's just one of seven seafood choices. The management assured me that with advance notice, the chef will craft special vegetarian entrées. I don't doubt that they'd be delicious.
While the setting is perfect for a wedding proposal over champagne, you could do very well toasting a business deal there too. Probably without the Polaroids, though. ©
The Celestial Steakhouse
Go: 1071 Celestial St., Mount Adams
Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood choices, Four-Cheese Spinach Ravioli ($23), other vegetarian by request