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EPICURE: Review of Morton’s Restaurant in King of Prussia

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Supersize Sizzle
Morton’s has the beef but leaves out the brawn.

THE SCENE: The ambiance at Morton’s lacks the distinct character and brawn of a boys’ club, which despite being an archaic concept, would add a sorely missed dose of mystique and animal magnetism. There’s nothing dainty about a 20-ounce steak; and serving Fred Flintstone portions begs for a room infused with testosterone. Instead, we get country kitsch: a pewter likeness of a resting pig (one of the only meats not served here) holding the base of the small oil lamp; faded silk flower bouquets of über-un-chic carnations; bare baskets full of potatoes and other unremarkable produce. All of this is a bizarre accent to the dark wood paneling, Deco-style chairs and stiff white linens, and a weak hinge on which to hang an internationally renowned steakhouse’s décor.

I preferred the laid-back attitude in the bar to the sober vibe in the dining room. The energy generated by the attentive staff, the men talking business while watching a game on the plasma TV and couples seeking privacy added an element of intimacy and cool missing in the dining room.

THE FOOD: My partner in crime and I are petite. Not a judgment, just a fact. We’re not “salad girls” (although we adore salad); we love to eat—big, juicy steaks included. But when our server showed up with a sample tray of massive, uncooked cuts of filet mignon, porterhouse, strip and ribeye steaks we were a little freaked out. We’d intended to try a few different dishes. But upon seeing what was in store, we budgeted one appetizer and one side, saving other choices for a second visit. It’ll probably take us a couple more outings (and a few more paychecks) to get through the abundant and enticing menu, but we’re up to the challenge.

All meals begin with an enormous round of bread, encrusted with savory seeds and toasted onion bits, freshly baked and 100 percent tantalizing. To avoid ruining your appetite, take one wedge and push the plate away. Trust me—it sneaks up on you.

Crisp, smoky bacon was a deliciously briny companion to the broiled sea scallops, which were large, sweet and a tad spongy. The accompanying apricot chutney added a piquant touch, but was wholly superfluous. The jumbo lump crab cake, light, crisp and loaded with crescents of juicy sweet meat, squelched my distrust of restaurant versions. Held together by its own fortitude (and a great breadcrumb mix), the deliciously charred bottom formed a crunchy-crabby crust that almost stole the show.

If you’re keen on shrimp, the Colossal Shrimp Alexander—three plump shrimp, seasoned with lemon and butter and lightly breaded, cooked just until firm and opaque, and served warm alongside a milky beurre blanc—is a must-try.

A hearty combination of iceberg and romaine lettuce, embellished with artichokes, hearts of palm, avocado, blue cheese, crumbled bacon, hard-boiled eggs, red onion and plum tomatoes, the chopped salad is ideal for sharing. Tossed with a creamy—and a tad meek—Dijon vinaigrette, each bite offered a mix of taste and textures, the ultimate purpose of any worthy “kitchen-sink” salad.

Morton’s cooks its beef in broilers that can reach 1,200 degrees, which sears the beef and seals in juices, enhancing the overall flavor. To nourish our “petite” carnivorous side, we ordered the Cajun ribeye and filet Oskar, listed as Morton’s “slightly smaller” steaks on the menu. While not exactly flawless in seasonings and presentation, both cuts of beef—wet-aged USDA Prime—revealed a luscious, pale cherry center when sliced, and they were the dead-on medium-rare we’d requested. The brawny ribeye, despite having evaded even a dusting of Cajun seasonings, was bursting with flavor. The meat tugged at the teeth ever so slightly but was overwhelmingly juicy and tender.

By contrast, the filet Oskar tasted disorganized, maybe due to a request for the béarnaise sauce on the side. The asparagus, overcooked to a dull green, was slipping off of the meat, and the toast rounds underneath the circular cuts of filet were bulky and uneven. The crab didn’t fare well under the broiler, turning dry and delivering a flatter taste than the crab cake. Characteristically less robust than other cuts, this particular filet held its own against the béarnaise and lacked any mealy hints, common with lesser quality beef. I still prefer the gamier flavor of a rib eye or strip steak, and a simpler preparation, but the melt-in-your-mouth consistency outshone comparable tastings. An accompanying plate of creamed spinach would have benefited from additional draining and a generous hit of Parmesan and garlic.

At the time, it seemed unfathomable to consider the desserts, but we put the feedbag on and bravely dove into the crème brulée—smooth on top with a softly coagulated layer of overly eggy custard toward the bottom of the dish, and a sticky caramelized sugar shell that added perfect sweetness to the custard. When we saw the table behind with two luscious portions of Morton’s Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake, we were overcome with culinary remorse.

Oenophiles will have plenty of wines to choose from; Morton’s list is more than 200 bottles long. To further lure you into that supersized zone, there are 17 large-bottle selections (1.5-5 liters) ranging in price from $124-$844. The list weighs heavy on American cabernets, with a thin, but interesting international selection, mysteriously buried near the end.

Less-knowledgeable wine enthusiasts might have a tough time with the list, which comes up short on descriptions. The prices give the illusion that they’re proportionate to the entrée prices, but I’d be intrigued to know how many customers actually order one of the more insanely priced bottles. My guess is many patrons are unable to afford such lavishness, making it awkward to order a $42 bottle of wine when the bulk of the list is priced over $100.

A glass of the Clos du Val, Reserve, Zinfandel ($12.95) proved superior to the lifeless cabernet ($8.95), which was syrupy and acidic. An odd odor emanated from the zin, which hinted at a possible corkage issue or dishwasher residue.

THE EXPERIENCE: Service was efficient, swift, professional and bordered on blasé, possibly due to the fact that we weren’t true players in the supersize game. Surely our meal had to be one of the lower tabs of the night.

It’s worth noting that service in the dining room differed considerably from that in the bar. Sit-down servers were conscientious but kept their distance while guests contemplated the wine list. Intrusions were kept to a minimum, with wait staff appearing only to display ingredients and ensure the steaks have been properly prepared.

At the bar, service tends to flow. A nearby couple ordered multiple rounds of appetizers and entrées (crab cakes, lobster tails, salads bursting with beefsteak tomatoes, etc.) while guzzling martinis and red wine liberally. Likewise, we were approached only after a few minutes by a roving bar tender. The wine list and menu had to be requested but were quickly received. All of which allowed time for deeper conversation and general savoring of food and thought. Servers changed during the meal, almost imperceptibly.

THE SKINNY: I didn’t see the movie Supersize Me, but the details I’ve gleaned make me wonder why McDonald’s alone got thrown under the bus when Morton’s, whose long-standing motto is to “serve large portions of high-quality food,” could’ve easily made its own cameo appearance. I have nothing against plenitude, but a recent visit—my first ever to the alleged King of Steakhouses—left me in awe of the modern appetite.


DETAILS:
Location:
500 Mall Blvd., King of Prussia; (610) 491-1900
Cuisine: Classic steakhouse fare
Entrée Prices: $24-$84, not including á la carte accompaniments
Attire: Business casual
Atmosphere: Dark woods, bright lights, hints of kitsch.
Hours: Dinner only: Mon.-Sat., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Extra: Private dining, meeting rooms