Carla Meyer

Dining review: Despite a few misfires, the Broiler gets old-school quite right

Blair Anthony Robertson
Blair Anthony Robertson

Nearly everything in life can be explained in a Frank Sinatra song.

Lots of local restaurants seem to get it. No one, however, does Sinatra better than the Broiler Steakhouse. I have never eaten at this K Street joint when the Chairman of the Board wasn't crooning about a new love, breaking up with an old one or simply belting out a tune.

The Broiler has, like Sinatra, been up and down and over and out. But it has always picked itself up and gotten back in the race.

The Broiler, like Sinatra, can sing, but it cannot dance.

Never will you look at your plate and wonder, "How do they do that?"

This is not culinary artistry. It is steak and potatoes, maybe salmon with a glaze that will put a smile on your face. The wine list won't win any awards for originality, but you'll find something in your price range to go with steak or fish.

More than anything, the Broiler is about something that won't go out of style: the human element that is so tough to get right at a restaurant. During three recent visits, we had one good server, one very good server and one exceptional server.

This steakhouse also understands supply and demand. It knows what works and when to say adios to what doesn't – like the foie gras that didn't exactly jump off the menu, or the $68 New York strip sampler that offered three versions of this coveted cut.

It had a chef there for a spell who was into molecular gastronomy, only to realize that the Broiler clientele wasn't into molecular gastronomy. The Broiler is not a destination for foodies. You come here to be satisfied, not blown away.

The Broiler endures because it, does, indeed, live up to that mandate. It has been around 61 years. It survived the red-meat-will-kill-you craze of the 1980s, when everyone pretended to enjoy boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It bounced back during the red-meat-will-melt-off-the-pounds craze of the Atkins diet in the late 1990s, when everyone pretended that a porterhouse was as healthy as a plate of steamed veggies.

Throughout, the Broiler has been cool in that low-key way. It never tried to fool its customers. Nothing here feels contrived. For a place with white tablecloths, it isn't fussy or full of itself. You can dine in your Sunday best. You can dine in jeans and a sweater.

The expense account crowd is easy to spot here – those seven guys in suits are not dipping into their own pockets. But is there something at the Broiler for you, the folks without per diems? Yes, if you order carefully.

The whiskey caramelized salmon filet ($24) was very good – plump and flaky and succulent. We liked how the glaze, with just a touch of syrupy sweetness, worked with the fish. The colcannon mashed potatoes were good, too – potatoes mixed with cabbage.

The steaks ran the gamut from superb to underwhelming. The steak salad ($9.95) for lunch was top-notch. Lots of beef, plenty of fresh greens and enough crunch to make it all seem health-conscious.

Our beef Wellington ($28) was mishandled rather glaringly. Did our order get mixed up with someone on the Paleo Diet? We asked for it medium-rare, but it was actually very rare, known in the business as black-and-blue. The puff pastry didn't fully envelop the steak, making the eating awkward as the shell fell away from the meat.

On the other hand, our 12-ounce USDA prime New York steak, aged 28 days, was perfection. It was thick. It was juicy. Oh, right: It was also $38, which, it turns out, did not include valet parking. This is a steak to save for a special occasion – like when your daughter starts dating Mark Zuckerberg.

We wished our server had talked us out of ordering the "Cognac-Dijon peppercorn" sauce, which was the most unappetizing $4 this side of Carl's Jr. One plunk of one lovely piece of aged sirloin into this cup of mustardy malfeasance and we had our answer: avoid.

The onion rings ($5) just might be the best in town. They batter the onions in panko bread crumbs for an extra crunch. They're big, they're crisp, they're tasty – and they're a real bargain. Surely, the deep-fried diet revolution is just around the corner.

The hamburger could have been great with more attention to detail. It was big and juicy and delicious, but the bun couldn't carry the load. We were surprised to learn the buns are from the excellent Village Bakery in Davis. If it had been fresher, perhaps, the bread would have held together. The extra-large steak-cut fries were among the best we've tasted.

The rib steak ($29) didn't live up to the price tag. With its uneven thickness, it was cooked unevenly – well-done on the outer edges, medium-rare toward the middle, offering only a so-so eating experience. The creamy polenta (an option instead of potatoes) saved this dish.

The desserts are worth your while. The chocolate truffle mousse and the vanilla bean crème brûlée are both made with skill. All desserts are $5.95.

The Broiler doesn't aspire to blow you away with its food and it stopped trying to lure the foodies away from hot spots such as Ella and Mulvaney's and Magpie. But this timeless place deserves a look.

After each visit, we walked away satisfied with the food, impressed with the people and grateful for a restaurant that endures because it knows what really matters.

The Broiler Steakhouse

(916) 444-3444

Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday.

Full bar? Yes.

Vegetarian friendly? Somewhat.

Takeout? Yes.

Overall: 2 1/2 stars (worth a look)

The enduring combination of good service and reliable food has never gone out of style. The Broiler has been around 61 years because it plays to its strengths.

Food: 2 1/2 stars (pretty good)

The best steak was the aged New York – but it was $38. The salmon was surprisingly good and the burger could have been great without the bun malfunction. Occasional inaccurate cooking, however, pulled down this rating. Someone should buy the kitchen a Thermapen.

Service: 3 1/2 stars (very good)

We averaged out our three visits, where we had good, very good and outstanding service. The Broiler seems to hire quality folks.

Ambience: 3 stars (good)

The white tablecloths might make you think it's stodgy, but the vibe here can be surprisingly fun. Sinatra piped in 24/7 evokes the bygone era when the Broiler got its start.

Value: 2 1/2 stars (pretty good)

Our favorite steak cost a pretty penny and was cooked just right. But inconsistent cooking and high prices don't make for stellar value. Desserts are a bargain, and the wine list has plenty of reasonably priced bottles.

Noteworthy: Gallagher's Irish Pub, which bills itself as "the closest thing to Ireland in Sacramento," is across the lobby from the Broiler and serves as the restaurant's lounge.