First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t know about you, but I’m plenty busy all day. Lots of eating and drinking. Phone calls. Emails. QuizUp. Maybe a little writing here and there. So when I go out to eat, I don’t really want to work.
Restaurants cook and serve. We eat and pay. That’s generally the formula that appeals to most of us, fondue joints and Korean barbecue houses notwithstanding. But we’re always open to innovation.
With this in mind, three of us ventured to Arthur Henry’s Supper Club & Ruby Room in Oak Park where you are obliged to cook your own food. The restaurant, which opened a month ago, is the brainchild of Christopher Pendarvis of Orphan breakfast restaurant and Naked Lounge coffee shop.
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Arthur Henry’s website calls itself the “most elegant restaurant and dive bar in Sacramento.” When I envision a supper club, I think upscale, maybe even sophisticated. So we were completely charmed when owner Pendarvis stopped by our table to chat us up. Less charming, however, was when his banter included dropping two F-bombs to three complete strangers in the span of 30 seconds.
“How do you like that rib eye? We’re still %$#@ing around with our marinade,” he said, prompting me to wonder if Biba Caggiano or Randall Selland had ever put it quite so succinctly.
We wondered about the live music. Can you tell us the name of the band, which was playing 15 feet away?
“I have no %$#@ing idea.” He did not volunteer to find out.
At Arthur Henry’s, you come in, sit down, order your food, and watch it arrive on paper plates wrapped in plastic set atop the porcelain plate you will later use.
If you’re like us, you will carefully unwrap your meat and wonder what to do with the plastic dripping in blood. You’ll then cook the raw meat on a communal grill using communal tongs. There are plenty of conversation opportunities to be had as you stand around and stare at your food. Here were some of ours:
“Do you have raw meat residue on your hands? Me, too.”
“Are you as horrified as I am that I have to use the same tongs for my skewer of vegetables that that guy just used to handle his blood-raw New York strip?”
At the bottom of the compact menu, you’ll find instructions about how to cook your steaks, all of which involve touching various parts of your faces, preferably before you handle your raw meat. We felt the firmness of our cheek (if your steak feels that way, it’s rare), chin (medium-rare), tip of the nose (medium), and sole of your shoe (well done).
While we did this, we lost track of time and overcooked everything. My steak was toothsome – like a pair of Dr. Martens.
Menu: One would think this kind of concept would mean reasonable prices, since they don’t actually have a trained chef or sous chef on salary. Our porterhouse, a purported 18 ounces but a very thin and disappointing cut, was $27, and includes a small, leafy green salad with dressing on the side.
There are only a handful of cuts of steak available, including filet mignon, rib eye and N.Y. strip, ranging in price from $10 for a 6-ounce strip to $27 for the porterhouse. There are some vegetarian options – a portobello mushroom cap for $12 and a vegetable skewer for $10 (they also offer tofu).
When we asked about dessert, our server told us there isn’t any. When we volunteered to bake our own apple pie, we learned there aren’t any ovens on site.
Ambiance: Arthur Henry’s is a completely renovated building in the heart of Oak Park’s Broadway business district. There’s a beautiful neon sign out front and an attractive wood facade. Inside, it’s dark and retro, with a large bar, loud wallpaper, a restored juke box, plush custom booths and pendant lights slung low over the tables. The centerpiece of the room is the small gas grill.
Drinks: It’s a full bar with a small wine and beer selection along with custom cocktails. Our “Classic Tom Collins” was overly citrusy and harsh on the palate.
Service: Friendly but minimal with little-to-no guidance with cooking instructions. When we asked about wine pairings, our server was unable to help.
First Impression: This is possibly the clumsiest restaurant concept we have ever encountered. The food comes heavily wrapped in plastic and is unsightly on the table – a skewer of raw vegetables next to a slab of raw meat next to a piece of stale bread with pale butter. The paper plates are on top of the porcelain plate we are expected to eat off of, something we found unappealing. When we unwrapped the plastic, we all made “yucky” faces.
The grill is apparently hotter on one end, but no one told us. How did we find this out? Our food caught on fire.
Did we have a good time? Yes, we did, but our conversation – and many of our laughs throughout the evening – centered around how we actually like people with skill and passion handling our food, where we would discard our blood-soaked plastic wrap and who would bug the server to bring us more Handi-wipes.
That marinade for the rib eye? Couldn’t taste it, which suggests they should continue %$#@ing around with it.
Try it if: You long for the hands-on experience of cooking your own steak.
Forget it if: You have a home with a stove.