Restaurant Reviews

Big food

"The Legend Begins," says the sign over Stone Trail. Well, it can't begin if you can't find it. It wasn't just me.

The guest who was supposed to meet us at Stone Trail ("at the southwest corner of Midway and Belt Line," as I'd been instructed, with no mention of the obvious landmark, Morton's, which is, after all, competition), ended up in the same dead-end parking lot we did, followed us around the corner to Morton's, and was right behind us when we asked the valet at Ferrari's where the legend begins. Right around the corner, it turned out. So, when you go, keeping Ferrari's firmly in mind and that other steakhouse in sight, drive along the seemingly deserted strip center just to the north, and you'll see the little lighted sign about the legend.

It's an odd approach for a place like this. You'd expect a self-declared legend--a restaurant with a full club, separate cigar room, and high-dollar steaks--to have more exterior flair, a valet and porte-cochere. Instead, you park your own car in the parking lot--a refreshingly unpretentious entrance to a Dallas restaurant. I get so tired of handing over the keys and a tip to some guy who's just going to pull my car into a parking space right in front of me.

The lack of a valet is indicative of the style of things to come; Stone Trail is inconsistent in its details. The menu, for instance, is inserted in a vinyl-edged plastic slipcase that could have come straight from Dunston's, at odds with the high prices and deluxe style of the dishes listed therein. The whole restaurant, in fact, is both more and less than you'd expect.

Step inside Stone Trail and you've stepped into the '70s. It's owned by Tony Taherzadeh, who also has Farfallo's, a place you might've thought would have closed when Daddy's Money and The Railhead did. Like Farfallo's, Stone Trail is an old-fashioned--or classic--place. It serves big food like steaks, seafood, and à la carte everything without the trendy gimmickry--vertical garnishes, double sauces, undercooked oriental accompaniments--that dazzle and disappoint elsewhere. Steak tartare, chilled asparagus, and shrimp cocktail top the list of appetizers. Linda Petty sings in the bar where people drink real drinks, dance, and smoke.

We asked for non-smoking seating and were led to a table in the dim netherworld outside the two separate dining rooms, which are set apart like aquariums with glass walls. One is for cigar smokers; you could look in and see them puffing away.

We started with what seemed called for in this atmosphere: shrimp cocktail (big, firm, sweet, cold shellfish with a classic--or old-fashioned--red horseradish sauce) and a big burger's worth of steak tartare (lean raw beef chopped and served with minced onion to mold into mountains on crisp toasts). Mild goat cheese, wrapped in grape leaves and heated until the leaves crisped slightly and the cheese ran like thick cream, was a nod to Taherzadeh's origins and an acknowledgement that this is, actually, a '90s kitchen.

Stone Trail is not really a steakhouse--there are only five steaks on the menu, which lists chicken, veal, lamb, fish, and even one vegetable entrŽe--but Frank Rumóre, formerly of Del Frisco's, is the chef, and the restaurant does have a steakhouse mentality. Sides are extra and the emphasis is on animal protein.

The steaks which are served at Stone Trail--a filet, a strip, two rib-eyes, and a porterhouse--are all the real stuff, all prime beef.

Prime doesn't mean simply "way good." It's a legal definition referring to a particular percentage and type of fat. The prime fat is the last fat that forms on an animal, the fat that grows not around the muscle, but through it, tenderizing it and giving the meat flavor. There are 10 degrees of marbling referred to in the official "U.S. Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef." The minimum marbling for prime must match a photo of marbled meat that looks like a river delta of white fat. No one would buy this in a grocery store and you won't ever see meat like this in the meat case; it's too unappealing by our fat-phobic standards and it's prohibitively expensive. Restaurants may pay $15 for a prime 10-ounce sirloin strip--wholesale. But when you taste prime beef, it's like tasting caviar: you recognize the taste of luxury.

We ordered a porterhouse, a big cut not seen as often as its little sister, the T-bone; both include a hunk of the flavorful strip and a nice round of buttery tenderloin, one on each side of the bone.

The National Association of Meat Purveyors' meat-buyer's guide, a chef's standard reference, designates every single cut of beef with a number and defines each one very precisely. No. 1173 is the beef loin porterhouse, from back near the rear of the animal. According to the guide, "The diameter of the tenderloin muscle shall be not less than one and one-half inches when measured through the center of the tenderloin parallel to the backbone." (It says that a T-bone shall be "not less than a half inch.") For a short cut, the retail cut, "the flank edge shall not exceed two inches from the loin eye muscle" (the sirloin strip).

I didn't bring out my tape measure, but the porterhouse that was served to us was big, brown-crusted, and cooked rare, with the burn of the salt balancing the bloody rareness. It's amazing that we ever thought we could eat this much of one animal in one sitting.

We also tried the large-size filet, a thick knob of soft meat and--because it's not a steakhouse--a rack of lamb, cut into chops, blue-rare within, drizzled with a thick pesto-mint chutney.

With the meat, we had potatoes (what else?). We could have had them mashed (for $4), baked (for 50 cents less), but again we opted for deluxe and, on the advice of our waiter, tried the potato casserole, which he described as, "you know, a potato casserole." It was a lot like, you know, scalloped potatoes, and its richness was the perfect foil to the primitively perfect meat. Sauteed mushrooms and long spears of poached asparagus were more sophisticated accompaniments and just as good.

Our waiter may not have been articulate--or knowledgeable about Stone Trail's wines (mostly a rather expensive and obvious list)--but he brought the food accurately and with alacrity.

He recommended a pecan pie for dessert, which was served nicely warm.
How could we possibly stomach pecan pie after porterhouse and potatoes? The legend continues...

Stone Trail, Midway at Belt Line, 701-9600. Open Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Club open until 2 a.m.

Stone Trail:
Steak Tartare $8.50
Texas Jumbo Shrimp $9.25
Grilled Texas Goat Cheese $6.95
Chilled Asparagus Salad $6.95
Prime Porterhouse $27.95

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