As someone who grew up going to steakhouses with floors littered with peanut shells and decorated with old license plates, I appreciate the simplicity and straightforwardness of a place like Dunston's Steakhouse. The steaks are prime, the walls are unfinished, and the atmosphere is like a fancier Golden Corral, complete with a watery-looking yet entirely tempting salad bar.
The drinks, though, are much more refined than you might think. There are old school entries, like a classic Mai Tai made with orgeat syrup, pineapple juice and fresh rum. Orgeat syrup! Even the cheesier cocktails, like the coconut rum-and-moscato based Oceanside Coconut, are straightforward without a bunch of sweet syrups or other bartender's shortcuts. From my first glance at the menu, though, I knew I was going to be having a Paloma.
A Paloma, made with tequila, fresh grapefruit juice, and soda water, is sort of what margaritas would be if they were actually classy. It's a simple, not too sweet mixture that is at once refreshing and a little complicated on the tongue. At Dunston's, the Paloma is mixed with El Jimador blanco tequila, a perfectly sippable spirit that goes beautifully with a big ass rib eye steak and a salad topped with about eighteen ounces of ranch dressing.
When my cocktail came out in a Lakewood Brewing Company beer glass, I couldn't help but snicker. That's cute and all, but when you're charging me $9 for a cocktail, you're not allowed to serve it in a glass that was specifically designed for another type of booze. But the cocktail snob within was quickly quieted once I tried the Paloma in front of me -- it had been mixed remarkably well.
Whether or not the grapefruit juice was freshly squeezed, it didn't have the metallic taste that is telltale of juice that has spent most of its life in a can. Swapping lemon-lime soda for club soda is certainly not in keeping with the original recipe, but it gives it a familiar taste, similar to a classed-up version of the fruity punches that I used to love drinking in college, minus all those Kool-Aid packets and Everclear.
With all of the fancy bartender techniques and interesting new ingredients that currently dominate the cocktail scene, it is occasionally wonderful to find a drink that you know that you can perfectly replicate at home, even if you're pouring it into a Dallas Cowboys souvenir cup and topping it off with a half-flat bottle of Sprite. It is near impossible to fuck up a Paloma, especially if you a have a few fresh grapefruits laying around at home.
To find the perfect Paloma at a place like Dunston's is a sweet kind of serendipity. To sip that cocktail out of a random beer glass at a place with such classic kitsch is kind of perfect. It serves as a good reminder that you don't have to pay $15 for a well-made cocktail, and you don't have to drink it in a place that makes you feel like a street rat.