One 11 Chophouse
We now have two restaurants in St. John’s with a name that includes the word chophouse. The latest is One 11 Chophouse, Murray Premises. (The other is St. John’s Chophouse at the corner of Water Street and Baird’s Cove.)
As it turns out there’s also a 111 Chophouse in Worcester, Mass. They are not connected. I was told unequivocally by our server that the name resemblance is purely coincidental.
One 11 Chophouse is the invention of St. John’s restaurateur Emir Mahic. Mahic’s Gypsy Tea Room, also located in the historic premises, has become one of the city’s best known and, by all accounts, most successful eateries. Then there’s his seasonal project, a delightful outdoor courtyard café that has appeared at the Murray Premises for two summers. (Let’s hope there will be more. Summers and cafés!)
Mahic told me a few years ago he had acquired the space formerly occupied by The Hungry Fisherman. He said his idea was to turn it into an upscale steakhouse for business types (I assumed oil industry business types) serving the best quality beef and wine — more Morton’s than The Keg was my impression.
In most ways he appears to have accomplished what he set out to do. It remains to be seen whether One 11 Chophouse will become a haunt for high-powered business types. If they’re looking for the kind of food, atmosphere, service and prices they might find in a very good New York or Chicago steak house, then One 11 Chophouse should do nicely.
My dining partner sneaked a peek through the porthole window in the door before entering and whispered, “Posh!” One 11 Chophouse certainly does have that ambiance. It also has a masculine vibe, a target no doubt of decorators who chose serious, plain colours with which to anchor the room. Mind you, the Murray Premises’ mandated rough-hewn interior is not exactly reminiscent of a Parisian drawing room with hostess in haute couture.
One side of the room features banquette seating. Chairs are upholstered with off white fabric in dark frames. Tablecloths abound, as do sparkling stemware and shiny, modern flatware. Walls and ceiling feature brick and wood. The floor is covered in contrasting sections of brown and light grey carpeting. Modern, tastefully subdued, shaded light fixtures create just enough light to read a menu.
A narrow room runs parallel with the main dining area, just behind the wall with banquette seating. It contains a grey, granite topped bar with bar stools and several extra dining tables.
Sommelier Craig Newman has put together a credible wine list for One 11 Chophouse that, according to our server, will change and grow as time passes. Champagne lovers will be happy to know that the list contains a strong selection, ranging from Hebart Brut Blanc to Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2005.
Serious beef eaters will be impressed by the cuts, their size and price point. The prime quality steaks which the menu describes as being dry aged in the restaurant’s meat locker include a 16-ounce boneless ribeye, $59, 18-ounce bone in ribeye, $49, and 12-ounce striploin, $41. If you and guest are feeling particularly carnivorous, try the tomahawk for two. It’s a gargantuan 40-ounce bone in tomahawk steak (sides and sauce included), $111.
The priciest beef at One 11 Chophouse is the Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu, offered as bone in ribeye, $12 per ounce (10-ounce minimum), or 10-ounce striploin, $100.
With the exception of the wagyu (raised in Australia), all of the restaurant’s beef is sourced in Prince Edward Island. While the land of potatoes and Anne of Green Gables may not be the first place you’d think of for top grade beef, thanks to promoters like Chef Mark McEwan, P.E.I. Blue Dot Beef is acknowledged to be a quality product.
There are a variety of other meats and seafood on the menu, as well as raw or baked oysters. We began with ocean scallops.
Three golden seared beauties served on a soft bed of mushrooms, grana padano (hard, grainy Italian cheese) partridgeberries and sunflower seeds. The tart berries goosed up the wobbly tender scallops considerably.
The oxtail cabbage roll harked back to Auguste Escoffier, who used to do something similar but more elaborate. Shredded from the bone, strands of oxtail meat were encased in almost translucent cooked leaves. It looked more raft than roll shape, a raft floating in an alluring dark pond of blackberry, jus, tomatoes and marrow. I decided this had to be the quintessential winter dish for meat eaters. Everything the relentless wind chill had ripped from me was being slowly, lovingly returned.
I love chicken livers, a staple of my youth. We’d have them regularly fried in onions with mashed potatoes and corn. Then I learned how to make chicken liver pâté. How sophisticated!
It’s been humbling to learn over time that my devotion is shared, in numerous creative ways, by cooks worldwide, especially in Italy. One 11 Chophouse chef Ken Pittman seems to favour Italian style cuisine. His chicken liver ragu featured chopped livers simmered in tomatoes, herbs and pistachios tossed with hand cranked tagliatelle. I savoured every glossy liver coated strand. (This dish would have gone brilliantly with several of the wine list’s Tuscans. Perhaps the Sangiovese Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2003.)
The chop I became most intrigued with at One 11 Chophouse was from a Japanese pig. As partial as I am to bovine delights, the pull of the exotic sounding pig held sway.
The menu said it was Japanese marbled pork loin, something I’d never tasted. Our obliging server told me the pork was imported from Ontario. Marbled pork is rare. However, in 1997 the Japanese began marketing a pig with marbled meat called Tokyo-X. It achieved wider fame later when Chef Masaharu Morimoto and colleagues worked with it on “Iron Chef.”
Pittman’s plate was lively. The pork, encrusted with toasted granola, had been cut and displayed atop a jam of oxtail meat. Dotting the plate in concentric rings were pickled mandarin sections, Brussels sprouts and mustard flavoured jus. I found the introduction of the oxtail unusual, although it provided an interesting contrast in texture and taste against the pork. Maybe that was the idea. Meanwhile, the pork was extraordinary, like nothing I have ever tasted. The aroma, flavours and succulence were genuine. I knew I was tasting a real farm product and not something from one of those breeding warehouses.
Pan-seared char was advertised on the restaurant’s rudimentary website, but when we ordered it had been changed to farmed Atlantic salmon, not quite the same but good in a pinch. Although less interesting visually (why radish garnish?) the plate did offer delicious flavours. The sweet honey lacquered flesh gave way easily when prodded. Hints of smoked paprika, salmon, the bed of earthy white beans and roasted corn velouté all sang one beautiful harmonious song in my mouth.
One 11 Chophouse opened in late December and then endured the blackout of 2014. No doubt minor adjustments will be made in the near future, as with any new restaurant, but from my recent experience I’d say One 11 Chophouse is ready and able to welcome all hungry diners with a taste for quality food and drink.
Rating: * * *
Price: Dinner for two with appetizers, wine, tax and tip —$240.00 (approximately)
Sound level: Low
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
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For regular updates on “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene please follow me on Twitter @karl_wells.
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute Magazine. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.