There may be some confusion as to what my goal is with these food reviews. I don’t write them because I think I’m someday going to transition into the world of food review writing. I don’t write them to be unnecessarily mean, or difficult, or to otherwise injure the restaurant that prepared my chosen meal. It’s none of that. I write them because I feel compelled to fill these endless pages, but mostly I write to hopefully inspire the restaurants to do better. And if they can’t do better, then certainly they can try harder. I write with the goal of improving the food scene that is, objectively, less than it could, or should, be.
Now that I have three steak reviews under my belt, most literally, I know what I’m looking for in a steak. I know the common mistakes that these restaurants are making. I know effort, and lack thereof. With this updated knowledge I made a reservation last weekend at the Hunt Club. This is one of the few restaurants in the Lake Geneva area that tells patrons what they are, or at least what they want to be. They are a steak house, proclaimed loudly in their very URL (huntclubsteakhouse.com) and on their homepage (LAKE GENEVA’S PREMIER STEAKHOUSE). I liked the sound of that, and admittedly I’d never eaten a steak here before. With expectations high I pulled up for an early 5 pm reservation last Friday night.
The Hunt Club is in an old house. I know the house, and the corresponding estate, was owned by the Crane Family. I also know the house, or one on the property, was an asylum for those suffering from tuberculosis. But that’s the only history I know, and frankly, the only loose version of history I care to know. The restaurant, because it was a house, or an asylum, or both, has a different feel. It’s a better feel. There’s a cosy wood-lined foyer, and a couple of nice dining rooms, one with a stone fireplace. There’s a new addition on the Como-Lake-Side of the building, and that’s where the bar is. I don’t like that room. Every time I’ve been there it’s been loud, too loud, with overly excitable bar patrons filling the space with unprovoked laughter and cackling. A view of Lake Como doesn’t turn me on. I asked to sit by the fireplace in what is the center dining room, and the hostess obliged. This fire was slowly smoldering, finally a place burning real wood. Never mind that the wood was wet so the room was a bit smokey, I will deal with that annoyance considering the alternative.
Immediately after being seated a waitress was table side to fill our waters and ask about our dining aim. The fact that this is a nicer restaurant was obvious, both in the heft of the silverware, the knit of the tablecloth, and the quality of the service. A glance at the menu proved that this should, indeed, be a better place, because my standard ribeye was $49 (16 ounce). Had I opted for the bone-in prime ribeye (18 ounce, on account of the bone) it would have run me $60. I noticed on the menu there was a chicken option, with the bird provided by Alden Hills. No mention of the source of the beef, which I presume means the beef isn’t from Alden Hills. This was even labeled “corn fed”, meaning this steak shouldn’t have any of the slight gamey flavor that is a hallmark of true grass-fed beef. The menu also proved the fancy nature of this restaurant, as the protein isn’t served with any side. In true steakhouse fashion, those sides are extra. I opted for the brussels sprouts ($9) and the ribeye, cooked medium. Go ahead and gnash your teeth, you primitive blue-steak eaters. Medium.
I ordered the steak at 5:08. Shortly after ordering, warmed bread was brought to the table, along with two wedge shaped slabs of butter, each sprinkled with course sea salt. This was a really nice inclusion. The butter and bread just sat on the table, daring me. Wanting me. I felt the same, but I ignored their advances even though the temptation nearly killed me. My son happily ate the bread while he waited for his burger to arrive. The restaurant slowly filled with patrons, though at no point in our hour there did the restaurant get particularly busy. The cackling from a woman in the bar area annoyed me. With each gulp from her drink the cackling grew louder. Soon, it overwhelmed the bar and started sucking the air out of the dining room, too. I figured there was no chance whatever she was laughing about was actually that funny. No chance.
Our dinners were presented at 5:30, well within my preferred wait time. The steak was on its own plate, next to some sort of fried mashed potato bite that my son quickly rescued. The steak looked the part, even if it lacked char. I think a steak should have a char on it. That’s part of the point of eating a steak. Make the outside special in a way that only steak or pork can ever be. My first cut revealed an overcooked medium, hovering dangerously near medium-well. The steak needed salt. After five or six bites I reached for the table salt to rescue the rest. Chefs around here need to stop being so afraid of salt. Salt is good. Salt is your friend. Steak needs salt. The steak wasn’t as fatty as Anthony’s, and certainly not as fatty as the steak at Jonathan’s. It wasn’t as lean as Fire2Fork. It was a decent steak, even though not one particular component of the steak overwhelmed me with joy. It didn’t have a char, it needed salt, it was a decent cut of meat. Fine. It could have been improved with the addition of some acid, maybe a grilled lemon, or perhaps a demi sauce (that was an option, but for $4).
The brussels sprouts, roasted and served with bacon and lemon, were acceptable but not worth ordering again. The bacon was overcooked and tough, the sprouts swimming in butter or oil. I’m positive the twice baked potato with 4 year cheddar is the side of choice here (or either the garlic whipped mash or truffle fries).
This is where pricing plays a role in expectations. If this steak had been $22-$28, as with the steaks that have already been judged, I might have thought the steak deserved a better rating. But this was a $49 steak, and I could have bought three of these ribeye’s from Lake Geneva Country Meats and cooked dinner for my entire family for the same cost as this one piece of meat. At least I would have charred and salted them properly. If a restaurant is going to claim to be the premier steakhouse in the area, then the steak should be exemplary. It should stand out. On this February evening, the fire was warm and the waitress was polite and cheerful, but the steak was just average. Perhaps I should have spent the extra $11 and opted for the bone-in prime ribeye. Perhaps the 32 ounce porterhouse for $79 is the best choice. Perhaps both of those things are true, but if a steak needs both a better char on a hotter grill and the addition of salt, I’m not sure the particular cut would have made the difference.
Hunt Club Steakhouse
Highway 50, between Lake Geneva and Williams Bay.
$49 For the ribeye, $9 for the brussels sprouts