Morton’s The Steakhouse
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Morton’s is one of the leading chains of high-end steakhouses, a segment of the restaurant industry that has become overgrown in recent years. The USDA Prime steaks, while in the minority of the steaks sold here, give the rest of their menu panache. Morton’s steak cookery is the simplest possible: broil, then deposit on a plate, sans sauce or garnish. (Unless you ask for bearnaise, peppercorn cream sauce, or something else.) Simplicity and quality characterize most of the rest of the menu, which includes lobster, crab cakes, big shrimp and scallops, and a few chops. We are forced by the very high prices to look hard at the shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters, all of which come from sources far away, none of them as good as the local product.
Everything at Morton’s is designed to be visually impressive, from the pillow-size loaf of onion bread you get at the outset, through the imported (!) crabmeat and shrimp in the appetizers, to the oversize steaks. The Prime cuts are the best, particularly the sirloin strip and the porterhouse. (The filets are not likely to be Prime, not are most of the steaks on their promotional menus.) Most of the time, all of this is at least pretty good; sometimes it’s excellent.
Morton’s is to Chicago what Ruth’s Chris is to New Orleans, founded in the Windy City in the late 1970s. Chicago is one of the great steak towns, and the standard was high–higher than now, truth be told. Morton’s first came to New Orleans–another great steak city–in the late 1980s. That one–where Landry’s in the French Quarter is now–died quietly a few years later. The present restaurant opened in 1999 in Canal Place, taking over a handsome restaurant of the 1980s called Parker’s.
Every major city has a Morton’s, and they’re more or less the same. Once you’re inside the door, there’s no telling that you’re in New Orleans (or New York, or San Francisco, or Phoenix). A recent renovation opened windows into Canal Street–a good move. The dining rooms are masculine, elegant, comfortable, even beautiful. The place is as classy-looking as a fancy European restaurant. The bar–also recently renovated–is posh and comfortable, with an appealing menu with enough small plates to fill a big appetite. A good place for a romantic interlude.
»Broiled sea scallops (appetizer or entree)
»Sliced tomato salad
»Sirloin strip (large, split for two),
»Porterhouse for two
Filet mignon au poivre
»Shrimp Alexander (broiled gigantic shrimp)
»Double-cut lamb chops
Hash brown potatoes
»Hot dessert souffles
FOR BEST RESULTS
Ask to have your steak cooked “Pittsburgh style”–seared well on the outside, but juicy medium rare in the center. Morton’s most distinctive specialty is its hot dessert soufflees, made consistently well. They are among the only ones in town. The wine list is very good, but very expensive.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The beef was better when it was dry-aged. The quality of the beef in the discounted specials is noticeably lower than that of their signature steaks. The service dips when you order from that side of the menu.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Value -2
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness -1
- Local Color -1
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Open some holidays
- Unusually large servings
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The tradition among premium steakhouses to never budge an inch on their prices has died, and not a moment too soon. Summer in New Orleans brings even steakhouse tariffs down. Morton’s has restructured its lowball summer offering in an appealing way. For a C-note, they used to give each of two people an appetizer, a salad, a small filet, and a dessert, with a side to split. They’ve added ten bucks to the price and moved the seafood appetizers onto the steak’s plate for a surf-and-turf.
But a more important improvement is that the package now allows you to upgrade the steak. The petit filet is too small to cook properly, and not specified as USDA Prime. I would gladly pay a $16 upcharge to get the sirloin strip, guaranteed Prime and the best steak here. You can also include as many people as you like in this deal, even odd numbers.