Tramonto's Steak and Seafood
Tramonto's slant on the traditional steakhouse isn't sharp enough.
First, there’s the issue of the sweetbread salad. It stood out like a Jew at Mass, jumping out as the one dish I could truly get excited about on Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood’s extensive, yet largely uncreative, menu. When it arrived, I was forced to rein in that excitement: Chef Rick Tramonto had chosen to fry the sweetbreads, rendering them spongy, batter-crusted nuggets with little flavor. Still, paired with mushrooms and fresh greens, it was by far the most creative dish the restaurant had to offer.
But when I returned to the Wheeling restaurant a week later, the dish was gone, taken off the menu and relegated to a special. Without it, I was faced with a list of every steakhouse cliché imaginable, making it hard to decide what to eat—I felt that I had eaten it all millions of times before.
What I finally decided on turned out to be perfectly passable, but little more. While the oysters from the raw bar were sublime, evoking salty breezes on the beach, appetizers that were more under the kitchen’s control failed to make a big impression. Beef tartare was high quality but merely pleasant, the quail egg on the plate providing a nice visual touch but little extra flavor. Tempura rock shrimp were perfectly fried and had subtle hints of spice—a fine dish, even if it does look like it comes straight from Panda Express.
And when it comes to steaks, the most interesting thing about them is how they’re described. The dry-aged New York strip, for example, is described as “Midwestern” and “corn-fed.” Those may be good qualities for a high-school quarterback, but cows that are fed corn are going against their evolutionary preference (which is grass), and neither the cow nor the people who eat it benefit from the substitution. Still, the steak, while not aggressive in flavor, was well cooked and juicy. I much preferred the braised-beef short ribs, with their luscious layers of buttery fat. I also liked the opah, prepared in a simple way that lets the fish’s light, clean flavor shine. The salmon, however, was paired with a parsnip puree that was too sweet for me to finish.
When it was time for dessert, I was hoping that Gale Gand would impress me. As backward as it may sound, I was depending on her signature whimsy to add some much-needed spice to my meal. But though the whimsy was there, it couldn’t save the “backwards root-beer float.” Made with house-made root-beer ice cream and excellent Gale Gand–label cream soda, the float is nice enough but the accompanying “brioche fries,” sticks of brioche fashioned to resemble steak fries, kill the dish with their mediocrity. A sautéed-banana sundae had some inspired touches, such as the delicious peanut butter ice cream, and crunchy pieces of merengue that crowned it. Brooklyn Blackout Cake was moist, light, sweet and very much like the kind of cake you’d get from a box mix (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). But chocolate pudding was just chocolate pudding. Of course, by the time I tried it, I already knew not to expect much more.—David Tamarkin
601 N Milwaukee Ave, Wheeling (847-777-6575). Dinner. Average main course: $30.