Dining out: Sterling Restaurant
Address: 835 Rue Jacques-Cartier, Gatineau, 819-568-8788, sterlingrestaurant.com
Prices: steaks with sauce and starch: $38-$55, other mains: $28-$69
Open: Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Access: tables and washrooms on ground and second-floor levels
For my first on-duty visit to a steak house, I thought it wise to bring along some experts.
So, joining me at Sterling Restaurant in Gatineau were two fellows I’ll call the Meat Brothers.
As fond as I am of meat, these guys are even more hardcore carnivores — more familiar with places that butcher and age their own steaks and proudly proclaim their weights on their menus. While travelling, they go out of their way to eat at famed and classic American steak houses such as Peter Luger, Keens Steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Meat Brother No. 1 even dry-ages beef for fun.
Before Christmas, the three of us and another adult went to Sterling, which had not been reviewed in the Citizen since 2004, not long after it opened.
Sterling, which 20 years ago was the French restaurant L’Eau Vive and after that Le Living Room bar, is a large, refurbished heritage building that looks attractively over the Gatineau River. It seats almost 150 people in a clutch of four rooms of assorted sizes. With their views and decor, each room cossets Sterling’s patrons in contemporary steak house luxury, and it’s not a stretch to imagine the more private rooms in particular as fine settings for the conclusions of business deals.
Ahmed Balharakat, Sterling’s maître d’ and sommelier, treated us as he does all of Sterling’s customers, which is to say with great attention. Part of the ritual for first-timers at Sterling is Balharakat’s tour of the place, during which he proudly ushers guests to view not only the rooms, but also samples of meat and shellfish on display near the entrance, the grill, and the cloistered room in which $1,000-plus bottles of wine are stashed before those consummated business deals are toasted.
The wait staff who take orders are equally keen to make a show of Sterling’s attributes. If it’s steak that you’ve ordered, the very slab of meat will be brought to your table on a platter for pre-cooking inspection. The meat’s quality, you will be told, is essentially synonymous with the restaurant’s name, which refers to the Sterling Silver brand. If you think highly enough of your meal, you can bring home some meat from Sterling’s butchery to cook in your own kitchen.
But whether you will do as good a job as they do at Sterling, of course, is another matter. The restaurant’s grill delivered two perfectly medium-rare-as-ordered steaks, a 16-oz. New York Sirloin ($49) and 20-oz. Papa’s Cut ($45). Both were exceptional, although the former was more pleasing texturally while the latter, a bone-in rib-eye, was more flavourful. Both steaks had been wet-aged — the dry-aged beef buff in our party sighed — and the taste of each had been funkily boosted. Both came with very commendable sauces — a port reduction and a “Périgourdine” truffle-foie gras sauce — but the meat was certainly good enough in its own right.
In general, the kitchen under chef Andrew Vallières justified the high prices for fish and animal proteins that appeared on plates. The salmon trio appetizer of smoked, cured and raw fish ($18) satisfied, and the spicy tartare in particular impressed with balance and finesse. Another appetizer of three whopping, succulent shrimp was content to showcase a superior ingredient with respect.
Filet of New Zealand venison, which Meat Brother No. 2 even preferred to the steak, and walleye “à la meunière” were both stars of their respective $65 tables d’hôte, the deer tender and flavourful, the fish graced with sweet flesh and crunchy skin.
Other offerings at Sterling left the impression that side dishes can in some cases play second fiddle to meat. All main courses came with the same medley of competently cooked but plainly served vegetables. Better was the $7 plate of wilted and well seasoned spinach. We could get excited about the basket of french fries and the good mashed potatoes, but the risotto that accompanied the fish was overcooked.
The chocolate mousse and almond feuilletine that came with the table d’hôte was sweet and pleasant, if unremarkable.
After we ate at Sterling, I read what my predecessor wrote about it in 2004. Her conclusions turned out to be strikingly comparable with mine, and had to do with some very similar dishes on a menu that apparently has not needed much of a makeover.
She and I may seem to share the perspective on Sterling, and on steak houses in general. But what I can add is that the Meat Brothers consider Sterling their favourite place for steaks in the Ottawa area.