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The Apple In Orange
Steaks like they do in Manhattan, minus the annoying accents
I've never met a braised short rib I haven't liked. But the one I had recently at the new Manhattan Supper Club in Orange I loved. It's served as a primeval bone-in hunk, the outer crust charred to onyx. The rest of it is reddish-brown and tastes like the best pot roast in the world. If it weren't piled on nice china, you'd swear a caveman was the cook responsible, not Stephane Beauchamp, the executive chef who previously spearheaded the kitchen at Sutra Lounge.
Beauchamp seasons the beef with a deft hand and cooks it slowly—long enough that it can be torn apart with a fork, but not so long that it turns to mush. Then he presents it on a heap of mashed spuds, adding a few roasted pearl onions for contrast. The result is a no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes meal for the meat-and-potatoes crowd, the kind of supper you tend to eat in hearty spoonfuls and chase with a swig of ale from a big frosty mug. But once you realize how finely the dish is executed, you'll want to savor it tenderly with a glass of red.
Since the restaurant prides itself on its wine cellar, the latter pairing is expected. Owner Anthony Paduano—who had procured about 2,000 bottles of vino in preparation for the grand opening—keeps his stash behind a glass door protected by lock and key. You can request to be seated in this same basement-level room, which is surrounded by stone walls and is as dark as a cave.
Everything else looks like what you'd expect from a place that calls itself the Manhattan Supper Club, minus those pesky, pretentious Manhattanites. There's a bar that gleams of mirror and polished wood and rooms as bright as moonlight will allow. All seem to proclaim, "You want a night out? We'll give you one."
The menu's main attraction is a roster of steaks ranging from an 8-ounce top sirloin to a 24-ounce dry-aged, bone-in rib—at $47, the costliest item of the lot. Of course, if you want a side dish, you're going to have to pay for one à la carte. Unless steak is on your brain or your last name is Bren, you're better off with the regular entrées, where the sides are included. This is, after all, where I found the marvelous braised short rib and the wild mushroom risotto. The latter is richer and more filling than any steak you can order and, at $18, their cheapest complete meal.
More important, it's done right. Thanks to a generous supply of earthy mushrooms, this is a meatless dish that's actually meaty. Also, due to the extra pile of Parmesan they sprinkle over the top before service, it's thicker than porridge and cheesier than Ryan Seacrest. The Parmesan quickly melts into the rice in stretchy webs and fortifies the dish against the lactose-intolerant.
But if you want to distance yourself from red meat without resorting to vegetarianism, you can still do so while being environmentally conscientious. Manhattan's chicken is from Shelton Farms. The pork was raised at Niman Ranch. And the salmon once swam in Scotland's Loch Duart. If these names mean something to you, then you'll know the restaurant supports organic and responsible farming in the suppliers it chooses.
For those who just have to have a steak, order the appetizer called the Manhattan culotte steak, a full-on meal, complete with a tangy blueberry-merlot sauce as chunky as compote and a crispy potato galette that's better than a latke.
All else on the starters list pales in comparison. Even Beauchamp's popular barbecued shrimp with spicy onion salsa and avocado—an import from his time at Sutra—can't compete.
End your meal with the chocolate bread pudding. Ignore all other desserts, including the usual suspects of cheesecake and crème brûlée. The pudding—infested with chocolate chips, drizzled with a homemade caramel sauce and still steaming from the oven in a tiny steel pot—is classy enough for the Big Apple, but right at home in Orange.
Manhattan Supper Club, 202 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-6161; www.manhattansupperclub.com. Call for hours. Starters, $9-$17; entrées, $17-$27; steaks, $22-$47. Full bar.