A New York Steak of Mind

Photo by Amy TheiligMidway through dinner at the Corner Broiler in Lake Forest, two little girls walked in lugging bags of pork chops. Greeting them warmly was owner Chris Siedenburg, a short, buzz-cut man with the trim physique of a Whiting Ranch hiker. He grabbed the pork chops and handed them to a chef grasping a cleaver. Then he turned to me and flashed a knowing smile.

I had ordered pork chops a couple of minutes earlier. The Corner Broiler waiter sighed and rushed into the kitchen. Siedenburg came out. “Sorry, we just ran out of pork chops,” he said. “But if you want to wait a bit, we're expecting a shipment. They're excellent.”

My dining companion and I were impatient. The scent of fire on flesh had lured us even from the parking lot. Fellow diners in the tiny supper room clinked their wineglasses and cut their meat. Waiting wasn't an option: we wanted a great hunk of steak, and we wanted it now.

The waiter took our order. Siedenburg observed from a distance but seemed disappointed, like a man who vainly tries to get his friends into Ulysses. But, like Leopold Bloom, Siedenburg would smile again.

True to its name, Corner Broiler specializes in revered American meat cuts: mountainous rib-eyes and porterhouses, nicely smoked barbecued chicken, blackened salmon or halibut filets. The steak-and-potatoes entrées complement the restaurant's hushed, humble décor: maybe 20 tables, a small bar, tasteful landscape paintings and warm, low lighting.

There's little in the way of innovation—Siedenburg throws in a couple of pastas and risottos as afterthoughts—but that's the point. Corner Broiler is the sort of intimate neighborhood steak house that fell years ago to the nationwide chains but is rightfully, slowly staging a comeback.

Key to the Corner Broiler's appeal is Siedenburg himself. He chats comfortably with customers and always recommends at least three or four daily specials. Since we wouldn't wait for the pork chops, for instance, Siedenburg suggested we try an appetizer of Italian pork sausages with chimmichurri. I hesitated: chimmichurri, an olive oil-and-garlic-based condiment native to Argentina, is notoriously difficult to nail, and there wasn't an Argentine flag around. But Siedenburg's chimmichurri seared as it should: the olive oil calmed the garlic's pungent buzz, and the parsley lent freshness to the spicy, hearty sausages.

Siedenburg also recommended a roasted bell pepper soup. I fretted again when the waiter placed it before me. It came in a small bowl, was tinted a scary-looking pink-orange and featured a couple of bread cubes floating around. But just one swish in my mouth revealed the soup was an extraordinary potage. The creamy soup maintained the proper crisp, bittersweet taste of the best bell peppers; I'm hard-pressed to think of a more nuanced starting soup in Orange County.

Everything Siedenburg recommended excelled. I was most skeptical of the New York steak he suggested in lieu of the pork chop. A New York strip is the Twinkie of the steak world, ubiquitous but rarely remarkable. But the Corner Broiler chefs topped the well-done steak with crunchy fried onions and judiciously glazed it with chimmichurri so that each luscious forkful included flavorful jolts. I thought about asking for some A-1 Sauce, but it would've been superfluous: juices seeped from the strip after each cut until a small, fragrant pool was all that remained on my plate.

My dining partner enjoyed her quite-pink top sirloin but didn't care for the garlic mashed potatoes. Somehow Siedenburg heard—my dining companion is rather quiet—from across the room. He approached us.

“So I hear you don't like the potatoes,” he said with a laugh.

She stammered out an apology, but he quickly waved it off.

“Don't worry about it, I love the feedback. How about the steak?” That, she said, was sublime.

Our meals finished, we prepared to leave. I wanted to bid Siedenburg farewell, but he was standing next to the bar, sneaking in a couple of minutes of the Dallas Cowboys-Seattle Seahawks game. But just as I was about to turn on the ignition, Siedenburg poked his head and hand out the Corner Broiler's front door.

“Thank you again for coming!” Siedenburg yelled, waving. “Hope to see the both of you again soon.”

We will: I still want my pork chop.


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