Cole’s Chop House

Bloody mayhem: Two customers wet their whistles in front of the well-stocked bar at Cole’s Chop House, which offers meals heavy on the seared flesh and light on the veggies–plus a lethal array of classic cocktails.

Fresh Meat

Cole’s Chop House: American classic in Napa

By Paula Harris

FRIDAY evening at dusk and downtown Napa is as vibrant as the tourist-glutted Parisian Left Bank on a mellow July evening. Pedestrians are thronging the streets of this riverfront town, swarming like crazed wasps around the produce at the outdoor Chef’s Market and jamming the neighborhood bars and restaurants.

Parking is impossible. Dusk is practically dark before we eventually locate a space.

Cole’s Chop House, a couple of blocks from the market, is packed, mostly with an older, well-heeled crowd. Seems Napa Valley chef Greg Cole, who owns Celadon Restaurant, also in downtown Napa, has latched onto a trend with his new classic American steakhouse.

“Meat” and “cocktails” are key here. Weird. This is the second new restaurant I’ve visited in as many weeks that features a veritable farmyard of chops and T-bones, massive aged Midwestern steaks, and a full bar.

Could this be a gluttonous backlash against the once-trendy healthful McDougall-inspired regime? A wicked return to truly sinful dining where meals are heavy on the flesh and light on the vegetables, and kick off with a mega-proof, gullet-searing “nostalgia cocktail”?

The classic cocktails mixed and shaken at Cole’s pack a blatant wallop. Sip a lethal perfect Manhattan, Jim Beam whiskey up, with sweet and dry vermouths ($7); a sidecar, brandy up with Cointreau ($7); or a salty-dog martini, grapefruit vodka and fresh grapefruit juice ($8.50) and see.

Judging by the scene (diners at the bar, on the patio, and in the dining rooms all toying with icy martini glasses), these libations are more popular than a Survivor marathon.

Cole’s is housed in the newly restored historic Williams building, constructed in 1886. Indeed, there is an old-time atmosphere at Cole’s, with its rough-textured stone walls, refurbished hardwood floor, and soaring, wood-beamed ceiling. The restaurant, with dining rooms on two levels, is elegant and expansive, with a clean masculine feel.

A trio performs American and Brazilian jazz.

Cozy booths and tables are set with white linen cloths and copper-beaded lampshades over candles. Set crossways at each place setting is a huge chunky wooden-handled steak knife emblazoned with “Cole’s” on the blade.

The menu features chophouse classics. Starters include oysters Rockefeller, lobster bisque, and caesar salad. The moules marinière “James Beard’s Recipe” ($8) are a disappointment. This may be the prestigious Mr. Beard’s recipe, but the broth is disconcertingly salty. The mussels, though popular (judging from all the shells stacked on the other tables), are rather puny. I prefer chef Cole’s mussel rendition with applewood-smoked bacon, served over at Celadon.

For simplicity in the midst of a rich menu, the heirloom tomato and red onion salad ($6) is a refreshing delight. Nothing fancy, just premium produce and a colorful presentation.

OK, let’s get to the meat. If chops are your choice, you’ve got quite a selection: veal ($23), beef bone-in rib eye steak ($19), full rack of New Zealand lamb ($22), or center-cut pork ($16). The steak selection is a bit more whimsical. In addition to filet mignon ($23), there’s Atlantic salmon filet ($16), Pacific swordfish steak ($18), and even (gasp!) a short stack of portobello mushroom caps ($15).

But the menu’s real heavy-hitters are Cole’s “famous” 21-day Chicago dry-aged New York strip steak ($29) and Cole’s “famous” 21-day Chicago dry-aged porterhouse steak ($35).

The certified Black Angus filet mignon ($23) is a sinful treat. The two-inch-thick cut is supremely tender, with no fat marbling. One tip: If you request medium-well, they will butterfly the meat before grilling and it won’t be as juicy–so request medium.

We perversely order the rosemary-scented portobello mushroom caps. It’s good that Cole is catering to noncarnivores with the most steaklike veggie out there. This dish is very meatlike in taste and texture, and it goes well with the Napa and Sonoma cabernets, merlots, zinfandels, and syrahs offered on the wine list.

ONE GRIPE is that you must pay extra for side dishes to accompany your main course, or else you get a steak and nothing else. Sides like creamed spinach ($5) and broccoli with Hollandaise ($5) serve two. We enjoyed our selection of grilled asparagus with Hollandaise ($7), and especially the delicious golden-crusted hash browns with onions ($5), but were a bit put out to realize we’d spent another 12 bucks just to balance things out with a few vegetables.

Our server, a very proficient and friendly woman, recommended a dessert of bananas Foster ($7), an American classic of sliced banana sautéed in rum with vanilla ice-cream. This rendition was fine, but nothing special. Next time we’ll try the Scotch whiskey bread pudding ($7) or the pecan pie ($7).

Cole’s can be expensive, but it’s a fun, comfortable place to experience some retro elegance–and chug a Cosmo.

Cole’s Chop House 1122 Main St., Napa; 224-6328 Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. Food: Classic American steakhouse Service: Friendly and professional Ambiance: Retro but relaxed even when crowded Price: Expensive Wine list: Large selection focusing on pricey reds Overall: 3 stars (out of 4)

From the July 27-August 2, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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