Able Kane

Our reviewer presents a bouquet of rosebuds to Citizen Kane's steakhouse

When you're born with a name like Kane, receive a good Jesuit education and end up in the restaurant biz, the potential angle for a name for a place of your own virtually screams from a spotlit marquee. In fact, only if your parents had named you "Charles Foster" instead of "Frank" would the shtick be more obvious.

But managing to run now for more than six years, especially in the relatively crowded, expensive niche of steakhouses -- well, that puts you more into the realm of a classic.

Citizen Kane's is housed in a rambling 1884-vintage former residence just off Kirkwood Road and several blocks south of the Kirkwood railroad station. Although fully modernized, the space retains a great deal of Victorian charm, owing in part to the fact that reinforcement of the whole Orson Welles/Citizen Kane thing isn't overbearing and is supplemented with other artwork representing Hollywood, jazz and St. Louis landmarks. Upstairs is more sprawling and open, whereas the downstairs rooms are smaller and intimate. In a nod to the origins of what you'll probably order, tables are clothed in a beige leatherette.

The menu is, of course, dominated by steaks and chops, but there's also a stately chicken Xanadu, as well as a daily fresh-fish special and the "Daily Inquirer" special, which on both occasions we visited also happened to be a fish dish. Somewhat ironically, I was most struck by the quality of the fish. The first sample was an impeccable fillet of salmon, pan-seared to give it an ultrafine crust on one side but still very moist throughout, topped with a "salsa" of bite-size chunks of tomato, black olive and shrimp, which added both a touch of acidity and an interesting textural dimension. The other was a halibut, again benefiting from seared-in moisture by being cooked on a very hot surface but much more straightforward in the saucing.

Given that the restaurant bills itself as a steakhouse, it wasn't surprising that the signature items were huge and fabulous. We ordered the ribeye rare and the fillet medium-rare, and both arrived exactly as described in the doneness guide on the menu, with the fillet only minimally resistant but not truly fork-tender (because that would be too mushy) and utterly devoid of sinew or other imperfections. The ribeye was a more marbled cut, with light touches of fat merely complementing the meatiness. Each had a seared skin that concentrated the flavoring on the interior and added a touch of smokiness.

Both vegetables du jour on the successive evenings -- green beans amandine and asparagus with hollandaise -- were cooked very hot but not to beyond their natural garden crispness, and the hollandaise had an especially nice level of lemon. Other available sides include creamed spinach and baked, garlic-mashed or "boarding house" (sautéed with onion and red and green bell pepper) potatoes, all in decent portions, with no big risks taken in any of the preparations.

Speaking of no big risks, although 9 bucks for six jumbo shrimp in a martini glass filled with cocktail sauce, black olives and lemon isn't outrageous in a steakhouse setting, it would be nice if Citizen Kane chose to push the envelope a tad more in the appetizer choices, which consist, in addition to the shrimp cocktail, of the St. Louis-ubiquitous toasted ravioli, marinated mushrooms and onion rings -- all quite good for what they are, but just a little too strictly steak- and-potatoes for a meal that's likely to run more than a Franklin for two people.

Desserts were touted as homemade, and both the caramel flan and the vanilla cheesecake we tried were top-notch. Available wines include both a modestly priced ($25-$50) selection of about 40 bottles and another 10 or so on "Frank's Cellar List," including, for $54, a Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium, a California Meritage dominated by merlot grapes, which our waiter recommended if we were in the mood for a splurge. It was a nice sales job, not intrusive, and said wine, which I have at home, is actually a nice, complicated piece of work to go along with a good steak. That price reflects a markup of about 80 percent over what I paid retail -- stiff but not a gouge in a normal restaurant-pricing context.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of additional details in service and atmosphere with which I'd quibble, given Citizen Kane's place at the high end of the price scale. On our first visit, we were politely given our choice of two tables located in different first-floor rooms -- a nice practice, but because neither table was fully set, we ended up standing for a couple of minutes while the hostess hustled. Later in the same visit, a party being seated at the neighboring table loudly moaned about having to wait 10 minutes beyond their reservation time, and the hostess made the inexcusable excuse of "a large party upstairs." First, that's not the guest's problem. Second, if you really have messed up the reservation time, blow a couple of bucks and at least offer to buy the folks a drink.

And although no one will ever accuse me of being a neat freak, it was disconcerting to see several of the pieces of art hanging slightly askew, as if whoever watches the little things in the restaurant had been momentarily distracted by Martians or something. Finally, when someone pays 25 bucks for a steak, charging extra for the restaurant-cost-75-cents crumbles of blue cheese on the salad is not the ideal way to portray yourself as a high-class joint -- an unusual counterpoint to the exclusive wine list or the elegant pen provided to sign the check at the end of the meal.

But these qualms certainly aren't enough to keep me from sledding back to Citizen Kane's next time I'm in the mood for a massive hunk of beef. The overall service was St. Louis-style friendly, the old house is a hoot, the fish and steaks were spectacular and the prices, although high, were certainly within reason for the size and quality of the principal ingredients -- in short, pretty darned boffo.

CITIZEN KANE'S, 133 W. Clinton (Kirkwood), 314-965-9005. Hours: 5-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5-10 p.m. Fri. & Sat.; closed Mon. Entrees: $17.95-$25.95.

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