Substance with a sizzleI’ve been an off-and-on vegetarian since I realized how great righteous indignation felt. So when Itaewon’s new Outback Steakhouse opened a few months ago, I left the rejoicing to the carnivores and continued patronizing cheap noodle shops.
But with the world about to end and all, I reckoned it wouldn’t do much harm to try the Australian restaurant chain. The new one in Itaewon is hard to steer clear of. It’s now the major landmark in the center of the main drag, standing out like the Aussie actor Paul Hogan in New York City: an oasis of faux innocence in a hodgepodge of signs and shops.
I popped in there for lunch the other day. The food was good; but then most food is passable. What wasn’t good was the decor. Instead of sooty walls and piney picnic tables ― the way a steakhouse ought to be ― Outback has that depressing you’re-having-a-fantastic-time interior, which that other annoying restaurant chain, Friday’s, takes to extremes.
I sat down and ordered the 9-ounce sirloin from an overly friendly waitress for 23,000 won ($18) and change. It comes with soup or salad, a side dish and bushman’s bread, which was good despite the name. A few minutes later I got the soup and bread. And the utensils.
Wow. The two knives set down looked like they came from the bushman’s last shock campaign. They weighed about five pounds each. I started reciting that Crocodile Dundee line: “Cooall dat a noyife? Dats no noyife. Ears a noyife.” And I made a mental note: Don’t bring psycho girlfriend here when it’s time to break up.
I wolfed down the soup and the bread, then waited for the steak and the steamed veggies. A flat-screen TV on the wall showed hot Korean women jumping around in an aerobics class, reminding me of the fantastic time I was supposed to be having. The sirloin came. I hoisted my knife and set to work. The meat was cooked just right. Didn’t taste like kangaroo, though.
The waitresses kept coming by and asking me if everything was all right, as good waitresses should. But they were a bit too earnest. Instead of asking in passing, they leaned in like they needed a firm answer.
So instead of getting off with a perfunctory “sure,” I felt obligated to detail exactly how all right everything was. I was afraid that anything less than a short essay spiced with smiles and sprinkled with superlatives would be cause for alarm.
As a proud fighter for degenerate bachelors’ rights I should mention that the Outback isn’t very night owl-friendly. I was having lunch there that day only because I’d tried to have dinner there the night before, but was denied. I committed the sin of showing up at 10:30, and the kitchen was closed. If you’re like me, and all good bachelors, you never eat dinner before 10.
So I went to the one place we hungry redeyes can always count on: The Hollywood Grill, just east of the Hamilton Hotel. Show up there at any ungodly hour and they’ll make you a big, fat, juicy steak. The employees don’t even know what time it is.
So when the world ends, they’ll still be grilling.
by Mike Ferrin