Java Magazine June 2005
The best way to describe just how good are the service and treatment of every aspect that comprises Donovan’s, a new swank steakhouse on the Camelback Corridor, would be to stand it next to a true gem of American cinema: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Donovan’s is a very proper and elegant joint, so the poppycock of using a film that came out in the height of Reaganomics and pre-Brat Pack is just too absolute.
Pulling a Mr. Bueller is easy and maybe unintentional when you see the sign in the front door that lets you know the proper attire is required. “Dear Jesus, I really didn’t intend to throw on this faded T and Levi’s. Do I really wanna hassle with some wiggly-nose snoot?” Entering into the soft lighting of Donovan’s is somewhat an Abe Froman, sausage king of Chicago, experience minus the rude treatment. This would be a satirical intro into the funny sense if the hostesses and polite servers could be compared with “getting snooty””.
Upon entering Donovan’s, the very dim, yet cool tinge of the lighting forces your eyes not only to adjust physically, but to adjust to the pampering environment before you. After I got past the atmosphere of bloated mahogany trimmings and bronze sculptures, the bar sucked me into its old, yet very modern on the sly, aura. Here you are, an Abe Froman, plopped down and the bartender still seems to have this infectious polite disease, or he’s just earning the trust of your bar tab. Oh, and be careful that your place at the bar doesn’t have a little gold nameplate on it for the really good customers. The barman said it’s no big deal to sit in one of the prized customer’s stools, but I surely don’t want to be “Arte’s” reason for starting the first bar beating in this establishment’s short history.
It’s difficult to think of any traditional or authentic old American customs that haven’t been exploited through Nick at Nite, but finally getting to your booth or table, the waiters will reveal more than a few unknowns hidden to the Beavers. First, that you don’t have a meager server to pour your water and another that takes orders and does the rest. At Donovan’s there’s a different bow-tied employee for the little tasks, whether it’s scooping your breadcrumbs off the sea of white tablecloth, or the full-suited guy in charge of your table known as the “Captain”. Not only does this uniformed commander have his own business card, but when he’s going into any spiel about the Pinot Noir you’ll be downing or how the prime cut is seared, the words could go right past your head, the way he says them and presents himself with real integrity. His word is your bond.
The stuff that’s coming out of the kitchen at Donovan’s can be summed with a term that I’ve penned especially for the circle of cynical, ego-suffering cuisine critics: regularness – meaning consistency, but also a very desired plainness. It seems that from the first bite of a hearty starter to the last cramming of a full-bodied slice of pie, there is this incredible tang of regularness about all of these traditional dishes.
First we were hit with a storm of appetizers, which could have easily been entrees. Besides the prime beef Donovan’s supplies, the dish I’d heard the most ravings about is the Maryland Crabcake ($13). This is no faulty hype either. If you’re experienced and appreciate a perfectly pan-seared crab disc, then this will not disappoint, The Shrimp Cocktail ($15) was the next spectacle to elegantly demolish. The real kick with this dish is the size of the shrimp. If Goliath’s thumbs were blushing bright pink and smothered in yards of cocktail sauce – yeah you get the point. The Seared Lamb Chops ($15) had a queer Cajun method simmered to them. The chops themselves were balanced in a teasing ballet. A hollowed-out potato filled with ranch dressing, served next to the pirouetting chops, provided ample delicious carbs.
Intermission was a Chop House Salad ($7), or so I thought. Typically, any salad between hearty dishes is a notion of refreshing greens and an almost transparent vinaigrette. This salad did anything but refresh my battered senses and get me ready for the second, heavier half. The dressing was concentrated to a tasty gunkiness. Which made the white boulders of goat cheese almost more transparent in taste than I would’ve wanted them to be.
Salad shmalad, this is a swanky post-Depression Era style steakhouse, and though Donovan’s has fully proven itself in the invasion of the body snatchers with polite cummberbunned aliens, I want the strips of a bloodied meat seeping down to my tonsils.
Every entrée comes with potatoes that can be done four different ways, the best of which is skillet fried, suffocated in onions and gravy. The complement, fresh veggies, you could’ve sworn had their own image consultant. A potato or two might be bitten, but most of the carbs and pretty veggies will be left alone once the meaty substance is dug into.
The 14 oz. Veal chop ($34) will spread that mmmmm expression over your face that you always had to fake to convince Granny that her meat lump was of a similar caliber. The 100% prime beef entrees on the menu are prepared by searing. Or “seared to hell” would be a more modern way to describe it for all you people hip with grilling beef. After having the Prime Filet Mignon ($35) it’s an easy and guiltless thing saying the food is what makes this place. Not the dazzling golden statues or the statuesque “Captain” uncorking bottles and sinking your ship of inhibitions. Nope, these things, though very significant, seem somewhat meaningless when the best piece of meat in your life attacks your mouth.
Donovan’s is the spot to give a vegetarian a cruel birthday joke that they’ll appreciate later. It’s a place where you can feel like Abe Froman, wandering off the trail of plush and phony Scottsdale grazing lounges. It’s a place where you can hear your own voice, and you don’t have to scream to your date over the music and tolerate really bad revitalized retro lighting.