"No, Mom! It's not what you think." The Gaslamp Strip Club is not full of undressed women, although it does display some artwork by Alberto Vargas, whose pinup girl "Vargas Girls" drawings appeared in Playboy magazine.
The name of the restaurant originates from its signature "strip steak," one of seven steak choices on its menu, all of which are Midwestern, corn-fed angus beef, aged 21 days and then marinated to maximize flavor. That's why the rest of the restaurant's name is "A Steak Place".
Memorial Day is right around the corner, the date which usually heralds the beginning of the summer barbecue season. Guys in particular seem to enjoy the thrill of cooking on hot grills, standing around while often wearing aprons with funny messages like "Real Men Don't Need Recipes!" talking with friends and family as steaks and other foods sizzle.
Gaslamp Strip Club is the better option. In this unique restaurant concept, diners actually cook their own meals. And getting accolades for a finely prepared meal is easy, even without training at the CIA. Diners select a cut of steak -- ribeye, porterhouse and sirloin are among the choices -- or they may order ahi tuna or a double chicken breast. The meat is delivered raw to the table, on a tray that looks like a pizza turner, along with a pair of long tongs. The meat is fresh out of the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in cellophane.
Diners, usually the guys, can then walk over to a nearby hot grill, to cook the chosen cuts. A variety of seasoning is at hand to add flavor. The "chefs" usually stand around as the cuts cook, laughing and kibbitzing. Diners from several tables usually work on a grill at the same time so it's social and fun.
But the best part is when the cuts come off the grill, because the rewards of cooking your own meal are the joys of eating. The cuts are delicious, easy and quick to prepare.
It is just great ... all the joys of barbecuing without the fuss and mess of having to clean the grill, stoke the coals and so on. And, best yet, someone else brings the drinks and cleans the dishes.
Gaslamp Strip Club is another property of the Cohn Restaurant Group, which also operates such popular restaurants as The Prado in Balboa Park, Chef Deborah Scott's Indigo Grill in Little Italy and Blue Point Coastal Cuisine nearby in the Gaslamp. What's so fascinating about David Cohn is that he seems able to create and manage so many different culinary concepts so well. Gaslamp Strip Club has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Gold Medallion Award for Best Steakhouse -- Casual Dining.
James Stephenson, director of New Development, general manager and executive chef, makes sure that all the side dishes are prepared to perfection. These include Garlic & Herb Fries, Sautéed Asparagus and Fried Calamari with Marinara. Stephenson is a self-taught chef who perfected his skills by working at restaurants around the country. Notably, he worked with Celebrity Chef Mark Miletello for three years. He was honored to cook at the James Beard House in New York City.
The interior of Gaslamp Strip Club is rustic, with a wall of bricks on the rear of the restaurant. A large bar occupies one side of the interior and a number of televisions are usually tuned to sports events. The decibel level inside can get pretty high. Diners can stay inside or dine on the comfortable exterior patio.
The ambiance is casual and fun. The best way to relax is with good food and good wine. The wine cellar is self service. Choose your wine from the small, select list and then grab the bottle from the cellar. Or, bring your own wine for a nominal $10 corkage fee. A special reserve wine list is pricier, but excellent.
Price as well as pride are the benefits to the joy of cooking your own meal. The cost of dinner is significantly less that what would be paid at comparable restaurants for comparable cuisine. The bottom line -- guests get more fun, quality cuisine and great wine and spend less. Sounds like a winning formula to me.
Gaslamp Strip Club -- A Steak Place is open for dinner only beginning service at 5 p.m. and diners must be over 21. It is located at 340 Fifth Avenue between J and K Streets. Call 619-231-3140 for information and reservations or visit gaslampsteak.com
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. He is also the restaurant critic for www.sdgodowntown.com. Send comments to the firstname.lastname@example.org. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.