Good cheer and good steak

Henri picks up his spirits with dinner at 5th Street

TOPPING IT OFF Bartender Eric Freedle pours some red for Chip Struckmeyer to complement his tasty meal at 5th Street Steakhouse.

TOPPING IT OFF Bartender Eric Freedle pours some red for Chip Struckmeyer to complement his tasty meal at 5th Street Steakhouse.

Photo By Tom Angel

More info:
The 5th Street Steakhouse, 345 W. 5th St., opens for dinner at 4:30 p.m. Tues.-Sun.--no reservations Fri. or Sat. Phone 891-6328.

Henri’s Christmas tree died even earlier than usual this year. By Christmas Eve, the floor beneath it was littered with little brown pine needles—which were getting stuck in Miss Marilyn’s fur. Christmas Day, we took the lights and ornaments off and dragged it out to the street while the neighborhood kids rode by on the sidewalk on their shiny new bikes and scooters.

I thought about our plans for New Year’s Eve. We didn’t have any.

Henri needed cheering up.

Then I remembered what mon père used to say: When life gives you lemons, make lemon-chiffon pie.

I went back inside, swept the pine needles up off the floor, poured a tall glass of Bordeaux and made a decent little chantrelles-and-garlic linguini. We ended up spending the last few days of the year in relatively good spirits—with good food, good wine and long naps by the fire. And this year a personal Katherine Hepburn film festival—Kate’s death in June had been very hard on Miss Marilyn.

Though most of the week we stayed home, one night I decided to treat myself to dinner out. I put on my new wool slacks by John Varvatos and my Bruno Magli loafers and headed down to the 5th Street Steakhouse, where Henri had dined on several occasions. I love the soaring ceilings, rustic brick walls and open kitchen. Several large parties were celebrating cheerfully, and with the holiday decorations still up, it all felt rather Dickensian.

Henri is also tràs impressed with the wine list, which, while lacking a single French or Italian wine (except for champagnes), has an extensive range of excellent California labels. By-the-glass prices range from $5 for the house merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay (all Salmon Creek) to $8.50 for the Vina Robles cabernet. Bottles include a 2001 St. Supery chardonnay ($28), 2002 Stag’s Leap sauvignon blanc ($35) and a 2000 Cosentino reserve merlot ($44), while the nearly 30 cabernets range from the Gundlach Bundschu ($25) to the 1999 Opus One ($180). There’s a $10 corkage fee if you bring your own.

My two starters, breaded calamari with basil aioli ($7.95) and a half-Caesar ($5.95), were both tràs divin, and I washed them down with a glass of R. H. Phillips chardonnay. Other starters include wontons in a plum sauce and stuffed with crab and cream cheese ($8.95), grilled prawns in a spicy Creole sauce ($8.95) and a spinach salad with pecans, apples, and blue cheese ($6.95).

Of course, 5th Street is best known for its superb steaks, cut from top-quality USDA prime beef. Prices range from $19.95 for a six-ounce filet mignon to $27.95 for the 22-ounce Delmonico rib-eye, all of which come with a baked potato. Sides, including roasted-garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and creamed spinach, run $4-$5.

Other entràes include chicken stuffed with prosciutto, spinach and Fontina cheese, with roasted-garlic mashed potatoes ($16.95); blackened salmon in a citrus butter sauce ($17.95); and hazelnut-crusted salmon with sugar-snap peas ($18.95), all of which include garlic mashed potatoes. You can also get ravioli with garlic, asparagus and Parmesan cheese ($16.95) or the nightly special, which includes a vegetable and soup and/or salad and ranges from $20-$25.

I was in the mood for a bone-in, so I ordered the Delmonico, along with a side of roasted-garlic spinach. My waiter, a tall, handsome boy, recommended the 2000 Jordan cabernet. Heavenly, but I couldn’t finish it, which reminded me of L.'s joke about taking a cab home. Fortunately, I did.

Miss Marilyn was waiting for me when I walked in the door. I put on my Hush Puppies and new pajamas by Pierre Cardin—a Christmas present to myself—and combed the last of the pine needles out of her fur. Then we curled up on the couch and fell asleep watching Bringing up Baby.

On New Year’s Eve, we watched The African Queen. I drank lemon-drop martinis.