Morton's The Steakhouse has a new location. Now perched above Fountain Square, its second-floor windows face Vine and Fifth streets, providing a wonderful view of the enormous fish hovering over McCormick & Schmick's.
Our waiter proudly tells us this brighter layout is Morton's prototype for the future. (In fact, every other U.S. Morton's location is currently windowless.) We enjoy the changing quality of light as the setting sun reflects off downtown's steel-and-glass towers. And we love that we can see we're in Cincinnati, rather than being hunkered down anywhere else in America.
Oh, old-school touches abound: Sinatra's voice is still the only one that croons here. And they still wheel a cart tableside with a huge platter showcasing each cut of wet-aged prime beef. Here's a raw, bone-in Rib Eye ($41). This is the cartoonishly large 48-ounce Porterhouse ($90), one of which, we're told repeatedly, was recently consumed by a 12-year-old. The only thing missing is a bovine anatomy chart identifying the source of each massive cut.
A somnolent 3 1/2-pound lobster rouses itself, wriggling menacingly as we hear that his brethren is $24.95/pound. Big slabs of tuna ($32) and pink salmon ($28) look fresh, but seem like afterthoughts. And the broccoli and tomatoes are more than garnish -- they're available as side dishes, for nothing comes with your main course.
We start with a "Mortini" -- a refreshingly inebriating Heavenly Palmbeacher ($13), loaded with Skyy vodka and a splash of pineapple juice, topped with Grand Marnier foam and a limp mint sprig. The wine list is large but easy to navigate. Unfortunately, it contains few bargains -- and few interesting choices below $70/bottle. Still, we're happy with our 2003 Click "Le Freak" Syrah-Viognier ($50/$13 retail) blend from France. At 12.5 percent ABV, it's no blockbuster, but it holds its own with food, showing high-toned floral aromas and red fruit, good acidity and soft tannins.
Waiting for starters, we tear into a huge pillow of crusty onion bread, showering our table with crumbs. Our genial waiter constantly wields his crumber, though a larger cutting board would better manage the mess. My wife's Tuna Tartare ($14) arrives -- a vibrant tower of chopped tomato, avocado and diced raw tuna. An attractive swirl of Thai cream and a balsamic glaze complete the dish, though the earthy flavor of sesame overwhelms the delicate tuna. My Center-Cut Iceberg ($9.75) is a classic, satisfying "wedge" salad, dressed with mild blue cheese, crispy chunks of bacon and chopped egg.
Eventually, our steaks and sides arrive. The beautifully seared 24-ounce Porterhouse ($45) provides two tasty options: a meltingly soft filet on one side of the bone and a beefy, honest New York strip on the other. Perfectly cooked in the kitchen's 1,000-degree ovens, it showcases the delicious, well-marbled meat to great effect. On weekends, slow-roasted, bone-in Prime Rib ($43) is available. It, too, is beautifully cooked and slices easily under my serrated knife; a dollop of horseradish cream adds a pleasing kick. It's the most tender and delicious prime rib I've ever eaten.
Our sides are also winners: There's nothing healthy about our Creamed Spinach ($9.50), but it's surprisingly complex, with Parmesan and nutmeg popping on our tongues. Likewise, we eagerly spoon sautéed Wild Mushrooms ($9) onto our steaks, the garlicky sliced shitakes and portobello dotted with chopped parsley.
My wife excuses herself and returns to report that there are too few sinks in the ladies lounge: Several women simultaneously re-applying make-up caused a logjam. Saturday is clearly date night; many couples are enjoying a massive meal in the golden glow of the dusk. I suspect this problem doesn't arise during the week when more "expense account" diners are there with business associates.
At last, we dig into our Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake ($10). While not terribly original, it's enormously satisfying, with a molten center and topped with fresh raspberries, another wilted mint leaf and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. We eagerly scrape the plate clean.
Satiated, we wander downstairs and over toward the fountain. By now the sun has set, and the plaza is filled with families sprawled in sleeping bags and lawn chairs watching Finding Nemo on the outdoor screen.
We decide that one shouldn't dine at Morton's on a tight budget. To enjoy the experience, you should order with abandon -- calorie count and cost be damned. We'll work off our meal with a jog tomorrow, and pay down our credit card balance over the next few months. In the meantime, we grab an iced coffee and gaze up at the colorful, frolicking fish.
Morton's -- The Steakhouse
Go: Carew Tower, 441 Vine St., Downtown
Hours: 5:30-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty of fish, salad and vegetable options, though beef is clearly the star
Accessibility: Elevator access through the entrance alcove