J. Gilbert's Wood-Fired Steaks

American, Steakhouse
$$$$ ($25-$34)
'

Editorial Review

NOTE: The restaurant serves a Sunday brunch buffet.

Scene: A highway intersection in McLean; a large, low-lying brick and wood affair, a cross between a Southwestern ranch house and a ski chalet. Smoke pours out of a central chimney over an expansive parking lot crammed with an assortment of Mercedes, Lexus, SUVs and Camrys.

J. Gilbert's vast dark mahogany and ochre interior is filled with a distinctly conservative looking bunch: suspenders, white hair and suits are interspersed with a younger, cigar-smoking contingent. A central fireplace warms diners on either side. Overheard from the bar: "It's a shame what happened to Newt."

Did they sense my casually dressed friend and I didn't belong to the club? A full 10 minutes elapsed before our drink order was taken, while the table next to us was slurping wine and hors-d'oeuvres ordered after our arrival. We received service with a smile, but with some other notable omissions. Bread was not delivered until after the salads were served, and our wine arrived well after the main course.

But what a ripe wait it was. Immediately to our left, ensconced on the same elliptical leather booth seating, sat a pair of real characters. He: old, white-haired, fat, gap-toothed, suspender-clad and loud. She: at least 20 years his junior, precious, quiet and basking in the warm glow of his wallet. Both smoking cigarettes like they never went out of style.

The food, however, was another story. We passed up the J. Gilbert's appetizer platter, a combination of Maytag blue cheese potato chips, crab cakes and chicken quesadilla to save room for steaks and salad. Both the house and the Caesar were exemplary, topped with paper-thin slices of Parmesan. The 10-ounce black Angus top sirloin was a lean, juicy and peppery feast, made extra succulent with a side of port wine shiitake mushrooms. The 16-ounce black Angus Kansas City strip nearly melted in your mouth with a delicacy akin to salmon, but paired with a bit more fat than the top sirloin.

At the server's recommendation, we tried the Poblano au gratin potatoes, a choice pick with steaks and laced with a pleasantly strong kick of jalapeno. For dessert, the "Cookie Taco, part of our Southwestern theme," a carmelized sugar shell filled with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries with a blueberry "undersauce." And for the very adventurous: Mango Swordfish.

Verdict: Fine and hearty fare, if you can handle the clubby aesthetic.
– John Poole