STK, with shtick


A couple of nice starts at STK near Dupont Circle: Hot bread topped with blue cheese, and seared scallops on chilled rye noodles. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Just about every steakhouse that has opened in the past decade claims it’s bringing something different to the market. With Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill, diners got a room that looked like an ocean liner and an all-American wine list; Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington introduced value, hold the fuss.

Now along comes STK, a New York chain with eight branches, including one in Las Vegas, which is where I feel like I’m dining the night a buddy and I book a table at the Washington outlet near Dupont Circle. A clutch of legs and smiles welcomes us at the host stand, and a clutch of legs and smiles gathers near a bar notable for the (huh) many white plaster animal horns protruding from one wall. Men, many in suits, file in after the Barbie dolls and survey the space with expressions of appreciation. Their look is the sort one generally sees outside gentlemen’s clubs and inside bachelor parties.

STK’s black-and-white interior, shielded from outside eyes by curtains of tassels in the windows, comes with a glass-enclosed fire and a DJ booth. The dining room and bar look nothing like the previous occupant, Casa Nonna.

“Have you enjoyed the STK experience before?” a fast-talking server wants to know. We shake our heads, which is her cue to (oh, no!) give us a verbal tour of the menu, in which she points out the three sizes of steak — small, medium and large — and flags the most expensive dishes as her favorites. The shellfish platter “lets you play chef,” she says, which makes me wonder why it costs $29 if I’m helping to create it from among the seafood choices. Our attendant races through her script with such speed, she sounds like the voice on those drug ads that cram 50 possible side effects into mere seconds.

Do I have a neon sign over my head identifying me as a critic? We could use a wind fan to clear the staff away. Yes, there is such a thing as too much service.

A pan of hot house-made rolls topped with blue cheese shows up, along with chive oil for dipping. Swell start. Sweet scallops atop chilled rye noodles are easy to like, too, invigorated as they are with a ginger vinaigrette. Shrimp Rice Krispies, on the other hand, is a joke. The seafood sits in a bowl with pale pink and green crisps, similar in texture to shrimp chips, that snap, crackle and pop when a pitcher of lobster bisque is poured over them. The resulting soup turns to mush quickly.

As for entrees, STK’s one-pound, $45 sirloin is cooked as we ask for it and juicy enough, while striped bass splays across tender spaetzle, a carb of the moment.

STK’s sides ought to be sidelined. Creamed spinach suffers from an overdose of salt, thick truffle fries stacked in a pyramid are undercooked and the corn pudding could pass for dessert, it’s that sweet. Speaking of excesses, both the banana pie and the Birthday Cake make the teeth itch from all their sugar.

Early on, the D.C.STK was being promoted as “female-friendly,” a description from which the restaurant has since distanced itself. Director of Operations Stacey Perrone says she sees STK more as an establishment that can “satisfy anyone’s appetite.”

Just what kind of appetite, though? A glance at a photo on the operation’s business card is revealing. The image depicts a short red dress, epic legs that find their way into red heels and a piece of raw meat dangling from a hook.

1250 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-296-1880. stkhouse.com. Entrees, $26 to $72.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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