Overall impression: Morton's is the antidote to casual food, casual service and crowds in shorts and flip-flops. If you eat in downtown Fort Lauderdale, you know what I mean. It's not that Morton's is ultra-formal. But upon entering, the rush of traffic is replaced by quiet calm, dim lighting and service not seen very often in this part of town. A hostess in a business suit appears (no cocktail bare-shoulder dresses here!), and ushers to your seat, where the uniformed staff warmly welcomes you.
Ambience: It's the only part of Morton's that needs improvement. Add a little color to the beige dining room! Banish the black-and-white photos of regular customers that make up the Wall of Fame! Update the soundtrack! Let's not turn Morton's into a nightclub, but quietly refresh the interior to reflect the fact that it's 2011 in South Florida.
Background: The chain that began in 1978 in Chicago has grown to 75 locations. Fort Lauderdale got its Morton's almost three years ago. If you don't like corporate restaurants, don't eat here. But you'll be missing out on some of the best steaks and service the city has to offer.
Starters: No one does tuna tartar ($16) quite like Morton's, with diced tomato and avocado and just a bit of heat from Thai cream. It's a great shareable starter. Oysters Rockefeller ($17 for 4, or add more for $4.25 each) is prepared classically with delicate orbs in a rich buttery spinach sauce. The chopped salad ($12.50) ought to be the benchmark for any restaurateur. It's neither overdressed nor underdressed with Dijon mustard dressing, and it includes just the right amounts of iceberg, romaine, cucumber, bacon, blue cheese, chopped egg, red onion, tomato and avocado.
Entree excellence: All steaks are prime and aged a minimum of 23 days, and the kitchen understands the sometimes subtle difference between medium rare and medium. Each steak sets the standard for the cut. The Filet mignon ($43 for 8.5-ounce single cut, or $48 for 12-ounce double cut) is lean and tender. It's served with a tiny pitcher of Bearnaise sauce. The 22- to 24-ounce bone-in rib eye ($53) is nicely marbled and tastes the most "beefy" of any steak. The New York strip steak ($47 for 12-ounce, $55 for 20-ounce signature cut) is only slightly less tender than the rib eye, but what an incredible piece of beef. Morton's serves bone-in double cut prime rib ($54) on Fridays and Saturdays. Non-beef selection include double rib lamb chops ($46); broiled salmon fillet with beurre blanc ($34); jumbo lump crab cakes with mustard mayo sauce ($42); and whole Maine lobsters (market price).
Side issues: All of the steakhouse sides are here. I had to look twice when I saw a chef in the kitchen sliding whole potatoes against a box grater. Yes, those were our hash browns ($11) and they were exquisite, crunchy on the outside but fully cooked inside. Onion rings ($11) — how do they get the batter so evenly crisp? — are served with Thai cream sauce as well as good old-fashioned ketchup. Sauteed Brussels sprouts ($11.50) get lots of help from bacon and shallots.
Sweet!: The carrot cake ($11.50) is a thing to behold, with layers of moist cake held together with cream cheese frosting, dotted with nuts. Order a souffle ($16.50) before dinner so they can have it hot and ready at the end of your meal. We had my favorite, lemon. It was delicious, but slightly dry by the time it reached the table. Chocolate, raspberry and Grand Marnier souffles are also served.
Service: Professional, friendly and just formal enough at these prices. But why did our original waiter make such a grand introduction — "I'll be taking care of you tonight!" — then disappear until dessert? No big deal. Our replacement server was impeccable.
Dining deal: Current deals include a $45 per person summer special of iceberg wedge salad, single cut filet, choice of vegetable or potato, and double chocolate mousse. For $109.95, two guests each receive Morton's or Caesar salads; single cut filets with either Shrimp Alexander, broiled sea scallops wrapped in bacon or crab cake; one signature potato to share; one fresh vegetable to share and two desserts. Try Bar Bites for $5 and $6 during Power Hours, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.-closing daily.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun