Thursday, May 18, 2006 

Smooth flying at Aviator Steakhouse

I'm not sure if it has something to do with living with a couple of vegans for the past 10 months, but lately I find myself craving meat. Big, juicy, bloody steaks sound like just the thing for dinner, and I figured a trip to a steakhouse was in order. Aviator Steakhouse opened more than a year ago on the corner of Barnette and Second, and I figure it was high time I paid a visit.

Aviator Steakhouse is located in one of those low-ceilinged buildings typical of older houses in downtown Fairbanks. A long bar runs along one edge of the dining room, though only nonalcoholic drinks are available. The dining room is nicely designed, with one glaring exception: a large screen television dominates one corner. Even worse, movies played at high volume throughout our meal. We made up for it by doodling perverted things on our butcher block tablecloth as King Kong howled in the background.

Since we had chosen a steak house, we were not surprised that the menu was mostly meat, although we noted the presence of mini burgers ($0.90) in the salad section. The waitress compared them to White Castle sliders, much to our delight. We ordered four of them, along with baked brie and garlic crostini ($10.75). The brie arrived quickly, encased in brown phyllo dough. The sweet cheese oozed out from the center of the dish after we attacked it with a knife. The many crispy layers of phyllo dough were a nice foil to the smooth melted cheese.

Entrees come with a choice of salad or soup, and Tom selected the soup while Heather and I opted for salad. "You should have had the soup," Tom said as I hogged his bowl. A thick layer of cheese covered the top of the French onion soup, and the smoky, tangy broth was infused with a strong flavor of onion and thyme. In contrast, the salads were sad little bowls of slightly brown lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. "It's sad when the best part of the salad is the croutons," Heather said.

Despite the comparison to White Castle, we found the mini burgers were quite tasty. The meat tasted properly charbroiled, unlike the fried burgers I usually find in town. At less than a dollar each, they were also a much better bargain than our entrees. I chose the daily special, a chipotle chile steak ($25.75) with au gratin potatoes. The giant cube of potatoes dominated the plate and was noticeably heavy on the cheese. I am an avowed potato lover, and I wish the chef had let the potatoes shine in this dish. The shape of the serving also drew our attention. "It's the Borg cheese," Tom cried. "Like the cheese cube that ate Ohio," Heather mused.

My steak arrived at the table steaming hot and slathered liberally with spicy chipotle sauce. While the smoky heat of the sauce was wonderful, I found that it camouflaged those fatty bits that I dislike in meat. I prefer to trim my steak, and found it hard to do while so disguised. In the future, I would request the sauce on the side rather than served over the meat.

Heather selected a 14 oz New York steak ($24.50) and was pleased that the chef understood what she meant by 'rare.' "Oh, it's bloody," she said after her first bite. "I love it." The steak was perfectly pink, and she explained the difficulty of getting a steak properly cooked rare.

While she waxed rhapsodic about her steak, Tom tried to not suffer steak envy as he worked on his 12 oz prime rib. Sometimes simplicity is the best policy, and his entree was seasoned with just salt and pepper. The plain flavor of the meat made my mouth water, and I silently thought nasty things about my vegan friends.

While the entrees were overpriced, the mini hamburgers were an unexpected bargain, and might draw us back for a quick snack while we're downtown. Tom, however, said he felt that Aviator Steakhouse should get a liquor license or get rid of their nonalcoholic wine, beer and mixed drinks. "If I walk into a place with the television on and blaring, I want the alcoholic beverages to have alcohol in them," he grumbled as we made our way outside.

Review published in The Ester Republic.