Replay medium-rare childhood moments at George Petrelli Steakhouse

Omar Gonzalez carefully cuts and dry ages the meat served at George Petrelli Steakhouse, including this incredible 3.5-pound double-cut of George’s Extra-Large Porterhouse  Photo By Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Omar Gonzalez carefully cuts and dry ages the meat served at George Petrelli Steakhouse, including this incredible 3.5-pound double-cut of George’s Extra-Large Porterhouse
Photo By Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)

In the working class family in which I grew up, steaks were only eaten on special occasions. For significant birthdays even we children would don jackets and ties and go to a dark, cavernous building with black leather booths and a bar from which my parents would order drinks. The kids would get something fizzy with
a cherry in it, and we would feel grown up and sophisticated. We feasted with grand ceremony on grilled meats that were better than we could make on the home barbecue, and went home feeling like we had lived the good life.

I therefore felt nostalgia upon entering the George Petrelli Steakhouse in Culver City, which we probably visited back when I was too young to see over the bar, much less order anything from it. The steakhouse has been in business since 1931, and though it has moved at least once since then, there’s still a classic vibe here. It’s brighter than the clubby places I remember, but the black booths and wood paneling evoke a similar mood. There was even a family near us with well-dressed and well-behaved small children, and I was amused to think of them later having memories like mine.

Our party was greeted at the door by a manager who seems to know the history of the neighborhood back to the Spanish conquest and appeared delighted when we stopped to look at the old pictures and menus on the walls. She told us the stories behind a few of them, then showed us to a table and handed out menus. The selections were (no surprise) mostly steaks and old-school Italian dinners, and since most meals included soup and salad we ordered only garlic bread as a starter. This was not a hit — the garlic level was timid, and though the server said there was cheese on the bread, it’s used so sparingly that it might as well not have been there.

The soups that came out afterward didn’t raise our expectations much; the French onion had only a dab of gruyere on top of the crouton, rather than the full cap of toasted cheese that should top the bowl. It also wasn’t very oniony for an onion soup — there was a hearty beef stock, but I had only a few shreds of vegetable in mine. The beef vegetable was somewhat better, with plenty of vegetation balancing the broth and what tasted like lentils or beans to add body.

Things got better with the salads that followed, a good-sized plate of vegetation with a choice of dressing. I tried the Caesar, which could have used a bit more anchovy spiciness but had plenty of Parmesan and a delicate garlic tang.

For the main course I ordered the cowboy steak, a bone-in ribeye, while the others at my table selected filet mignon, fried chicken and a plate of house-made garlic, spinach and cheese  ravioli. The ravioli were surprisingly good, lighter on the garlic than I expected from the name but topped with a hearty marinara and dusting of Parmesan. It’s classic Italian-American fare rather than the old country tradition, but that’s what we expected.  I found the fried chicken to be slightly under-seasoned, with a batter that was crisp but lacking herbs or pepper. It was also over-fried — the breast and thigh were moist, but the leg and wing were dry and chewy.

And the steaks? The cowboy steak was a good piece of meat subtly seasoned and expertly grilled, the edge fat caramelized but the interior exactly the medium-rare I requested. You only get that effect from a high-temperature grill run by an expert, and it was delicious. The filet was less to my taste — that cut of meat is tender but always less flavorful, so it needed a dash of steak sauce to shine. Petrelli’s has its own special steak sauce, similar to A-1 with a slight vinegar tang, and it helped a lot.

All meals except the ravioli were served with a baked potato, mashed potato or rice pilaf and a fresh vegetable medley that was very good. The mix of carrots, green and wax beans, zucchini and eggplant really hit the spot. The friendly manager stopped by our table and mentioned that Petrelli’s used to serve canned green beans, and some longtime customers were annoyed when they switched. You can always find someone who will be upset by any change, but I suspect that this one was for the better.

The meals had been substantial, so we didn’t investigate dessert, though cakes and tiramisu were offered. Dinner for five people, sharing one moderate bottle of wine, ran about $35 per person – not bad for steaks in a classic atmosphere. The old pictures and menus on the wall show that Petrelli’s is proud of their long history, and the food on the plates shows that they’re sticking with the items that got them this far. If you are looking for new ideas, go elsewhere. This is the place for an old-fashioned night on the town that may bring back some memories.

George Petrelli Steakhouse 5615 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City (310) 397-1438 georgepetrellisteaks.com

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