Most major metropolitan cities have old, well-loved steak houses in their downtown areas. If you’re lucky, they’re impressive vintage establishments with amazing food and an atmosphere that’s always perfect for a celebration.
Located near the heart of old downtown Houston, Vic & Anthony’s feels like it’s been there for ages with elegant stone and brick walls and colorful stained-glass ceilings inspired by the ones in the nineteenth century Driskill hotel in Austin.
The restaurant established only in 2001 by Landry’s owner Tilman Fertitta, is billed as the only property in the Landry’s empire that was “built from the ground up.” Tillman and his father Vic traveled the country to find out what worked best at many of those old storied steakhouses, enabling them to put together the best qualities from each.
Just a few blocks from Jones Hall and across a stone drive from the downtown Westin hotel, the restaurant’s exterior is equally impressive in brick and stone with large columns flanking the entrance.
As you walk in, you are greeted by smiling faces, fresh flowers, and a refrigerated case featuring some really beautiful steaks and seafood.
As we were escorted to our table, it was hard not to notice the row of (8 bottle) methuselahs on the long bar separating the open kitchen. While empty large-format bottles are a common decoration in restaurants, giant full bottles of fine wine are a bit rarer… a large-format bottle of 2003 Opus One will make you take notice.
The dining rooms are lush with extensive wood and metal sculptures in a style referred to as Texas Deco, and the large beautiful stained-glass ceilings and light fixtures created by Bryant Stanton give a festive quality to the elegant surroundings.
As one would expect, the service is very professional and makes you feel at ease, no sense of hurry.
We started with cocktails from the long list of specialties and got to work on choosing appetizers. This evening there were sixteen appetizers on hand ranging from Gulf oysters to A5 Wagyu Carpaccio. Petrossian Caviar was even available alongside Shrimp & Crab Martinis.
The table opted for the very popular ‘Roasted Bacon’, which was very meaty and had a bourbon, maple syrup, and root beer glaze – I can easily see going back for that as a main with just a few good sides.
For my own appetizer, I opted for the wild Gulf Oysters sourced from Lavaca Bay. Our waiter Mark assured me that they would be nicer than the average gulf oyster, and he was right. They were served with “Atomic Cocktail Sauce,” a deeply flavored Cucumber Balsamic mignonette, and more atomic horseradish if the sauce wasn’t enough to put you into low orbit.
At this point, I met Rick Stiles, one of the Certified sommeliers on hand at the restaurant. I am usually pretty comfortable ordering wine, but I rarely get handed a 98-page wine list featuring sixteen hundred selections, with a fair number straying into the five-digit range.
To be fair, there are thirty-three very nice wines available by the glass and even quite a few bottles in the thirty to the fifty-dollar range, but the bulk of the menu is a wish book of some of the finest wines from around the globe. Vast selections in stellar years from the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and many “cult wine” selections from California. In addition to the beauties on the bar, there are 4 pages of large format wines alone.
To go with my oysters, Rick suggested one of their Coravin selections, a 2015 Domaine de Courcel available by the glass. The Pommard Domain Courcel is mostly known for their elegant reds, and for having been in business for a scant four hundred years.
For our mains, Mark recommended the bone-in (wet-aged) Prime Ribeye’s of which we ordered three, the lady at our table opting for a smaller filet. Of the (again) sixteen sides available, choice was the problem – we ordered the beautifully browned au gratin potatoes, delicious roasted brussels sprouts, and perfect, fresh steamed broccoli. (The duck fat potatoes and popular mac & cheese would have to wait for another day)
One nice touch at Vic & Anthony’s is what is known as “ballet service” – all of our courses were brought to the table at the same time by four servers. It’s a small flourish that makes an already nice meal just that much nicer.
As would be expected, our steaks each requested to a different doneness were just as ordered.
Although I do like a good fillet, the bone in option does indeed add a lot of flavor to a good steak. In the end, just as Mark commented, the steak did not need the Béarnaise sauce, but it was still a great addition.
Because of the beautiful surroundings and the good company, I chose to spend a bit more on the red wine for our steaks. Again, with Rick’s help, we settled on a 2009 Margaux – Chateau d’Issan. The wine was a classic Bordeaux blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Merlot, with big flavors of blackberry, black currant and hints of flowers and licorice. The tannins were soft, but certainly still up for the steak, and the finish had a nice minerality. It was perfect with every bite of steak and particularly shined with the extra richness of the Béarnaise sauce.
Large as the steaks and sides were, we couldn’t pass up dessert. Because of my preference for less sweet desserts, bread pudding is not usually something I order, but I had read a great deal about the one here. I have to say Vic & Anthony’s Croissant Bread Pudding with bourbon sauce is one of the nicest I’ve ever had. It was buttery and caramelized, but somehow not cloyingly sweet. Not a forkful remained.
All that was left was a really good expresso, a sliver of lemon, and a safe car service home.
Before leaving, we were able to meet briefly with the restaurant GM Rob Harvey and his AGM Ryan Holyfield, handshakes all around, but in the end, nothing new could really be said… they’ve heard how excellent the experience was many, many times.
Vic & Anthony’s has locations in Houston, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Lake Charles