By Phil Mestomack
[Where will Phil wind up on his culinary trip through the best steaks in the Imperial Valley? Read on...]
There are typically five different classifications for cooking a steak depending on the doneness desired.
Rare, or mostly pink but not raw, is ideally around 130°F and is preferred by most gourmets as the taste of the meat has not been cooked out.
Medium rare, which is slightly pink with more of a crust development from the grill/broiler, may be found at 140°F.
Medium cooked meat is had at 150°F and has a warm, but pink center
Medium well is cooked up to 160°F and still retains a bit of tenderness and pinkness
“Well done” is cooked beyond 160°F and is considered “toast” by steak lovers.
There is a sixth doneness level called “Blue” or “Extra rare” that is cooked below 130°F. However, this level of doneness is not recommended by the USDA
The USDA recommends that meat be cooked to at least 145°F in order to prevent foodborne illnesses from beef, lamb, veal, roasts and fish.
This week’s restaurant: Aspen in the Desert, opened in 2004, serves as the main dining establishment for visitors to the nearby Brawley Inn. Recently, the restaurant opened a lounge and convention area in the same building.
The restaurant has always been a gathering location for local and visiting dignitaries to Brawley due to the close location to the Brawley Inn and being one of the few locations capable of hosting a large gathering.
Like Brownie’s Diner, Aspen in the Desert does not specialize in steaks, but has a varied menu, including American, Italian and other favorites. The restaurant is also known for their breakfasts.
The meal: One 16 oz “Certified Angus Beef” rib eye with choice of soup or salad and the choice of baked potato, garlic mashed potatoes or rice pilaf and a vegetable medley.
When the rib eye arrived at the table, it was comparable to steakhouses in major cities, with a deep brown color and nice grill marks on the flesh.
Unfortunately, whether due to a malfunction of the grill or some other reason, the rib eye was served closer to room temperature. While the steak was a perfect medium rare, the lack of temperature did not help with taste or texture.
Seasoning was also an issue as the restaurant’s house blend was undetectable and extra salt and pepper was needed for flavor.
Additionally, the salad was of a comparable size to the other restaurants. However, the size of the salad plate lent to the perception of a smaller portion and was a little disorientating.
The extras, including the baked potato and the veggie medley, were piping hot and quite tasty.
Aspen in the Desert is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 am to 9 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 7 am to 9:30 pm. The restaurant is located at 595 West Main Street and you may call (760) 344-4468 or visit http://www.aspeninthedesertrestaurant.com for more information
Who won the overall restaurant survey
This year, the restaurant survey was based on steaks and steakhouses and while not the most prolific of restaurant types in the Valley, there were enough to warrant a full survey.
Below are the winners of this year’s Best overall steak in the Valley survey:
Best overall steak: Town Pump.
The Westmorland restaurant continues a long established tradition of excellence. The steak was the second least expensive of the four tasted, yet had everything an out-of-town gourmet would expect from a steakhouse.
Second overall: China Palace Steakhouse.
It should be no surprise that the second best steak in the Imperial Valley would be from another steakhouse. The China Palace’s rib eye only missed out on top prize because of the lack of the deep brown color and the lack of salt on the steak itself.
Best Value: Brownie’s Diner.
An $11.99 rib eye can’t be beat. While the soup or salad was a little extra, the steak itself wasn’t too bad for the price. And even at the regular price of $15.99, the Brownie’s steak was the least expensive of all tasted and very good for not being a full steakhouse.
Best side dishes: Aspen of the Desert
While the steak itself left much to be desired, Aspen’s side dishes were the tastiest and most varied of all the restaurants surveyed.
The salad, for instance, contained mushrooms and other vegetables and wasn’t mostly lettuce.
The baked potato was the warmest of all the potatoes and the vegetable medley was a pleasant surprise.
This ends this year’s restaurant survey. See you next year!