The Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room7777 University Ave.La Mesa 619-713-6777
Though my eating exploits have taken me all around town, driving east on University Avenue into La Mesa felt like entering uncharted territory as the night's heavy fog obscured my vision while I tried to identify street numbers in the haze. Just as I was calling a friend for help, I saw The Riviera's neon sign rising up from the darkened strip like a turquoise beacon, calling all hipsters and meat enthusiasts to its mid-century steakhouse doors.
Done up with '60s flair, The Riviera Supper Club is the new home for the team responsible for the Turf Club's near-iconic status. Though some of the elements, and staff, remain unchanged, the La Mesa spot features much more of everything—more parking, three times the floor space and an expanded menu).
My friends were already one cocktail ahead, settled into a booth in the Turquoise Room, the separate bar area that's about as big as the Turf's original digs, with a cocktail list populated by vintage old-man drinks that I tend to like. I started with a Sazerac, a New Orleans classic of rye whiskey, with Pernod subbed in for the traditional Herbsaint.
The dinners, like at the Turf, are all still grill-it-yourself, but the choices are greater and a little more deluxe. Steaks are USDA Choice grade and run the size gamut from a smallish eight-ounce ribeye to a strapping 20-ounce New York strip steak. There's also the gargantuan “Steak Daddy,” which is a whole filet mignon and strip steak, straddling a T-shaped bone. The vegetarian option, a Portobello mushroom previously served sandwich-style, now comes with a side of risotto, and for pork lovers, there's a pound of slow-cooked spare ribs that just need finishing on the grill.
Two of us went for the Surf & Turf combo, a sirloin steak and seafood kabob, which was advertised by our server as swordfish. It arrived as salmon, and our other friend's Cowboy ribeye, named because the cut should come with the rib bone attached, showed up bone-free. Undeterred, we took our plates to the dining room where the communal grill stands like a bright and shiny new penny. I showed my friends the highly unscientific yet remarkably accurate way I test steaks for doneness, using the index finger of one hand to gently poke the fleshy pad located at the base of my thumb on the other hand. The way it feels when your palm is relaxed and open is how a rare-cooked steak will feel.
Make a very loose fist and press your palm again—that slight resistance is akin to a feel of a medium-rare steak. Clench your fist a little tighter for medium; anything higher and you should just toss the steak—they shouldn't be eaten that way.
Since the execution of your food pretty much rests solely on you, don't walk away once you've put your meat on the grill. All you need for medium rare is about four minutes on each side, providing that you don't fuss with it during cooking. And, most important, let your steak rest at least five minutes before you cut into it to let all the juices redistribute back into the meat. Grill your complementary section of garlic bread to snack on while you wait.
We also ordered a sampling of The Riviera's new side dishes; each is enough for a table to share. We liked the horseradish and garlic mashed potatoes and loved the excellent bourbon and bacon baked beans. For dessert, the bacon fiend in me couldn't resist the huge wedge of chocolate cake—a fudgey behemoth whose great irony is that it's a vegan cake corrupted by loads of chopped bacon, added between two layers and sprinkled generously on top. It might have been easier to tackle if the cake had been a little lighter in texture; it was so dense and rich that we only managed a few bites before succumbing to death by chocolate.