Once upon a time, when I worked in a job that required the daily donning of pantyhose and a suit, I ate at places like Vic & Anthony's on a fairly routine basis, despite never having the stamina to make it through a full meal at these types of endurance dining establishments.
The meals were less a matter of choice and more a matter of company: The men I worked with almost exclusively wanted to eat at expensive restaurants where they could charge the meals to a client or the company, while feeling like miniature tycoons or kings of industry. Vic & Anthony's is ideally suited to these endeavors, with its broad inlaid walkways between dining rooms flanked on either side by enormous sprays of flowers, intricately designed stained glass or mahogany panels; its dining areas packed with solid leather booths and stately chairs at white-clothed tables; and its high ceilings reflecting glimmers from massive chandeliers and the soft sounds of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
But is it a good choice for a less business-inclined diner?
Considering that it's part of the greater Landry's empire, it's no surprise that Vic & Anthony's almost specializes in excess, from a Gulf-fresh softshell crab majestically perched atop 12 ounces of prime meat to the flourishes of whipped butter that accompany the crusty bread with each meal. The prices are in line with this kind of excess (as is the $6 charge for valet parking), so to recommend Vic & Anthony's as an average weeknight -- or even weekend night -- destination is more than a bit over the top.
But if you can restrain yourself from ordering every item on the surf-and-turf intensive menu, you're actually in for a treat.
A word of caution: There are some well-priced wines on the menu, although the sommelier brought us a bottle of $100 grenache that -- while lovely -- wasn't exactly from the "value section" of the wine list as we'd requested. Upselling is not appreciated, especially somewhat sneaky upselling. Make sure you spell out exactly what you're willing to spend on a bottle; otherwise, choose one yourself.
The crabcakes at Vic & Anthony's are almost universally recognized as the best in town. I'm still not entirely sure how Carlos Rodriguez does it, but there seems to be absolutely nothing in the crabcakes aside from crab, butter and a few scallions, the fat cobs of meat seemingly held together by sheer willpower. One could be quite happy with a glass of Albariño and a plate of crabcakes in the attractively tenebrous bar, with no need to ever even venture into the dining rooms.
Once ensconced in an oversize dining chair, though, you may as well order some oversize food to fit the atmosphere. Although people rave about the Alaskan king crab pappardelle, I found it bland and uninspired except for the sweet, plump legmeat that punctuated the ribbons of pasta. Far better was the masa-crusted softshell crab and the lightly steamed, still crunchy haricot vert with shallots, which were blessedly free of any garlic. (A cardinal sin I see committed over and over at steakhouses is garlic. On. Everything.)
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You could order these items and feel indulgent yet still rather good about yourself. The same can't be said about the lethally creamy potatoes au gratin or the Yorkshire terrier-size bone-in ribeye. At that point, you've officially crossed the line into overindulgence, however delicious they might be. And while this type of meal is attractive to a broad spectrum of diners -- be they businessmen or those blessed with big appetites -- it's not the kind of meal I can walk away from without a raging headache and a minor gallbladder attack.
As I idly poked at the dessert assortment that my friends ordered last night, I pondered: "Who eats all this food? And likes it?" Not in the sense that any of the food was bad, of course -- it was all heavenly, with only a few exceptions -- but in the sense that I can't imagine Vic & Anthony's, for all the very fine food and service, being a regular destination for anyone, no matter how much they enjoy a good steak.
Are places like this sustained solely by expense-account traffic, from downtown skyscrapers and the expensive hotels that surround it? Are they sustained by anniversary dinners and men clumsily trying to impress a date? Are they sustained by old-school diners who want a consistently cooked steak delivered to them in finely attired waiters with impeccable manners, whether they make eye contact with those waiters or not?
Or is there a whole food crowd in Houston that I'm missing? Are upscale steakhouses more than just a once-a-year indulgence for some? If so, I'd like to meet those people and shake their hand; they're far more determined diners than I am. I needed a nap after the appetizers were cleared from the table and am still in shock that I made it through to Vic & Anthony's brilliant bread pudding without slipping into a blissful food coma.