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Going to a steakhouse is kind of like going to Disneyland. Some people make it a point to go; others could not care less. Preparation can be rather extensive. Making the time — check. Making the reservation — done. Making sure there's enough in the budget to pull it all off — double-check.

Take Christopher's Seafood & Prime Steak House in downtown Salt Lake City. It's located in the lobby of the Peery Hotel, with lots of old architectural bones, carpeting and twinkling lighting to charm.

The dark bar lies behind the entryway, dark wood disappearing into a dark space punctuated with the glimmer of wine and liquor bottles. Then the diner journeys into the singular, large dining room, which in another era might have been a ballroom.

In contemporary times, the dining room seats tourists, banquets, business travelers and local Groupon diners in an almost church-like setting, thanks to filtered light in the high ceilings and hushed conversations.

You get the feeling that a meal here is supposed to be special. The problem is, it isn't. The menu offers an enticing read, but the flavors fall short. As smooth as the restaurant's veneer appears, it's quite rough around the edges when it comes to service and kitchen technique.

Perhaps at a lower price point, Christopher's would get more leeway in my mind. But for a dining experience that can easily reach $100 or more for a couple, the food is underwhelming.

Which brings us to the perennial dining question: For all the trouble we go to and — in the case of the steakhouse — the prices we pay, shouldn't we expect seamless service and exceptional food?

With steak, there isn't much room for error. Meat quality and technique are transparent. Heat is crucial. Yet during a dinner serving at Christopher's, I was served a miniaturized filet mignon that was part of the prix-fixe special ($34.99 for three courses) that resembled and tasted like a charcoal briquette, but was lukewarm throughout. Same goes for the accompanying shrimp scampi and green beans. The latter were limp and water-logged after coming out of the deep-freeze.

One good aspect of the restaurant: Sides like the green beans are included with the meat, unlike some other a la carte venues. You're served a vegetable with a choice of potato. That is, when the server remembers to ask.

If they don't, chances are over-roasted red potatoes (also lukewarm) will be sitting on your plate as it's delivered and will still be there when it's whisked away to the dishwashing station.

What's most perplexing is the flavor. For instance, rib-eye in all its marbled glory is a juicy, flavorful cut. The menu offers two, a "Cowboy" bone-in rib-eye ($47) and a Delmonico ($42). Yet neither oozed with the rich beefy flavors that should be concentrated in the meat after lengthy dry-aging.

One of the more successful entrées is the portobello-blue cheese filet mignon ($41). Tender as it should be with plenty of flavor from the cheese, but that's just about all we could taste. The same filet, in a miniaturized version on the prix-fixe menu, revealed there wasn't much in flavor.

The "surf" suffers just as much as the "turf." The tuna carpaccio ($18) looked dull on the plate and tasted even duller on the palate. Another appetizer of Prince Edward Island mussels ($10) were shriveled and tough, with no flavors of the briny ocean it came from. The overwhelming note was salt from the chardonnay poaching liquid.

The clam chowder ($8) is mild and inoffensive. It arrived piping hot, but by the time the server remembered to bring the soup spoon, it had congealed into clam-spotted glue.

The bright spot is the side dishes, reasonably priced compared to other steakhouses, though still not all worth the investment. For example, there's the scampi ($8), and the creamed spinach ($6) that's more of an artichoke dip and better suited for an appetizer. But the baked potato was large, crisp on the outside, thanks to dry-oven baking, and fluffy and soft inside. With ample butter and sour cream, it's a simple pleasure.

And maybe simplicity is what the restaurant needs. Forego the sashimi-carpaccio with saucy flourishes or clever incarnations of "corn dogs" with lobster ($14), and instead concentrate on the Delmonico rib-eye, aged to its flavor peak.

Because in the end, even with all the pomp and circumstance and sides, at a steakhouse all we want is that perfect slab of juicy, gorgeous steak.


Christopher's Seafood & Prime Steakhouse

Food • hj

Mood • HH

Service • H

Noise • b

Seafood and steak located in the lobby restaurant of the Peery Hotel. Sides are included in entrée price, with weekly deals on the website.

Location • 110 W. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City; 801-519-8515

Hours • Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday to Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 to 9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$$

Liquor • Full bar

Corkage • $10

Reservations • Accepted

Takeout • No

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Valet, Tuesday to Saturday

Credit cards • All major