We were recently invited to dine at Morton's Grille on The Woodlands Waterway, and having not been in quite some time, were happy to take them up on the invitation. Though we did have a reservation, we arrived a the same time as other guests and seemed to be greeted as warmly as they were - by the general manager as it turns out - Joseph Effert welcomed us along with the hostess. If you've never been to Morton's Grille, it's slightly more laid-back than it's more... dare we say, stuffy big brother, Morton's Steakhouse. Morton's Grille has a sleek and modern feel to it; think stainless steel and black vs. deep oak and rich burgundy.
Heeding the suggestions of our server, we ordered a Barrel Aged Manhattan ($14) and a Woodlands Passion ($12). The Barrel Aged Manhattan was the clear favorite, and certainly one to be sipped and savored; the Hudson Corn Whiskey is barrel-aged six weeks in-house, and is mixed with Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth and Fee Brothers Peach Bitters. The Woodlands Passion is certainly on the more fruity side, a mixture of Deep Eddy Texas Vodka, used to infuse fresh pineapple, then mixed with X-Rated Passion Fruit Liqueur and muddled with mint before being shaken. Really almost more of a dessert drink, or certainly one that would be refreshing on the patio while people watching during happy hour.
We started with two appetizers, one of our choosing (Shrimp Diablo [$16]) and one (Tot'chos [$12]) at the recommendation of a friend who unfortunately, couldn't join us. The first to arrive was the Shrimp Diablo - four grilled shrimp snuggled in a blanket of a cream cheese-stuffed, smoked jalapeño, and comfortably wrapped by thin slices of crispy bacon. The suffix-name of this plate is a little misleading in that there was very little 'fire' in the flavor, as the smoked jalapeño was essentially void of any significant spice. The cream cheese also acts to dull the spiciness of the jalapeños while the bacon adds additional flavor. The sauce had a nice, smoky barbecue flavor to it, and the bacon was crisp and flavorful. This entire crustacean delicacy was skillfully accomplished without overcooking the shrimp or charring the cream cheese. Admittedly a safe-bet appetizer; the kitchen staff at Morton's Grille certainly handles these Texas favorites well.
Thanks to our attentive server, our second appetizer, 'Tot'chos' were staged to arrive several minutes later so that we weren't rushed from one plate to the next. Tot'chos are described as "crispy Tater Tots, spicy beef, co-Jack cheese, and jalapeño." They are topped with sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈpiko ðe ˈɣaʎo], literally beak of rooster) and a fresh slice of lime. We were pleased with the flavor of the guacamole; it wasn't great but, certainly better than one would expect at a steakhouse. The ground beef was lightly seasoned which made her happy, 'cause that's the way, (uh huh, uh huh) she likes it'. The Tater Tots were not exactly crispy, at least not by the time the arrived at our table. Looking back, I should have asked how the Tots were prepared; baked or deep fried makes a difference. That being said, it's easy to presume that even the most crisp tots would likely lose their edge once they were mixed with moist ground beef and then back into the oven. And what's the point of this discussion? Maybe Chef White should consider removing the modifier and simply refer to them as Tater Tots or figure out a way to have them arrive crispy; we're just saying... The serving size was certainly generous enough; it's an appetizer that is big enough to be an entrée, and easily large enough for two or more to share.
I wanted to see if I could discover a hidden gem in the menu at Morton's Grille, and I believe I may have done just that. For my entrée, I ordered the Korean BBQ Pork Naan-Wich ($17 w/matchstick fries). This unique-to-The-Woodlands menu item is one of Corporate Chef Trevor White's creation. The grilled garlic naan (Indian flat bread) is wrapped around a generous serving of chopped, Korean-spicy barbecue pork, then topped with some shaved cucumber, carrots and crushed peanuts and served with additional sauce on the side. I must say I would never have expected to find a sandwich made with Indian bread, Korean pork, and barbecue sauce at a "traditional" steakhouse. But this sandwich is most certainly one I would recommend to anyone. It was spicy without being overwhelmingly so, I wasn't reaching for my water with every bite. And like everything else we'd seen so far, with such an ample serving it was plenty to take half home and enjoy for lunch the next day.
Because I wasn't having a steak, I didn't have a need to order sides a la carte, but I did sample those he ordered for his steak. I loved the Smokey Joe's Mac 'n Cheese ($11), particularly enjoying the mild and smoky Gouda cheese. Like the Tot'chos, the macaroni and cheese was served in a mini cast iron skillet helping it stay warm long after it arrived. And though Smokey Joe's Mac 'n Cheese has bacon in it, there was only a few small pieces, enough to be enjoyed, but not so much that it added a heaviness or greasiness to the dish. The pasta wasn't exactly al dente and could have been cooked just a bit longer but otherwise a very tasty dish.
We also sampled a half order of a Beet Salad ($5), which consisted of red beets, gold beets, candied walnuts, honey balsamic vinegar, and creamy goat cheese. To be honest I didn't much care for it, but I don't fault Morton's for that, nor our server, Seth. They seemed to be fresh enough yet, it's not the soil that gives beets their earthy flavor—it's the geosmin. He have never really cared for Beets and I prefer them pickled, and we were warned that these were not pickled. We had hoped the candied walnuts, honey balsamic vinegar, and creamy goat cheese would be enough to make up for it, but the flavor combination is likely an acquired taste; at least it would be for us.
Our server, Seth, is a corporate trainer for Morton's and did (as you would expect) a fantastic job informing us as to the nuances of the menu, answering any questions we had, and timing our meal presentation so that we never felt rushed into one course, or waiting an excessive amount of time for the next course. When it was time for our main course, we were presented with a customary loaf of fresh, warm Onion bread. The recipe is the same company-wide, and loaves are brought into each restaurant ready to be finished in-house rather than being made in each restaurant. It is certainly an interesting bread, having an overall onion flavor with a lingering sweetness. I couldn't quite put my finger on what the touch of sweetness was during our meal, so some investigating into copycat recipes around the globe suggest there's possibly a touch of pineapple juice in there, and that could very well be it. In any case, next time I will likely pass on this very interesting looking loaf of bread.
I ordered a Five Peppercorn Strip Steak ($38), medium rare. I enjoy black pepper on many things and this menu item really captured my attention. This peppery slab of Angus Beef is prepared by pressing the steak with black, white, red (or pink), green, and finally wet green peppercorns which are crushed and mixed together. The steak is then rolled over and pressed into the mixture, grilled to order, sliced, and finally presented over brandy au Poivre sauce; a nice butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and as if that's not enough, pepper-based sauce. Seth emphasized that this was a very pepper-rich item and I was eager to try it. Let me tell you that this steak is literally encrusted in pepper! All of the pepper was sufficiently crushed and had a zero crunch factor and has set the bar on how much pepper is too much pepper; turns out it's much higher than I originally thought. So with the amount of items we had sampled up to this point and with dessert still to come, I only ate a small portion of my steak, leaving the rest for our growing to-go bag. Side note, I had some more of the steak, along with some eggs for breakfast the next day and the steak was even better after some time to absorb more of the pepper.
We tried both the one dessert that Morton's is known for the world over - Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake ($14) and one of the desserts only available at Morton's Grill here in The Woodlands - White Chocolate Bread Pudding ($10). The Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake does take about 20 minutes to prepare, and if you think you're going to want it (trust us, you will) you should not only save room, but also inform your server when placing your dinner order so they can plan accordingly and have it ready when you are. For all that chocolate, however, the flour-less chocolate cake, with the flowing chocolate center is surprisingly not heavy or overwhelmingly sweet. It is perfectly paired with a scoop of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream and a caramel drizzle, along with fresh raspberries - a perfect portion for two (if you're willing to share).
The White Chocolate Bread Pudding is like a cinnamon roll on steroids, and the most unusual bread pudding either of us have ever had. Visually, it doesn't look that much different from Grandma's Bread Pudding but it is so much more. The texture is like a fresh baked cinnamon roll, light, flaky and bursting with flavor. Made with white chocolate chips, pecans, bourbon caramel sauce, a bit of white chocolate confetti and standing about four inches tall, it is certainly enough for two or more to share. We both forced ourselves to stop after only one bite, (well, maybe two), before wrapping it up to take home. We're happy to report it held up well for breakfast the next morning.
Well of course we didn't eat all of both of them! Which is to say that, um, well, it was hard to not eat all of both of them, except that we were both so full already!
In short - come to Morton's Grille for the meal - and it might be difficult but, leave room for the dessert.
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