Value doesn't always triumph over cost at Eddie Merlot's in Polaris

Value doesn't always triumph over cost at Eddie Merlot's in Polaris

Polaris is becoming the new tenderloin district for steak lovers.

Eddie Merlot's, part of a small chain founded in Fort Wayne, Ind., joins Mitchell's and Barnum & Tibbett's in peddling prime beef on the Far North Side.

So what are Hoosiers going to teach us cow-worshipping Buckeyes about grain-fed cattle? As it turns out, not much. That's not to say Eddie Merlot's isn't good. In some ways, it's quite excellent. But let's face it, it is an upscale steakhouse. You can expect the hard sell on multiple courses, expensive entrees and overpriced wine.

On the plus side, the restaurant keeps things interesting with a few dishes. One is a modern take on beef Wellington ($32.95) -- tenderloin, mushrooms and lobster contained in puff pastry. One problem: The lobster can't be tasted over the more assertive flavors.

The interior of the restaurant straddles the line between fashionable and garish, with lots of gold accents, a high ceiling and a glass-walled wine cellar in the main dining room. The lounge is more comfy and laid back, with deep-set chairs, a fireplace bounded by stone, a tall, well-lit bar and natural light drifting in through large windows.

The restaurant offers filets marinated in bourbon and brown sugar, which adds little flavor. Our cut (Eddie's tenderloin, $28.95) was caramelized to the point of burnt, leaving a gritty, bitter aftertaste. Keep it simple. The unadorned 8-ounce filet mignon ($29.95) is safe bet, mildly crusted on the exterior and fork-tender.

The restaurant charges a whopping $54.95 for three double-cut Colorado lamb chops. True, they are succulent, intensely earthy as all domestic lamb chops and cooked to the proper temperature, which never seems to be a problem at Eddie's. But we found it difficult to justify the cost. Stick with two cuts ($39.95).

Broccolini and other light garnishes attend some entrees, but supplements must be ordered a la carte, as is the case in most prime steakhouses. A mix of lightly sautéed cipollini onions and jalapenos has an interesting juxtaposition of heat and sweet ($7.95). The macaroni and cheese option ($7.95) is nicely layered with five cheeses, breadcrumbs and firm cavatappi. Lobster mashed potatoes are superlative, satiny-smooth spuds punched up with lumps of shellfish. But again, we did a doubletake at the price -- $16.95.

Starters can be as spotty as main courses. What some believe to be one of the true marks of a good steakhouse, the shrimp cocktail ($15.95) is traditionally prepared: Promethean-sized shrimp, offering a good snap when bitten into, arranged around crimson cocktail sauce. The presentation is somewhat kitschy: dry ice placed in the bottom of the serving vessel, leaving a trail of mist for a smoky effect. It's good enough on its own, so no need for the exaggerated production.

A duck tart ($11.95) has an entirely too busy flavor profile: thin slices of shaved fowl, goat cheese, onions and a sweet cherry glaze in a crumbly pastry cup. The tuna wontons ($12.95) are better, a small dice of ruby fish held in crispy pockets drizzled with wasabi cream and ginger soy sauces.

The dessert list doesn't tend to deviate too far from the tried-and-true. And we couldn't resist the old-school choice of bananas foster ($14.95 for two), prepared tableside, complete with lapping yellow flames. Halved bananas and the accompanying thick syrup are ladled onto ivory globes of vanilla bean ice cream. Then comes the Great Melt, a harmonious - if a bit decadent - blending of flavors. Pass on the sorbet (raspberry on this visit), which is too sweet and syrupy, with big chunks of ice ($5.95).

Most of the menu calls for a strong red wine. The 2005 Terrazos de los Andes Malbec ($41) or the '05 Napa Cellars blend ($52) are sufficiently bold.

Restaurant trends come and go but the steakhouse always is a crowd-pleaser, the one place that satisfies most palates. Eddie Merlot's, if nothing else, is earnest. But its prices, value and evenness remain at odds.

Pricing: Expensive to very expensive

Reservations: Accepted

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5 to 9 pm. Sunday

Call 614-433-7307