Sometimes a restaurant makes it onto your radar in the most unlikely of ways. In this case, it was when my girlfriend came back from a business trip in Washington, D.C. Like most earthlings, she's not normally prone to swooning over airport food. But she couldn't stop raving about these garlic fries at this place called Gordon Biersch, located inside Reagan National Airport.
Little did I know that we have two Gordon Biersch restaurants in the Metroplex, in Dallas and Plano. (The Plano spot opened in May 2008, followed by Dallas last November. As of yet, no plans to expand into Fort Worth, a company spokeswoman told me.)
The combination of garlic fries and a name like "Biersch" conjured up a glorified rathskeller, with a cast of thousands of beer taps. And although there is a heavy focus on the restaurant's signature handcrafted brews, we walked into something more akin to a high-end American sports bar: amber sconces, dark woods, jazz mural and dim lighting. The evening's real surprise -- and challenge -- was the Gordon Biersch menu. It was so vast -- nearly 30 entrees, and that doesn't even count the pizzas and sandwich options -- that our poor waitress started to gather cobwebs while she waited patiently for us to settle on our choices.
As we mulled, the very helpful Brae walked us through the beer options. We decided we'd each try a beer sampler, made up of the place's five regular beers (it's normally five plus a seasonal, but since the seasonal was out of stock that evening, we got a sixth option of our choosing). We drank the samples (all told, about a beer and a half's worth, for $5.95) in a light-to-dark progression, from the smooth, dry Golden Export, to the light, crisp Hefeweizen (you could really taste a hint of banana), to the Czech Pilsner, to the Märzen (pronounced maert-zen) and the Schwarzbier (literally, "black beer"). Didn't care for the coffeelike finish, but I was amazed by the weightlessness of this black beer -- it's the lightest I've ever tasted. Even my Guinness-hating girlfriend enjoyed the Schwarzbier.
We loved the novelty of a beer flight, and we had such fun flying through the samples that it became the meal's high point.
Putting off the inevitable, we figured that some of those famous garlic fries ($5.95) might help us decide on our entrees. Vampires and garlic breath-phobes beware: The adequate mound of thin-cut fries were dotted with clumps upon clumps of diced, seriously strong garlic. They were tasty, but, even for garlic lovers, a wee bit overpowering.
We cleansed the palate by splitting one of many yummy-sounding salads: the gorgonzola pear salad, with pecan-crusted chicken in a balsamic vinaigrette made with the Märzen. It was fresh, but the pears weren't quite ripe and juicy enough for our liking, and the whole thing seemed a bit underdressed.
Decision time. After seriously eyeing the freakishly sinful-sounding lobster and shrimp mac 'n' cheese ($19.95) and the saner-seeming cedar plank pecan-crusted salmon ($20.95), I made a play for the gorgonzola bone-in rib-eye topped with gorgonzola butter ($28.50), which came with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables. The 18-ounce monster was beautiful and daunting. It was tender and cooked to specification, and had a lip-smacking seared flavor. However. Even by the standards of rib-eyes, which are all about the marbling, this steak in particular was a feast of fat that had me hunting and pecking for the choicer bites. By the end, I needn't have worried about leftovers, or feeling vile after trying to ingest 18 ounces of beef: About half my steak -- all fat -- was left on the plate.
My girlfriend fared better with the Brewer's chicken medallions, with fresh mushrooms sauteed in a Märzen sauce, also served with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables ($15.50). The mushrooms and chicken were delectable in that Märzen-flavored gravy; we'd order this one again.
Same goes for our deceptively simple-sounding dessert of warm apple bread pudding ($6.50). Served with pecans, vanilla ice cream and whiskey sauce, it was a symphonic convergence of textures and flavors. It was comfort, joy and bliss -- in short, dessert perfection.