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Savory surroundings
Food/Drink - Review
Thursday, 02 July 2009
ImageThe Rancher’s Club menu fluidly matches the firmly-established fine dining restaurant’s lush and old-school Americana atmosphere in both grandiosity and comfort

By Kevin Hopper
If it was only the name “Rancher’s Club” that conjured images of dusty plains, herds of cattle being driven home by leather-skinned Marlboro men and fresh prime cuts of meat, that would be enough to get a steak lover in the mood for a casual evening dining affair. Luckily, the well-established restaurant by that name, located smack dab in the center of town inside the Hilton Hotel can boast a whole lot more, not the least of which, is the dining room itself.

True to the latter part of its name, the restaurant and adjacent,piano-equipped, high back leather chair-filled lounge, feels decidedly like a“club,” a very exclusive one at that. Lush booths, rich peach hues, rock walls,stellar hunting trophies, deep and comfortable chairs and pristine, proper table settings all surround a central chandelier made, not surprisingly, from antlers. It is ostensibly “grand” to be sure, almost like an old school hunting lodge in the mountains. In a town full of restaurants that generally puts food before atmosphere, it’s awfully nice to enter a restaurant where the atmosphere(and a nice cocktail) can be enjoyed for a good 10 or 15 minutes, before taking a peek at a menu.

Photo: Wes Naman
Of course, every foodie has been taken in by an impressive atmosphere, only to find that the food (the most important part of any dining experience) is much less spectacular. Admittedly, this was my biggest fear when booking a table for two recently at Rancher’s Club. This was, thankfully, not the case.

Rather, dinner was everything the atmosphere builds it up to be — namely,steak. After some polite dinner conversation, a few sips of a well-crafted Manhattan, my lovely dinner companion and I cracked open the Rancher’s Club menu to get serious about our meal. Luckily, this is a very serious menu and,after perusing appetizers such as Crab Cakes ($13), a Tart Apple and Pancetta Anolini ($11) and Ahi Tuna ($7), we decided to get our lobster on by ordering a classically prepared and Lobster Bisque ($8) and a very innovative Lobster Roll with Soy Ginger Aioli ($14), the latter of which played off the richness of the lobster with both crunch and spice. We also couldn't help ourselves to a side plate of Dark Rum and Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes ($5), which were exactly as good as they sound — rummy, sweet and smoky.

This was a very rich beginning to an even richer ending, that included aslightly unseasonable (but who cares!) Veal Osso Bucco ($29) and the ultra-tender Bison Ribeye ($33). Both dishes were simply prepared and plated,without much of a garnish at all. This type of no frills philosophy works well here, as the entrées came across in a sort of object d’art manner. Not only did this approach encourage a slower pace, it made for a meal that didn't have the busboy rolling us out of the antler-filled room. In other words, we actually took the time to enjoy our meal without having to worry about getting a taste of every little item. It was nice.

Photo: Wes Naman
Other entrées at Rancher’s Club follow adhere to the restaurant's Mid-Century American fine dining philosophy and include a whopping 26-ounce Cowboy CutBone-In Ribeye ($44), a more conservative 8-ounce Wagyu Filet (at the less than conservative price of $75) and great seafood dishes like Alaskan Wild Salmon($27) and King Crab Legs ($27).
But it was the fact that room itself set the stage for such a leisurely evening of food and conversation, really opened my eyes to the importance of“atmosphere” as a dining tool. As I looked around the room, I tried to think of another dining establishment that exuded such stateliness; I couldn't really think of any.
Our entrées were followed by a delicious (and yes, very rich) triple layer chocolate cheesecake, paired with some very fine Tawny port wines, furthering our deliberately lengthy and thoroughly enjoyable dinner that, given the room,is a hard to find dining affair.

Rancher’s Club
1901 University NE (at the Hilton Hotel), 505.889.8071
Hours: Lunch: 11:30a-2p, Mon.-Fri.,
Dinner: 5:30-10p, Mon.-Thu.; 5:30-10:30p, Fri.-Sat.

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