While I do like fine dining, I thoroughly detest pretentious fine dining. Those are the kind of restaurants who are good and they either know it or think they are. Pretentious fine dining doesn't work well around the Quad Cities. Well, save for a place in Davenport called Duck City Bistro, a place that has been opened for nearly years. The owner/chef insists to be addressed as "Chef Charles" (or "Chef Chawles", as I like to call him) and anyone who is like that just drips with pretension. For that, I refuse to eat there. There's another place that Cindy and I went to years and years ago that smacked me with such a pretentious gob that I refused to go back - Steventon's in Le Claire, IA, just up the river from Davenport.
Well, that is, until recently. It was my birthday and I decided to give Steventon's a try after a 15 year exile from the place.
It was Cindy's birthday in the latter part of December 1995 and I asked her if she'd like to go somewhere nice for dinner that evening. We'd heard about Steventon's, a fine dining restaurant that had opened just three years before, and Cindy decided we would go out there. Now, I was dressed in a pair of slacks, a button down shirt and a pullover sweater. Cindy was dressed stylishly in a nice top with a sweater, designer jeans and nice shoes. When we entered the restaurant, the host asked if we had reservations and we did not. Then he proceeded to tell me, "We usually do not seat gentlemen who do not wear suit coats in the dining room. But we can make an exception this evening."
I wanted to turn around and walk out right there. But Cindy was set on Steventon's. Jacket required for dining anywhere in the Quad Cities just reeked of false pompicity. I told Cindy after the snooty host sat us at a table, "Our money spends just as well as those people in their suits."
While I remember the food was pretty good, it was a very uncomfortable experience. It was quite evident that we were not the clientele that Steventon's was looking for. And believe me, I was REALLY dressed up for me! But not dressed up enough for Steventon's.
A few years later, a good friends of ours told me that his wife and he had taken his parents to Steventon's for dinner. Knowing this guy would rather be wearing hunting clothes rather than a suit, I asked, "Did you have to wear a coat and tie?"
He said, "No, nothing like that. I wore a sweater and jeans. Hell, my dad was in a flannel shirt." It was evident that they had thoroughly relaxed their clothing requirement at Steventon's, but my initial visit had left a distasteful film in my mouth - one that didn't go away easily.
We had talked about going back to Geneseo and The Cellar, but I decided to head out to Le Claire and head up the little hill off of Interstate 80 and pull into the lot behind Steventon's (see map). Steventon's official name is "Steventon's Riverfront Food and Spirits", but it's quite a ways from the riverfront well south of the downtown Le Claire shopping and restaurant district. But you do have a good view of the Mississippi River and Port Byron, IL across the way.
As I said, Steventon's originally opened in 1992, the lifelong dream of Steventon Wagner, a local Quad City businessman, West Point graduate and Viet Nam War vet who longed to own a fine dining restaurant along the river. Unfortunately, Wagner died in November of 1995 at the young age of 57, but his wife Sharon, has kept the business going since then. She's helped by Jennifer Swanson, the general manager of the restaurant.
Juan Hernandez is the executive chef at Steventon's. He was formerly the sous chef at the restaurant and was elevated to the executive chef after the longtime Steventon's chef left in 2008. Hernandez got his start working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Chicago. He ended up in the Quad Cities and went to work at Steventon's around 2004. We were told that Hernandez changed a few of the items on the menu when he took over, but much of the menu remains the same as it was since it opened up about 19 years ago.
They had expanded Steventon's from the last time we were there. We entered the restaurant from the parking lot and it took us into an expansive lounge with a nice bar and a good view of the river. This time, I was dressed in blue jeans, cross-trainers, an orange t-shirt with a black V-neck sweater over that. Cindy had a nice top and jeans on. We were much more underdressed than our previous visit. But the young hostess didn't flinch when we asked for a table for two. She said that she wanted to make up a table near the window for us. Moments later, she led us to our table, seated us and placed menus on the table. It was just before sunset and we had a good view of the river down the hill from us.
We don't like to have a bunch of people around us when we eat at nicer places if it can be helped. It wasn't all that busy for a Wednesday evening at Steventon's. Directly behind Cindy was a large group of John Deere engineers, but they were on their last leg of their meal and left soon after we sat down. And another couple was seated directly behind me at another window view table. Cindy thought it was rather strange that the hostess sat us in between two other parties considering there were open tables along the window back toward the bar. I figured those tables had been reserved. But as the night went on, only one other group of four people came into the restaurant and were seated at one of those tables. Oh well...
The dining room looked a little bigger from our last trip to Steventon's. It seemed a little longer to me. Cindy said she remembered a lot of tableside food preparation. But she was also more interested in the artwork on the walls of the dining room. A local artist out of the Bucktown Galleries in Davenport had a number of pieces of art on display at Steventon's and Cindy said that one of our neighbors had some similar artwork in their house.
The wine list for Steventon's is located in the dinner menu. It's not very long, but the first thing that caught my eye was a 2006 Jordan cabernet they had priced for $70. This is the same bottle of wine that I see regularly at other restaurants for upwards of $100 to $115 dollars a bottle. Cindy said, "Wow! That's a great price on the Jordan, isn't it?"
It sure was and when our waitress for the evening, Ashley, came to the table I ordered up a bottle of the Jordan cab for us.
Later on, I happened to find the drink menu and I found that in addition to a number of specialty martinis that they featured, Steventon's also had a reserve wine list. There were only about a dozen wines on the reserve list including about five cabernets, but it was as overpriced as much as I thought that the Jordan cab was underpriced. They had a Cakebread Cellars cab on the reserve list for $125. It's a nice wine, but it's about $25 to $35 higher than what I've seen on the wine list of other restaurants.
Ashley came back with the wine and told us of some specials they had that evening. For an appetizer, they were featuring pan-seared scallops and topped with a spicy creole cream sauce. Two entrees they had for the specials that evening were a horseradish encrusted fresh salmon and another dish that I can't remember. We had Ashley put in an order for the scallops appetizer and I looked over the menu.
Actually, I was sort of interested in a steak that evening and Steventon's had a number of different ones to choose from. Some of their signature steaks included a bone-in 20 oz "cowboy" rib eye. You could also get it "Oscar style" with shrimp, asparagus and a bearnaise sauce, or "Steve's style" with blue cheese, cracked peppercorns and and chopped green onions on top. That sounded really good.
Possibly their most popular steak is the Bushmills Whiskey steak - they take a 16 oz. New York strip, marinate it in Bushmills Irish whiskey, chargrill it, then cover it with a cream sauce and and scallions. It was sort of expensive for $37 bucks, but it was a possibility.
Steventon's also had an 8 oz. filet infused with garlic cloves called the Filet Patori. They topped it with a caramelized onion glaze sauce. That sounded good, too! Another one that caught my eyes were the Tournedoes New Orleans - two filet medallions each topped with a Cajun seasoned shrimp, then covered with a mushroom cream and green onion sauce. That got Cindy's saliva glands hopping. But she hates mushrooms and I pointed out that it had a mushroom sauce. (I have a number of great recipes that feature mushrooms, but she was evidently scarred as a little kid from having too many meals that were made with cream of mushroom soup.) She said, "I'm warming up to the idea of mushrooms." Wow! I was floored!
Steventon's also had pork chops, chicken entrees, seafood, pasta and even lamb chops. But I was torn between a couple of the steak entrees.
Ashley brought out the scallops and asked if we were ready to order our main entrees. Cindy was ready and ordered the Tournedos New Orleans. She got a side with the meal and she ordered wild rice. She also ordered the Steventon's signature salad - the Plantation. It featured lettuce greens topped with a garlic dressing and fresh parmesan cheese with homemade bagel chips mixed in.
I was torn between the cowboy rib eye - Steve's style - and the Filet Patori. Ashley said, "Do you like blue cheese?" I told her I did in moderation. She said, "Well, the Steve's style is literally encrusted in blue cheese. If you don't like a lot of blue cheese, then you may not like that."
I said, "OK, I'll do the Filet Patori."
She said, "Oh, that's my favorite. We actually cut into the filet and place garlic cloves inside the meat. Then we put this sweet onion glaze sauce over the top. It's my favorite."
I sort of hesitated when she said, "Sweet onion glaze sauce." I don't like a sauce that is too sweet on my steak. I contemplated for a second about the Bushmills Whiskey steak, but didn't pipe up. I let my order stand with the filet, rare, also with a side of wild rice.
I remembered that Steventon's lobster bisque was outstanding from our earlier visit and I told her that I wanted to get a cup of that and a wedge salad. She was sort of amazed that I wanted soup AND a salad. But it was my birthday, so what the hell!
Turning our attention back to the scallops - there were three good-sized scallops that smelled a little fishy from a distance, but they were actually pretty good with the spicy sauce mixed with them. They had a nice little chargrilled taste to them and weren't fishy to the taste buds. We both had a whole one and split the third. Cindy was a little miffed that we didn't have any bread on the table. "I wouldn't mind sopping up some of that sauce," she said.
After a bit, Ashley brought out the lobster bisque. I remembered it to be more of a light cream color and loaded with chunks of lobster. This was more of a cheese/tomato based bisque with three little chunks of lobster. A piece of toasted brioche-type bread accompanied the bisque.
Well, at least I THOUGHT it was either a cheese or tomato based bisque. I didn't think it was all that great. I let Cindy have a spoonful and she said, "Oh, that's not the same lobster bisque that I remember, either. You're right, it's sort of like a cheese soup with lobster in it."
When Ashley came back to check on the bisque, she asked how I liked it. I said, "This isn't the same from what we remember. Does he use a cheese base or a tomato base?"
She got a pained look on her face and said, "No, we start out with a lobster reduction. There's no cheese or tomatoes in the bisque."
I sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, "Oh, OK. Well, I could have sworn it was more a cheese soup than a bisque. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just don't remember it being that way."
As she took away the cup of bisque, she said, "You know, we changed chefs about three years ago and it could be that he changed the recipe of the lobster bisque. I know some of the menu items changed when he took over."
It wasn't that it was bad, but it wasn't as good as the lobster bisque that we'd had before. But, once again, that was 15 years ago.
Our salads came out soon after and Cindy's Plantation salad covered a standard size plate. My wedge salad was on a similar sized plate and covered in creamy blue cheese with real bacon bits and sweet pecans. I usually don't like pecans, but these were a nice touch with the salad. A couple of red onion rings sat precariously on top the concoction. Quite frankly, I thought my wedge salad was pretty good.
I asked Cindy if there was a lot of garlic in salad dressing and she said, "No. I can hardly taste the garlic." She wasn't overly thrilled with her salad. She thought the salad was pretty bland overall. She made an effort to eat about half of it before she gave up. I suggested that maybe some anchovies would help liven up the salad. Cindy said, "I think it needed more than anchovies."
Not long after we finished our salads, Ashley brought out our steaks to the table. The presentation was nice, but I was sort of surprised with the amount of the onion glaze sauce on my filet. It was literally swimming in this rich brown onion sauce. I like a good sauce on the steak, but I thought it was a little too much. But I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the filet. They said it would 8 oz. on the menu, but it looked to be bigger than that.
Cindy's Tournedos New Orleans looked delectable. The filet medallions sat on either side of the wild rice on her plate with the two Cajun shrimp scampi resting on top. The light mushroom cream sauce wasn't quite as overpowering on her plate as the sweet onion glaze was on my steak. It all looked very nice.
My steak was a tad overcooked. It was more medium-rare than rare. And the sauce was a little too sweet for my taste. It completely overpowered the taste of the steak. About half of the sauce served would have been fine with me. I'll have to say that the Filet Patori was just "OK". I let Cindy have a bite of the steak with the sauce and she sort of made a face and said, "Oooo, that sauce IS sweet. I'm surprised you got that. I would have bet you were going to get the whiskey steak."
Looking back, I wish I would have.
Cindy's piece of my steak that she tried had a large chunk of garlic in it. There were three or four medium sized cloves that were cut into my filet and they were punguent. Cindy said, "My God! I can taste the garlic now! There won't be any vampires bugging us tonight!"
But Cindy seemed to like her Tournedos New Orleans. She gave me a bite of one of the medallions with the mushroom cream sauce. It was better than mine. As Cindy jokingly pointed out, she always seems to get the better of the two meals whenever we go out to a nice restaurant.
We finished our meals and Ashley cleaned up the plates. By this time, we were the only people in the dining room, save for the table of four near the bar area. It was a nice, relaxing time and we finished up the rest of the Jordan cabernet.
Ashley came out with a dessert tray that included a lemon cake, a chocolate mousse tort and a couple other things. She said, "We also featured a homemade creme brulee that's pretty good."
Cindy didn't make me a cake or pick one up for my birthday - I didn't really want one. But I was sucked in to the lemon cake on the dessert tray. I talked Cindy into getting the creme brulee as I ordered up a slice of the lemon cake.
She said, "Yeah, you named about all we have."
I asked if I could go to the bar and take a closer look and she said, "Sure!"
They didn't have a lot single malts in their inventory, but I did see a bottle of the Macallan 12 year. I ordered up one neat, with a couple ice cubes to help open it up.
Ashley brought out the desserts with my scotch. Actually, it looked like a double. And it was - Ashley said, "He went a little overboard with the pour, but he'll only charge you for a single." That was fine with me.
The desserts were, well, not all that great. The lemon cake was presented very nicely with a little lemon cream drizzle under the slice, but it was sort of dried out and not as a forward lemon taste that I prefer in my lemon cake. Cindy and I traded bites of our desserts and I found her creme brulee to be pretty average. She said, "Yeah, it's not that great. I've had better. And you're right. Your cake is pretty dry."
Ashley came out with our bill and she said, "We took off the lobster bisque since you didn't like it."
I howled in protest, "It was all right. I didn't say I didn't like it. I just thought it was different than what I remember."
She wouldn't hear of it. "No, no. I could tell you didn't like it. We won't charge people for what they don't like."
I half-jokingly said, "Well, in that case, I didn't really care for my steak all that much either." Cindy and our waitress just laughed. However, I think Ashley's laughter was more of a nervous laugh.
We went all out at Steventon's for my birthday. The bill with a nice tip for Ashley ended up on the near side of $200 bucks. I thought the meal and desserts well over-priced for what it was. Cindy did like her filet medallions, but was disappointed in her salad and creme brulee. But I thought the Jordan cabernet was a good price and I couldn't complain with the double shot of Scotch for an after dinner drink.
Before we left, Ashley took us out on the new two-tiered outdoor seating area that Steventon's recently built. She said that they have a separate bar menu that features burgers, sandwiches and appetizers. She said, "As soon as the weather starts getting nicer, you need to come back out for lunch on the deck. Or, heck, come out and have one of our martinis on the deck."
Steventon's also has a notable Sunday brunch that I understand is pretty popular. But, just like the meal we had, the brunch is also pricey at $20 bucks a head. The food was OK at Steventon's, but not a very good value. The service was good and there wasn't a bit of pretension or snobbery on this visit. While it will probably be some time before we go back to Steventon's, it probably won't be 15 years before our next visit.