In Ellicott City, a steakhouse with a romantic, sensitive side

Trendy dishes and decor mix with standard fare

Restaurant profile

February 21, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Jordan's Steakhouse opened on Valentine's Day. Not Father's Day. Not Guy's-Guy Day. Not Treat-Your-Clients-to-a-Macho-Dinner-and-Chomp-Cigars Day.

The timing was intended to send a message, the same one conveyed by the velvet drapes in the windows, the tuna tartar on the menu and the attractive couple pictured in ads for the restaurant.

"The idea was to make a dark, romantic steakhouse that wasn't exactly a steakhouse," said Jordan Naftal, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Ivette. "We didn't want it to be just a boy's club steakhouse."

The 100-seat restaurant sits on Ellicott City's Main Street, where Oriental rugs and body piercing draw yuppies and hippies alike. The restaurant's menu and mood capture that blend of chi-chi and quirky.

The fare is mostly steakhouse standards, sold in traditional (and pricey) a la carte style. The steaks themselves are straightforward - seasoned and seared in an 1,800-degree infrared broiler that lists for $16,000.

But the menu has some surprises. Classic oyster appetizers and iceberg lettuce salad are offered alongside raw tuna tartar with wasabi and field greens tossed with pecans and oven-roasted tomatoes. There's a steamed mussels starter that comes splashed with Pernod and a broiled swordfish entree seasoned with a ginger-lime rub. Desserts range from the familiar creme brulee to coconut gelato.

Chef Dean Batlas, formerly of Rolling Road Country Club and Pier V, is trying to appeal to hipster fusion fans without alienating conventional steakhouse diners.

"There are some people that ... just want iceberg lettuce," Jordan Naftal said. "My stepdad likes iceberg lettuce, no matter what I try to give him. Some people will expect some things like that and would be disappointed if we didn't have it."

Even some of the classics have a twist. The beefsteak tomato, served sliced but unadorned in steakhouses of old, comes with minced onions, fresh basil and a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette at Jordan's. The steaks are dished up with french fries - but they're skinny "frites" sprinkled with rosemary.

The decor pulls off a similar balancing act, managing to be plush and informal at the same time. The deep orange walls are decorated with fancy wall sconces - and exposed pipes. Seating is a mix of simple wooden chairs and velvet upholstery - sometimes at the same table.

The effect is a slightly funky elegance that Jordan Naftal says is suitable for Levi's or the little black dress.

"We want it to be like it's our house, you're coming to eat at our house," Jordan Naftal said. "While we're upscale, we don't want people feeling uncomfortable if they come in jeans or dress up. "

This is the first restaurant for the Naftals, who are the laughing couple pictured in slick ads for the restaurant, including a billboard on Frederick Road and a Web site:

Jordan Naftal, 42, managed a group of Hard Rock Cafes in the Southeast and the ESPN Zone restaurants in Baltimore and Washington.

Ivette Naftal, 35, managed fine-dining restaurants in New York City.

Then one day, Jordan Naftal spotted a for-rent sign in the window of the former Main Street Blues restaurant, walking distance from the couple's Ellicott City home. The building had been vacant since a November 1999 fire that burned out five businesses and four apartments.

"I couldn't believe it hadn't been rented yet," he said. "Five months later, we signed a lease. We love this town, so we're thrilled to do something right here."

Jordan's Steakhouse

Where: 8085 Main St., Ellicott City; 410-461-9776.

Hours: : 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers: $4 to $12; entrees: $15 to $61; desserts: $6 to $11.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diners Club.

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