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Published: Friday, 12/20/2002

Cousino's Steak House: The Cousino tradition remains strong

The Navy Bistro, Tango's, and now Gumbo's are, strictly speaking, on the East Side. But nobody thinks of them that way. Despite a Main Street address, they're on the fringe of downtown, and that's not the East Side.

It's true that Tom and Eileen Cousino struck a blow to East Side pride when economic necessity compelled them to close the classy, cloth-napkin Cafe Chez Vin. “There's simply no reason any more for me to go across the river,” a frequent eater-out said to me the other day, nearly a year since the closing.

But there's still Cousino's Steak House, and though it's a horse of a different color, so to speak, it offers a spread of comfortable dining rooms that serve up a fine steak and trimmings. I get the feeling that a crew of cow punchers, in from a hard day's work on the western plains, would be right at home.

The first step in appreciation of this Woodville Road landmark, just inside the boundary of Oregon, is that it is exactly what it says: a steakhouse. While the menu today covers a fairly wide range of dishes, beef is plainly the core. The layout of the menu draws the eye past “Soups and Salads” to the upper right-hand corner, captioned “Steaks and Chops,” where a meal of two grilled pork chops shares the list with a half-dozen steaks.

Now I must confess that when I splurged one evening on steak No. 1, a porterhouse (which costs a curiously disproportionate 60 cents less than a filet mignon), this beautiful, tender meat was broiled well past the medium rare I had asked. Thank heaven it takes more than a few degrees Fahrenheit to wreck beef!

Whatever entree you might choose, however, let me urge you to opt for the individual little potato casserole, modestly seasoned, delicious, really a signature dish.

Seafood occupies a larger part of this menu today than I remember from years past, if memory serves me. (Although I clearly recall with pleasure, several years ago, a substantial fillet of pickerel, perfectly broiled, fresh, flaky, tender, so good that it didn't need a swab of tartar sauce.) Pickerel is still on the Cousino menu, as are scallops, orange roughy, shrimp, and - at market price - lobster tail.

Servings are generous, almost as if this were an ethnic restaurant (which it's not). With a full afternoon's work ahead of me, I ordered a modestly priced tuna salad. It seemed strange when the server asked how I wanted the tuna broiled, for this tuna is not shredded like the fish that comes in the little grocery tins, but a slice.

Well, I soon found myself face to face with a large dinner plate, piled high with many of the usual makings, hard-boiled egg, black-olive slices, quartered tomatoes, rings from an exceedingly hot onion, and green beans, all on a bed of lettuce and the whole topped with a broiled slab of tuna. The afternoon was a struggle, but I could hardly quarrel with the salad. The one different, challenging sensation was the contrast between the warm fish and the cold green beans.

Smoking is limited to the upstairs above the bar; Although the layout of dining rooms to the right of the entry remains unchanged, the decor has been reconsidered, with single objects replacing antique photographs. Cutlery (which includes a sinister-looking knife), wiped clear of water spots is rolled into a napkin and marks each place setting. Service is earnest and friendly.

Parking, southwest off Woodville Road across from the big Sun Oil refinery, is more spacious on the south side of the building, and the restaurant is well marked.



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