The Sycamore Inn has been a venerable dining spot in the Inland Empire for many years. Although I have lived in the general area off and on for a significant portion of the last 30 years, I had never visited this establishment. My impression was that the restaurant had been well past its prime during the last few years. I became aware in 2002, however, that the restaurant was acquired by Chuck and Linda Keagle who are the founders and owners of the local Cask & Cleaver chain. The word was that they would rehabilitate the Sycamore Inn and remake it in to a high-end steak house. That possibility was both intriguing and suspicious.
Intriguing because there really is a dearth of higher end beefsteak establishments in The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire. Suspicious, because in my experience the Cask & Cleaver falls somewhere between The Sizzler and Black Angus. The former lackluster Cask & Cleaver in Chino having expired and been replaced by a branch of Crabby Bobs, (which in itself is a notable establishment to avoid).
Well the Mrs. called me in my home office Friday afternoon and informed me that she was really in the mood for a good dining experience. When I asked her if she wanted me to meet her half way somewhere west of The Great Dining Divide (Highway 71) or would like to eat closer to home, she responded, maybe someplace like New York Grill. (The New York Grill, at Ontario Mills was previously reported on under the Subject: A Tale Of Two Steaks in late October 2002.)
So casting all suspicions aside, my inner hound took control of matters and I decided that we would try the Sycamore Inn. Was that ever a good decision.
By the time the Mrs. got home (after a short bargain shopping stop) and got Binky and Baxter situated with some fresh Fancy Feast and Eukanuba, it was slightly past nine oclock when Herman pulled us up in front of the Sycamore Inn.
Nestled among large, aged Sycamore trees, the building evoked an earlier time, and was warm and inviting. Upon entering the front door we found ourselves in a large lounge area, with tufted leather booths, a fireplace, the bar and hosts podium.
The timing was perfect, while there were a fair amount of other cars in the lot, and patrons scattered throughout the main dining room and a side room, and we were reservation-less, we were still seated immediately.
We were seated in the main dining room that must have been recently restored with warm toned paint on the walls and beautiful wood wainscoting. With what looked like new chandeliers and wall sconces, and little alcoves with what appeared to be period replica lamps. Nat and Ella were emanating at a perfect volume from the sound system. The chairs were high backed, leather on casters and probably had already lived a long life at the restaurant, their seat cushions a little off kilter from long wear made it a bit difficult to sit up straight at the table, but once sated, they were very comfortable to sink back in to. Overall, a very inviting room to have a good meal.
The Mrs. ordered a glass of wine (the restaurant offers 20 wines by the glass) and I a mixed drink. Warm bread was immediately served. The appetizers were out for the Mrs. as the appetizer menu was heavy on seafood (both raw and cooked), and she would not bite when I tried to convince her to try the appetizer special of roasted heads of garlic with bruschetta and other breads. (Just the thought of softened garlic squeezed out on some toasty bread is making my stomach growl right now.) The Mrs. had already put away a salad at lunch, so she did not want a salad course either. She did settle on a petit filet, a side of mashed potatoes and a side of sautéed mushrooms. I ordered a Caesar salad, a Delmonico steak (a bone in New York steak) and a side of Parmesan au gratin potatoes.
The salad looked and tasted exactly like the Caesar at Black Angus. It was serviceable and sustained my need for greens. I enjoyed the salad and one slice of warm sourdough with some softened herb butter that had a light, nutty brown color, with a slight garlicky taste, and other herby nuances I could not distinguish. The Mrs., as usual, scarfed all but one slice of the bread, and then required a second order of bread. Lucky for me though, the herbed butter was a little bit too avant garde for the Mrs., so I could monopolize it, those too few times when I was able to snag a stray piece of bread.
The Mrs. steak, was butter-flied and incinerated according to her instructions, I did not taste it, as I normally do not care to eat hockey pucks.
My steak arrived on the bone as advertised, and was about 16 ounces of charred exterior and juicy pinkness inside. The steak had a good flavor and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They serve prime beef here and treat it with respect. While I cant say it was the best tasting New York steak I have ever had, it was by far the best tasting steak I have ever had in the Inland Empire. In terms of a frame of reference, to my taste, the New York steak at Mortons is the epitome of a high end, fine steak experience. If I were to apply a numerical rating, I would rate Mortons New York steak at a 10, and I would rate the Sycamore Inns New York steak between an 8-1/2 and a 9. In terms of value, Sycamore Inns steak was outstanding value when factoring taste and cost. The only improvement that I could see would be to dry age the steaks, and for that I would be willing to pay more. I am looking forward to going back and trying the Rib Chop (a twenty ounce on the bone rib eye steak).
The sides were all outstanding. The mashed potatoes were snow white and just the right degree of density, not too dense and not too fluffy. They tasted of potato. The au gratin potatoes were sublime. They consisted of very, very thin discs of potato, with just a few thin slivers of yellow onion, suspended in a warm, thick and creamy emulsion that had exactly the right amount (not over powering) of Parmesan cheese. These potatoes were tender, delicious and addicting. The sautéed button mushrooms came with what seemed to be a wine reduction sauce. The mushrooms were perfectly cooked and the sauce was a rich and thick, with a dark brown color and seemed to taste of sage and or rosemary, but had an overall effect of tasting of the Earth. The mushrooms and their sauce were perfect compliments to the steak. I ended up sopping up the mushroom sauce remaining on my plate with a corner of bread that I was able to pinch when the Mrs. was not looking.
For dessert we had a crème brulee and dr. bobs chocolate fudge ice cream. The custard was good, there just never seems to be enough of this comfort food when dining out. The dr. bobs was a generous couple of scoops served inside a large wine goblet, and as is the case with dr. bobs, perfectly tempered with a rich chocolaty taste, but no choco-alkalai aftertaste that is the norm with mass produced ice creams that do not use premium chocolate.
By the end of this meal, sinking back in to deepest recesses of the chair was about all I could muster. This was an outstanding meal.
The cost of one salad, two steaks, three sides, two desserts, one glass of wine and two mixed drinks came to $105.00 (including tax, excluding tip).
This place is a real keeper.
8318 Foothill Boulevard
(Between Grove and Vineyard)