Tuesday, December 21, 2004
But the heart of the Old West's never-ending quest to keep customers coming back year after year is owner Don Silva.
Chances are diners can find Don, who has owned the restaurant with his family for 20 years, having dinner or a glass of wine at a nearby table. It is his day-to-day involvement in the business -- personally buying the meat, supervising how much dressing the new salad chef uses or even eating in the restaurant six nights a week -- that creates the consistency.
"We want people to have the same experience today that they had 20 years ago," Don said. "That to me is key in what makes the place really successful. When you come through the front door, you know what you are going to get."
The restaurant has been owned by Don Silva and his family since 1985. It is renowned for its melt-in-your-mouth good steaks.
It's a bit of a Western heritage museum as well. The items hanging on the walls really do have stories, such as the braided horse-hair bridles woven by a man in Phippsburg who made his living catching and selling wild horses. "It's a full authentic Western steak house," said Don.
The artwork in the restaurant comes from artists Don knows well. "We know who they are, where they live and what kind of horse they ride," Don said. "We have roped steers and ridden with them."
The main attraction at Old West is its meats -- USDA Choice Angus beef, lamb, and seafood.
The Old West menu rarely changes -- about as often as a cowboy changes a favorite pair of well-worn boots.
The restaurant has added items to accommodate vegetarians and those interested in lighter fare. But if a guest enjoyed prime rib in the restaurant 20 years ago, that guest can expect the same culinary experience today. It helps that four of the restaurant's cooks have a combined 50 years of experience. "It's not the cheapest, not the most trendy, but at Old West, after 20 years, you know what to expect," Don said. "You know the value will be there."
In addition to its steaks, Old West offers tasty Alaskan crab and Australian lobster tail and the French rack of lamb. For the more adventuresome, Old West offers buffalo tenderloin and elk loin.
Old West serves eight-ounce, 12-ounce and 16-ounce portions of prime rib, top sirloin and New York steaks with prices ranging from $17.99 for an eight-ounce Top Sirloin steak to $29.99 for a 16-ounce prime rib. Filet Mignon ranges from a six-ounce steak at $22.99 to a 12-ounce for $38.99, the most expensive item on the menu.
The restaurant's flagships are the prime ribs and the filets, Don said, estimating about 15,000 prime rib dinners are served at the Old West a year. He has stopped counting the times when satisfied customers have told him "they forgot just how good steak can be."
"There is still a place in the American appetite for good quality, well-marbled beef," Don said.
Don's favorite entree has not always been on the menu. For years, close friend Doak Walker urged Don to add a rib eye with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Walker, the Heisman Trophy winner and two-time world champion Detroit Lion, enjoyed the dish at a restaurant in Dallas. After some prodding, Don agreed to add the rib eye and had it cooked the way Doak liked.
When Don finally got around to trying one, he knew it was a keeper. "I said 'OK Doak, you win,'" Don said.
The Old West's 16-ounce rib eye with sauteed onions and mushrooms is $34.99. Don says it's "as good as beef can get," and he recommends a glass of Red Meritage, 1999 from the Franciscan Magnificat Oakville Estates.
All dinners are served with a salad or soup of the day, piping hot biscuits with whipped butter and honey and a choice of a baked potato, rice pilaf or fries.
A light entree menu is available, with burgers, sandwiches, salads and a vegetarian pasta dish. Prices range from $5.99 to $13.99.
Don is involved in everything from bartending to waiting tables to creating the restaurant's tempting wine list. "Our search is always for the new upcoming wine that has great value," Don said.
He has visited many of the vineyards -- including ones in Australia, Argentina, Chile and South Africa -- on the wine list. "We know many wine makers, the properties and owners," Don said.
The restaurant has more than 70 wine selections; it offers 14 different bottled wines by the glass and eight wines by the half bottle. The wines range in price from the $16 bottle of Beringer's White Zinfandel to the 1994 Silver Oak at $145 a bottle.
The Old West is open seven days per week, 365 days per year and can handle any type of dinner.
"It is our personal commitment that the Old West is a place people can come for a consistent, quality meal in a nice atmosphere, served by a well-trained staff," he said.