Gut reaction for Nov. 29, 2012

New steakhouse has some tasty fare, but is a work-in-progress

For Weekly SurgeNovember 27, 2012 

Castano’s Italian Steakhouse is at 4926 U.S. 17 S. in North Myrtle Beach, next to Fire Island Grill at Barefoot Landing. It’s open daily from 4-11 p.m., and the number is 361-2000.

Setting the Table

Castano’s Italian Steakhouse opened in early November, in the spot formerly occupied by Dino’s Italian & Greek Restaurant (and before that, LeGrand’s Prime Seafood & Steaks), on the southwest side of Barefoot Landing.

Curtis Brown and Darleen Brown are the friendly owners, and they moved to the Grand Strand within the previous year from Virginia. Curtis Brown has 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry at Hilton Hotels and Waterpark Resort Hotels, throughout the Eastern Seaboard.

The layout has not changed much since it was the previous two restaurants, with a couple of exceptions. The roomy lounge has several big screens and one giant screen TV tuned to music concerts and hooked to a surround sound system. When we arrived at 6:15 p.m. on a recent Sunday, Frank Sinatra was belting out his iconic tunes. By 9 p.m., when we were the last diners in the house and had moved back to the lounge for dessert, a concert with a variety of singers such as Seal and Josh Groban was playing.

The dining rooms are on different levels, and there is also outdoor seating. Most have views of the pond and fountain outside the window, and some cozy booths have curtains that can be drawn if privacy is desired. The overall effect is plush.

Down the Hatch

The menu is large, and our party of four sampled several dishes. After enjoying cocktails in the lounge, we asked our server to uncork two bottles of 2003 Travaglini Gattinara our friends brought (there’s a $15 corkage fee). When asked if Castano’s has decanters into which the wine could be poured, the server said he wasn’t sure what a decanter was, but he would check. He brought us two marble wine chillers.

Our friends ordered a bottle of 2008 Nickel & Nickel Russian River Valley Syrah from the Castano’s wine list that my three dining companions said was nice; I was the designated driver and had stopped drinking by then. The wine list has about 30 whites and 45 reds. Several are available by the glass for $6-$9, and bottles range from $22-$97.

Appetizers ($8-$26) include Italian specialties, such as The Bruschettas and Wrap Me Up in Prosciutto where two pieces of fresh mozzarella are wrapped in prosciutto and served with grape tomatoes and a balsamic drizzle.

The prosciutto dish had a pleasing blend of salty and sweet flavors. We also sampled Mr. Rockefella, which is a traditional version of Oysters Rockefeller, and Clams Moscato, which Curtis Brown said he is still tweaking. It has crumbled Italian sausage, bay scallops and small clams steamed in Moscato, and none of us cared for the dish’s musky sweet flavor. Brown says the clams and the sausage he is using will change, and the price of the dish ($14) was removed from our bill.

Brown says next time we should try Deano’s Crispy Shrimp (fried shrimp with sweet chili pepper sauce) and The Sands, which is fried calamari served with sweet chili pepper sauce.

Three soups are $7 each: The Onion Field (classic French Onion), Soup of the Moment and Ms. Crab Soup, which is a version of She Crab Soup. We tried Ms. Crab, and she was tasty. The server adding a shot of sherry on top, at the table, was a nice touch.

Four salads are $8 apiece and include Classic Caesar, Traditional Wedge, The Ultimate Chop Salad and The Stack, which is a traditional Caprese. Eight pasta dishes ($16-$18) range from spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna to cheese ravioli and Sinatra’s Trio where grilled chicken, Italian Sausage and a meatball are served with “blush sauce” and Parmesan.

Sixteen entrees are $16-$33. We tried two different steaks and a bone-in veal chop, and all three were excellent: Juicy and flavorful.

We also had Deano’s Divers, which are seared diver scallops served over mushroom risotto, and the fish of the day, which was red snapper, and while they were OK, we were not overly impressed with the seafood’s freshness. Brown said he is working on securing new seafood sources.

A few more entrees are Chicken My Way (chicken Marsala), All Day Long (braised beef short ribs), Crabillcious (I think they meant Crabilicious, and it is two jumbo lump crab cakes with rémoulade and cheese risotto) and Veggiestyle, which is eggplant Parmesan.

Our side dishes were served family-style. The creamed corn was tough and au gratin potatoes were inedible (they tasted moldy), but a side of creamed spinach was a nice light version of what is normally a heavy and rich dish. Brown said the corn was left over from his grand opening held a couple of days earlier, and he is completely revamping the au gratin potatoes recipe. Other sides ($6-$8) include mashed potatoes, loaded baked potato, macaroni and cheese and asparagus with Hollandaise.

Check, please

Children have $6 entrée selections: Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo, Chicken Tenders with fries, Spaghetti, Mac and Cheese, Cheeseburger with fries and Cheese or Pepperoni Pizza.

Desserts are $6-$8 and include Bread Pudding, cheesecakes, gelatos, ice creams, Chocolate Chip Cannoli and Snickers Ice Cream Pie. We tried Chocolate Mousse, Snickers Pie and Bread Pudding, and next time we’ll try something else.

I would like to try Castano’s again when there are more than just a handful of customers, and after Brown revamps the menu and his food sources. I’ll also take Brown’s suggestion and try a pasta dish.

Becky Billingsley serves up fresh news daily at MyrtleBeachRestaurantNews.com.

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