If you've passed by any of Cafe Onion's four locations around the dinner hour, you've likely seen a gaggle of gawkers outside looking through the large windows at the lucky ones already inside eating. The gawkers aren't simply waiting, they're hovering at the door like a choir of drooling carolers. Curious to know if it was worth the wait, I joined this group outside the Onion's Fuxing store this past week. Suffice to say, I'll be joining it again.
Onion is a steak house and the line outside is kept in rapt anticipation because of the aroma. It's the smell of a well-seasoned grill hard at work and each time the door is opened, the smell rushes onto the street, stopping traffic and pulling more people into the queue.
The inside is made up to look like the boarding house saloons of the young American West and, combined with the smell, helps build your anticipation. The letdown comes -- however briefly -- when you're handed the menu. It's the kind that carries an unappetizing picture of each item with its name and a price below. It's a letdown because it hardly looks like what you imagined you've been smelling all along.
What's more, at my 7pm visit, the menu I was handed had two steaks -- the top sirloin and their New York strip -- taped over with a sign that read "sold out." But it wasn't newly taped over. Rather, it looked as though they'd stopped serving these cuts a long time ago and were lying on their menu.
Turns out it wasn't a lie.
They sell out of the sirloin and New York every night, my waiter explained. "So we have two sets of menus and hand out these when those steaks are gone. It's more efficient that way."
I understood what she meant about efficiency after I'd ordered a filet mignon set meal. Each course came promptly after finishing the previous item and was freshly prepared. The exception was the French onion soup, which seemed to have withered under a heat lamp. The filet itself, though, was excellent. It came with steamed okra and a delicious caramelized sweet potato that could have passed as dessert.
It's Onion's steaks that cause the queue out front. They're also the reason I'll be returning (though I may arrive earlier to see why that sirloin and New York strip always sell out).