Izzy's Steaks and Chops
Big city eats and all that jazz come to San Ramon.
Photography by Mitch Tobias
Sam Duvall, the mastermind behind the newly opened Izzy’s Steaks and Chops in San Ramon, knows what the carnivorous crowd wants. “Lots of steak houses sell their steaks for $30, and a side of creamed spinach costs another $6. At Izzy’s you get a steak and two sides for the price of the steak itself,” says the 67-year-old restaurateur, whose broad belly, silver hair, and devilish, wide grin make him seem as though he’s stepped out of the pages of a novel. “Diners want the very best quality food at a price that is affordable,” he adds. If the crowds at Izzy’s are any indication, DuVall is right.
Across Diablo Country, the steak craze shows no sign of abating. Last year, Forbes Mill Steakhouse opened in Danville, joining a field already crowded with McNamara’s Steak and Chop House, Ruth’s Chris, Vic Stewart’s, Hap’s Original, and others. Moresi’s Chophouse recently opened in Clayton, and Fleming’s plans to open in Walnut Creek before the summer is out. The arrival of Izzy’s, the latest outpost of a mini chain that began in San Francisco’s Marina district in 1987, brings a different style of chophouse to San Ramon. Actually, make that two styles.
“Izzy’s in San Ramon is unique,” says DuVall. “It has the Trophy Bar, a bar and lounge area modeled after classic San Francisco bars from the ’30s and ’40s, where live jazz is played every night.” Glass cases house more than 300 antique trophies, full meals are available, the vibe is easy-going, and the decor is swank—yes, that’s a real zebra skin on the wall—without being too serious.
Photography by Mitch Tobias
The dining room, by contrast, is more utilitarian. “The main room is intended to be really kid friendly,” says DuVall. But kids dining at Izzy’s shouldn’t expect a meal of chicken fingers with ranch dressing. “I call kids ‘Izzy’s customers in training,’ ” says DuVall. “There’s no special children’s menu, but parents can order an item off the regular menu and split it for their kids, and we won’t charge them extra.”
The menu at Izzy’s will be familiar to anyone versed in chophouse standards: Caesar salad, filet mignon, prime rib. There is an elemental satisfaction to a standard dish done well, and, for the most part, Izzy’s kitchen succeeds. New York steak au poivre, crusted with black pepper and served with brandy and cream sauce, is cooked to a lovely medium rare, and bone-in lamb loin chops hum with mild gamy flavor. One item you won’t find on the menu here is the popular restaurant status symbol, Kobe beef. “It’s not American, and I don’t think Americans have a taste for it,” says DuVall. There may not be any chic beef at Izzy’s—the meat comes from corn-fed, industrially raised cattle, and its grade is Choice, one notch below Prime—but the restaurant’s corporate chef, Joe Kohn, sees to it that the meat is carefully prepared.
A similar pattern emerges with the seafood. We were disappointed to find that swordfish, an endangered species, is sometimes on the menu, but we couldn’t deny that two fat crab cakes were shown loving care in Kohn’s kitchen: They burst with real Dungeness crab meat and the odd bite of pleasantly crunchy diced celery.
Photography by Mitch Tobias
The sides, too—items that can make or break a steak house meal—reveal a sure hand in the kitchen. For fans of all things melted and gooey, there are Izzy’s Own Potatoes—a mound of potatoes cooked au gratin with gouda and parmesan. The creamed spinach has that foolproof deliciousness of greens bound with cream. On occasion, the kitchen fumbles. Roasted carrots and onions are so heavily seasoned with thyme that the earthy herb overwhelms the natural sweetness of the vegetables.
As all-American as the menu leans, it does make a few trips to the sun-drenched shores of Cuba (DuVall is a collector of Cuban art and used to own a Cuban restaurant in San Francisco). Barbecued pork empanadas, accompanied by a pool of creamy cilantro-jalapeño sauce and red cabbage slaw, make for a pleasant departure from the norm, and a light and complex salad of endive, hearts of palm, and papaya is a refreshing starter.
Even more refreshing is the service. A staff slinging steak and potatoes can often be either as stiff as a starched napkin or as low rent as a plastic spork. Here, the servers strike an enviable balance between professional and casual.
“When I started Izzy’s 20 years ago, everyone was talking about steaks not being ‘in,’ ”
says DuVall. “I thought they were wrong; steaks are America’s great food.” Well, Sam, San Ramon seems to agree.
Contact: 200 Montgomery St.,
San Ramon, (925) 830-8620,
Hours: Dinner daily.
Price: Appetizers $6–$9; entrées $14–$27.
Alcohol: Full bar.
at a glance
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL: Finally, good steak house eats at a reasonable price.
WHAT TO ORDER: Steaks and chops, of course. Also get the crab cakes and Cuban appetizers. And try to snag some housemade butter cookies with desert.
WHEN TO GO: When you're in the mood for a full steak dinner, piano jazz, cocktails, or all three.
THE SPACE: For a night on the town, the bar's the place to be. For a family function, the dining room is ideal.
DON'T MISS: There's nothing childish about the kids sundae, with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, caramel, hot fudge, and housemade marshmallows.
BONUS: If it's privacy you seek, the booths above the main dining room are relatively secluded and quiet.