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Chateaubriand 36 is a French dining experience for celebrations, splurges

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Escargot are served in traditional garlic-parsley butter at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
Escargot are served in traditional garlic-parsley butter at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
Filet mignon is one of several cuts at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
Puff pastry finishes cassoulet with duck confit at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
The "French bliss” cocktail evokes a cigarette with a smoldering cinnamon stick at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
Roasted beef bone marrow is topped with crisped bacon at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
Whipped Yukon gold potatoes incorporate Gruyere cheese at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
Classic steakhouse side dishes at Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36 come at a separate charge. Photos by Sarah Lemon.
A French dining experience for celebrations, splurges

The arrival of Ashland’s Chateaubriand 36 is perfectly timed for the season’s celebrations and splurges.

A French-inspired steakhouse, the restaurant specializes in cuts of beef that feed a crowd and playful cocktails alongside classics of French cuisine and a wine list dedicated to the country’s foremost viticultural regions. Organized under headings in French, the menu follows the modern steakhouse format of meats listed separately from side dishes, each assessed an extra charge.

Prominently featured is the restaurant’s namesake. Chateaubriand is a beloved French dish dating to the 1800s that preserves the beef tenderloin as a large, single piece, rather than carved into filet mignon steaks. Weighing 2 pounds and priced at $120, the tenderloin is served with traditional sautéed mushrooms and shallots at Chateaubriand 36, which recommends splitting it between three to four diners.

Also sized to three appetites, a “tomahawk” steak — a ribeye with the full bone attached — was on special the night my partner and I visited. Other beef options on the regular menu range from a 12-ounce wagyu New York strip for $45 to a 9-ounce hanger steak for $30.

Preferring beef bone marrow to flesh, I craved both the roasted marrow ($18) appetizer and the escargot ($15) with its requisite garlic-parsley butter. Fortunately, my partner loves marrow and agreed to share, although he remains a bit leery of snails.

But first a round of cocktails to warm us on the chilly evening. I selected the French “36,” a peach-flavored twist on the gin-based cocktail ($11) finished with sparkling wine known as the French 75. My partner ordered the “French bliss,” a dram of Rémy Martin cognac infused with maple, walnut and chocolate-tobacco bitters with a whiff of cherry wood smoke ($16). Mimicking a cigarette, a smoldering cinnamon stick balanced on the glass’ rim heightened the drink’s aromas in a cheeky nod to French stereotypes.

Almost synonymous with French food, snails nevertheless aren’t as intimidating as they sound. How could anything swimming in so much garlic-spiked butter be bad? Dairy fat aside, the mollusks have almost no natural fat and represent perfect little parcels of protein on my palate. Chateaubriand 36’s version delivered everything I expect in this dish, served with a length of crusty baguette in ideal proportion.

Also accompanied with grilled bread, the beef marrow reposed in three segments of leg bone. Gilding the lily, Chateaubriand 36 sprinkles on some charred bacon, just in case unctuous marrow doesn’t come across as decadent enough. A small salad of parsley leaves, sliced shallots and whole capers cut through the marrow’s intense savor.

I passed on a second course of French onion soup with toasted brioche in deference to the puff pastry advertised with my preferred entree: cassoulet. Epitomizing comfort food in France, cassoulet ($32) is a slow-cooked stew of white beans larded with duck confit, sausage and other fatty, gelatinous odds and ends. I’d never known the dish with peasant origins to incorporate puff pastry and chalked it up to chef Michael Bryant’s reinterpretation for an upscale establishment.

Previously occupied by Smithfields, Chateaubriand 36 is the sister restaurant of Alchemy across South Second Street at The Winchester Inn. Owners Michael, Laurie and Drew Gibbs purchased Smithfields in late 2019 from founder Neil Clooney and recruited Bryant early this year from notable Los Angeles establishments. He cites his French immigrant mother among his chief influences.

Seasonality doesn’t seem to inspire Bryant at Chateaubriand 36 like it does across the street at Alchemy. The former’s salads ($14 apiece) consisted of fairly pedestrian Bibb lettuce with candied walnuts and predictable wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese and pancetta. Vegetable side dishes appropriately are steakhouse mainstays: creamed spinach, garlicky green beans, whipped Yukon gold potatoes and beer-battered fries, each priced at $10.

Zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes — although quintessential — are seasonally displaced as the restaurant’s primary vegetarian entree, ratatouille. Seasonal soup specials or vegetable side dishes might provide more entry points for diners who don’t select entrees by protein alone.

My partner dithered between steak or Chateaubriand 36’s burger ($19) of house-ground filet and ribeye, ultimately settling on the 8-ounce filet mignon ($39) for its manageable size. We also tacked on sides of creamed spinach and whipped potatoes, both served piping hot.

Bubbling and deeply caramelized, the cassoulet boasted a whole duck leg tucked under a blanket of pastry. The shallow pool of stew offered concentrated flavor but not many beans — pigeon peas, to be precise, according to the menu. And I was challenged to locate the dish’s crumbled sausage, which I expected in a casing.

I would have much preferred a hearty helping of legumes to the pastry, its edges softened in the stew and lacking visual and textural purpose. In attempting to reinvent this French staple, Bryant sacrificed its essence.

The essence of beef came clearly across in my partner’s steak, on the rare side of medium-rare at its center. The meat was juicy enough that sauces — béarnaise, blue cheese fondue, peppercorn, truffled jus and bone marrow butter — weren’t necessary, particularly for $3 apiece, my partner said. While the steak was expertly finished with coarse salt, we found the potatoes with Gruyere cheese a bit too salty.

By the meal’s conclusion, the appetizers stood out most in our memory. Given their flair and the beef’s quality, we’d be inclined next time to try steak tartare with our cocktails.

Located at 36 S. Second St., Chateaubriand 36 is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. See the menu and reserve at chateaubriand36.com. Call 541-488-9948.