In today’s crowded restaurant scene, it can help to have a gimmick — some out-of-the-way ingredient or attention-grabbing cooking trick that helps your place stand out.
Lot 88 grabs our attention with a gimmick, but it happens to be a pretty good one. At this new steakhouse and bar on the Pembina strip, you can order a steak that comes seared on the outside and blue-rare on the inside. You then cut off pieces and grill them yourself, at your table, on a lava stone heated to around 300 C (over 500 F).
You can cook the pieces to your own specs — I like charred edges with a rare middle, which makes for a nice textural contrast — and the meat stays hot from beginning to end. Plus, the whole process is kind of fun, hitting that DIY sweet spot by being satisfying but not difficult.
The hot-rock process is also available for mahi mahi — which was over-salted but came with a good pineapple salsa — as well as lamb and bison.
So the whole stone-cooked steak thing is a draw. But a meal is about more than meat. What about the follow-through?
2005 Pembina Hwy.
Go for: steak, and some sizzle
Best bet: top sirloin cooked on a hot lava stone
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m.- midnight; Saturday: 3 p.m.-midnight; Sunday: 3-11 p.m.
★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended
That’s where some problems come up. Lot 88, a chain that started in north Ontario and has recently expanded into Winnipeg, suffers from an identity crisis. The resto charges high-end steakhouse prices, with steaks, along with veg and a side, coming in at $32-48 and optional upgrades and sauces potentially adding a few dollars on top of that.
The ambience doesn’t quite match the heady prices, however.
The resto deals with its vast cavernous space — the venue has formerly been an Earls and a Barley Brothers — by using some handsome drop-down light fixtures and bringing in some comfortable chairs and banquettes, but the overall vibe still leans more toward a casual sports bar, with lots of big screens on the lounge side and a high noise level throughout.
The hospitality is erratic. On one busy night, service started strong but completely fell off midway after some big tables came in, resulting in long, frustrating delays as we waited to order dessert and then get the bill.
And much of the menu doesn’t live up to the stone-cooked steaks. Accompanying steamed veg are dull and, on one night, cold, and the mashed potatoes are gluey. Beyond the core meat-and-potatoes offerings, the menu extends to an all-things-to-all-people eclecticism, from escargot to edamame, with inconsistent results.
In the apps category, the baked brie could have been meltier and the choice to serve it with skimpy pita triangles is puzzling. Wonton nachos, which sound like they could be a fusion overreach, are actually a super-crispy kick.
Jambalaya is comforting and good, with a nice balance of richness and heat, and comes with crispy-chewy garlic toast, but the seafood linguine suffers from an insipid sauce.
The restaurant’s signature salad gets some nicely balanced flavour from sweet beets and salty feta, though it’s a little heavy on the maple-finished vinaigrette.
The avocado and bacon cheeseburger’s fixings are very good, but the meat has the feel of a frozen, premade patty and accompanying fries are just OK.
Desserts include a simple, nicely done vanilla crème brulée. Chocolate lava cake is tasty, in a sweet and gooey way, though the raspberry sauce is really just red drizzle and the whipped cream is more air than cream.
At Lot 88, the hot-stone-cooked meat supplies the steak and some sizzle, but the rest of the menu is uneven and often overpriced.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.