Donovan’s Steak & Chop House
Always a treat
Wherever It’s Located
By David Rottenberg
“Change you location, change your luck!” An old Russian saying advises that, if a business is not doing well, move to a new location.
Donovan’s Steak & Chop House served legions of satisfied and loyal patrons for years at its two locations in San Diego. One is located at Sixth Avenue and K Street, in the heart of Downtown. The second was located in a distinctive freestanding building in the heart of UTC in La Jolla, where millions of dollars are now being spent on redevelopment of the regional shopping centers.
The La Jolla location was at the feet of many large office buildings whose occupants often poured out of their workplaces at the ends of days to press three-deep at the bar at Donovan’s to wash away the day’s stresses with good drinks and complimentary steak sandwiches. The interior had the feel of a private “British” club, whose walls were lined with dark woods, whose booths and tables offered softly lit privacy and where the food and service were impeccable.
But, it is an old and familiar story. The landlord apparently did not want to renew the lease. So, despite the anguished howls of its fiercely loyal clientele and despite its roaring success at this location, Donovan’s had to move.
It took a bit of time to find a new location and to redevelop the property. Donovan’s moved into the old Azul location on Prospect Street in the heart of La Jolla village. In the tradeoff, the dark wood paneling is gone but magnificent ocean views more than make up for the difference.
On the evening I dined at Donovan’s, many of the diners were clustered around the windows. A pod of seven whales were cavorting just off the coast in the bay, giving new meaning to “you never know whom you’re going to see at Donovan’s.”
Along with a new location, the company employed a new executive chef, Fernando Mackenzie, whose goal is to achieve greater consistency between the locations (including the one in Phoenix) and to raise the already high bar of quality to an even higher standard.
Mackenzie has run multi-million-dollar dining operations and has received many honors during his outstanding career. He graduated third in his class of over 1,000 students from the CCA in San Francisco. He went on to win many gold medals in culinary competitions. He directed culinary operations at several large casinos including Commerce Casino and Valley View Casino.
Mackenzie does not intend to change menus but rather to make sure that what comes out of his kitchens are as good as they can be.
Parking may be tough at times in La Jolla but there is valet parking at the curb. Then one moves down a short flight of stairs to enter the reception area of the restaurant. To one side, one can see a cooler displaying row upon row of vintage bottles of wine from Donovan’s award-
winning collection. And, on the other side, a long comfortable bar leads into the dining room. There is also a display of a few of the many awards won by the restaurant.
Many loyal customers have found the new location so the restaurant didn’t miss a beat of business. In fact, a whole new group of customers are now flocking — residents from the nearby La Jolla hills and visitors who are staying at nearby La Jolla hotels.
All steaks at Donovan’s are “prime.”.That means that the meats and chops of only a small percentage of available beef are served, because the texture and marbling of “prime” is rare. But prime translates into an amazing taste sensation. I think that, even blindfolded, I could pick out the prime.
The meats are never frozen but aged to bring out all their flavors. The “bone in” New York and the “bone in” Rib Chop cuts are favorites because grilling with the bone in adds so much to the ultimate taste. Some are served with a flower on top. I actually ate mine, so I guess it is ok. The New York steak it was served on literally “melted” in my mouth.
Even though Donovan’s could be “carnivore heaven,” the other offerings are equally tempting. A Seafood Tower consists of mounds of Australian Rock Lobster, Alaska King Crab Legs, Blue Point Oysters and large Mexican gulf shrimp. This group appetizer could be a meal unto itself.
The menu lists many other dishes, including pork chop, veal chop, lamb, halibut and salmon. Even chicken is available, the terrific “Shelton” brand. My companions raved about the halibut.
Meals such as these deserve to be accompanied by fine wine. Donovan’s has won the Wine Spectator award, which is given only to those restaurants whose wine lists are broad, extensive and representative also of their region.
Meals such as these deserve to be accompanied by fine desserts. Amazing New York style cheesecake and crème brulee are available, both served with strawberries. Triple Chocolate Brownies with vanilla ice cream and strawberries is delightful. Traditionalists will love the Dutch Apple Pie.
The new Donovan’s is slightly smaller than the old, so it is even busier. But the restaurant is adding on and will soon open an outdoor dining area with remarkable views of the bay.
Reservations are strongly recommended. The Donovan’s Steak & Chop House of La Jolla is located at 1520 Prospect St. in the heart of La Jolla village. Call (858) 450-6666 for reservations and information.