There seems to be something about a winning day at the racetrack that brings out the taste for prime beef. And there also seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the Del Mar track and Red Tracton's, the large, traditional steakhouse just across Via de la Valle from that legendary patch of ground where the surf meets the turf.
For several years, Tracton's competed with Remington's--also within the shadow of the racetrack clubhouse--for the title of purveyor of the most out-sized meals in the county. Remington's closed early this summer, however, leaving the field to Tracton's, which continues to serve impossibly huge Australian lobster tails and platters of fried onion wisps so mountainous as to nearly obscure the table's occupants.
The restaurant is finished in the dark woods and green shades favored by traditional steakhouses, and is more brightly lit than seems necessary; racing prints and photographs of famous steeds are naturals for this setting. The most arresting decor item remains the refrigerated case in the entry, which displays immense steaks cut from corn-fed Eastern beef, equally huge slabs of salmon and halibut, and lobster tails labeled gigantic and colossal. The gigantic are big enough; the colossals must be seen to be believed, and are priced in an equally fantastic manner.
Tracton's will split most entrees for an $8 service charge that includes the additional plate garnish, but declines to split the "famous" prime rib, featured as the house special and available in large and enormous cuts priced at $17.95 and $20.95. The menu takes a basic approach all the way; what separates it from the many establishments with similar menus is the quality of the raw ingredients and the care of preparation. By and large, this restaurant turns out a very good meal.
The menu basically is a la carte , with the exception that entrees include one choice among corn on the cob, the vegetable of the day, the rich, creamy "stuffed" potato or a lavishly garnished--and immense, everything here is huge--baked potato. Starters really seem unnecessary unless you either simply want one or have had such a good day at the track that tossing money around seems required.
Choices in this category include chicken-vegetable soup, the inevitable shrimp cocktail and stuffed potato skins, a very traditional steakhouse salad of beefsteak tomatoes, anchovies, pimientos and onion, and the house version of lobster bisque. There seemed to be about a pint of this in the bowl, and while it was richly creamy and well-flavored, there was a strong additional flavor of fish--salmon, to be precise--an additive that, while not objectionable in flavor, is not expected in a lobster bisque.
For a steakhouse, Tracton's takes surprising notice of chicken and offers it pan-broiled, "in-the-pot" with matzo balls or as chicken breasts in marinara, piccata , Marsala and teriyaki finishes. The seafood list extends to charbroiled swordfish; shrimp "scampi;" tiny Eastern scallops, either sauteed or deep fried, and a pasta in marinara sauce studded with shrimp, scallops and bites of fish.
Red meat stars, however, and a list that begins rather humbly with a ground steak garnished with sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms quickly moves on to a New York sirloin pepper steak, double-thick grilled sirloins and filet steaks the size and shape of small loaves of bread. The meaty pork ribs, first simmered to develop tenderness and then finished on the grill with a basting of pungent barbecue sauce, are excellent.
The meat of choice if you really have an appetite (and feel comfortable with the $28.95 price tag) would be the over-sized filet, which shows off prime beef at its best. A good alternative for lesser appetites, however, is the sirloin coated in pepper corns, done very well in a manner that emphasizes the succulence and tenderness of an excellent cut.
There is cheesecake for dessert, for those rare souls who could possibly manage it after one of Tracton's enormous meals.
550 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Cost: Entrees $13.95 to $28.95; daily quotes on lobster tails. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $40 to $80