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Donovan’s still hitting the spot with steaks

When Donovan’s was still in the planning stages, the ownership team behind La Jolla’s leading steak house were determined to make the restaurant one of the best in the country.

That was a tall order, but they achieved their ambitious goal by researching steak houses across the United States, noting what worked and what they wanted to avoid when Donovan’s Steak and Chop House was ready to open its doors.

The result is a traditional steak house that offers a world-class dining experience in a magnificent setting.

Speaking of the setting, Donovan’s is situated in a tranquil area off La Jolla Village Drive. The handsome building is set off by a rolling green hill and a relaxing pond. If you take a few minutes to survey the spot, you’ll be surprised by just how lovely the landscape is.

The real feast for the senses begins when you enter the restaurant. The interior of Donovan’s is a picture of understated elegance, with rich mahogany-paneled walls, deep, comfortable booths upholstered in leather and tapestry, and valuable paintings and sculpture carefully arranged around the dining rooms. There isn’t a more attractive restaurant in town.

There aren’t many places that can outshine Donovan’s for sheer beauty and richness - without ostentation - anywhere else, either.

Donovan’s has a busy bar area alongside the entry and several smaller dining rooms for private parties, such as the delightful sports room decorated with memorabilia from the Padres and the Chargers.

After you’re shown to your table, you’ll find a dish of warm bread on the table. You can’t resist this wonderful home-baked bread. You’ll need quite some time to check out the wine list, because at Donovan’s the wine list is really a book, complete with a table of contents. Among the other awards this popular restaurant has earned during its six-year history, is the Golden Bacchus Award, the highest wine award presented by the Southern California Restaurant Writers.

The regular menu at Donovan’s is traditional, with a slight twist on many of the classics. A giant shrimp cocktail ($15) is still a favorite on the appetizer menu, along with Maryland-style crabcake ($13) and fried calamari ($8). Our favorite starter is the bacon-wrapped scallops ($11), which is really enough for a main dish if you’re sharing an entree with your dining partner or if you order a separate side dish such as the delicate creamed spinach ($6).

Salads are special at Donovan’s. Take the asparagus salad ($7). It features fresh spears of asparagus, roasted red peppers, salad green, and a wonderful dressing. It is one of six great salads that include Caesar, beefsteak tomato and red onion, spinach and Donovan’s Chop House salad (all $7).

Beef is certainly the overall favorite at Donovan’s, although it is not the only choice. Not surprisingly, the restaurant serves only prime cuts of Midwestern corn-fed beef, and every entree is served with fresh vegetables and your choice of potato.

Steak lovers will go wild with the selection that runs from a 10-ounce filet mignon ($35) to a 16-ounce New York strip steak ($45). Among the other hearty items on the menu are center-cut, 14-ounce pork chop ($25), Australian rack of lamb ($35), and a 14-ounce center-cut veal chop ($34). Needless to say, Chef Martine Venegas prepares every cut to your specifications, and the results are mouthwatering. We tried a filet mignon special, and it was perfectly cooked and simply delicious.

If you’re not a meat eater, you’ll still find plenty of tempting dishes on the menu. The restaurant serves a heavenly broiled shrimp scampi ($28), North Atlantic salmon ($25) and a cold water rock lobster tail imported from Australia.

It isn’t easy to save room for dessert, unless you ask your server to pack up part of your meal for the next day’s lunch. However, the succulent selection of sweets at Donovan’s is well worth the calories. The restaurant offers a marvelous creme brulee, a smashing key lime pie and an excellent cheesecake, among others. The desserts are ample enough for sharing, so be sure to try at least one.

Parking is a breeze. Just drive up to the door, and the valet will park your car. It’s a free service at Donovan’s.

Donovan’s Steak and Chop House is at 4340 La Jolla Village Drive. Call (858) 450-6666.