This is the first of many food reviews, recommendations and the how to(s) of the food and beverage industry. For everyone that ever wanted to know "where can I get a great tasting steak?", this is the column for you!
For many years I have been a professional in the food and beverage industry competing against a multiplicity of restaurants, caterers, take-outs, and bar/grill hot spots.
Now that I have established somewhat of a grasp of what people like and especially who and what I admire, it's time that I give you, the consumer, a chance to utilize my opinions, facts and reviews to decide "I want to go there and I’ve got to try that!"
There are literally almost a million things, places and foods to talk about. Where to start? Now that's a good question. I'm thinking that most everyone has had an argument with someone at one time or another about this. It's definitely a touchy subject - where's to find good steak and/or prime rib?
Yes people, this is the age-old decision and conundrum. Many unforeseen casual outings with a girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse have turned into a political debate. Am I exaggerating? No, not when there are so many factors involved in actually getting a good cut of steak or prime rib. Plus there are many reasons why we can eat it our whole lives, and still crave it. It is a major decision. If you haven't heard already, beef, its what for dinner!
Ok, so first things first. What are those factors in choosing a good place to get a nice steak and/or prime rib.
• First, quality. I'd say, and most would agree, if you're going to eat steak or prime rib, I would rather pay more for good beef than less for "bargain beef," whatever that is. Choose a restaurant that is known to bring in USDA choice or better. If its menu doesn't specify this, then you're in the wrong restaurant. Most restaurants will boast their integrity by offering diners quality grade beef.
• Second, price. Yes, beef is expensive. It's always been the most expensive meat even when buying it from the supermarket. But in MOST cases, you do get what you pay for. If not going out as much means saving money for better places, then that’s the way to go. Sometimes less is more.
• Third, menu. Are you wondering what this is about? Why menu? Well here's the deal. If you go to a restaurant that calls itself a steakhouse then probably 70-80% of its menu will be related to beef. In this case, you wouldn't go to a restaurant with tons of seafood, chicken, pork and veggie dishes expecting to have a really great steak, right? Likewise, I wouldn't go to a place that intricately builds small portions of food highly in the middle of the plate, and decorates it with squiggly lines of different sauces and expect to find a great big steak there either. It's not to say some places with "variety" don’t have good steaks or prime rib, but it does make it less complicated to figure out the intention of the chef or menu/restaurant identity.
• Fourth, reputation. If you do a little homework or ask friends where they like to go, you might get a head start on the great places to eat good beef and avoid wasting precious time and money in the process. You might ask yourself while reading this "why wouldn’t people ask in the first place?" It’s obvious, right? No it's not. Believe it or not, some people have a strange backwards pride that gets them into awkward situations because they do not want to look like they "don’t know." It's just like when a couple drives around looking for a place unknown to both and either one of them is too proud to ask for directions. Yes, it’s the same thing.
• Fifth, ambience. If you look around and the lights are glaring bright and there is an all you can eat salad bar next to you, then you might be in the wrong place. Atmosphere is something you pay for along with the cost of your beef. Don't get me wrong, you CAN have a decent steak or prime rib at those places, but don't expect to have a great one.
• Sixth, cook type. Here's a really touchy subject, but one to definitely consider. Exactly how is your steak prepared? I'm not talking about rare, medium or well done. That's another story all together. But I'm talking about how does that restaurant or steakhouse cook its steaks? Grilled, broiled, pan roasted or other? This is huge in how it affects your beef! Do they season it before or after? Do they season it at all? Some places have very less than tasty methods…I won’t name names, but I like my steaks a certain way. For starters, some people love everything grilled. I'm not sure why, unless you like that burnt taste. Especially if a steak is over 14 ounces. It takes too long to cook even to medium. By then the outside grill lines look "cool," but the taste is reminiscent of a heat induced carbon ridden cook top. Yummy. Even if you pay $40 or more for that steak, or have a rich heavy sauce, it still won't make that awful taste go away. You might as well let it still in a pool of A-1 sauce. That will really ruin it for you. I say either pan roasted or broiled. You might not get those cool grill marks but you will actually taste the beef. Hopefully it's seasoned. Beef tastes so much better when it's properly seasoned. Here's a few more things to think about pan roasted or broiled steaks. Pay attention to pan roasted steaks if they are seared first then finished in the broiler. Most of the time, the steaks never get turned once put in the broiler or oven to be finished. So one side tends to be slightly overcooked. A true blue method is to start the steak seasoned well in an ultra hot broiler. These usually are placed on a rack, which allow even surface cooking on both sides. Open broilers allow the chefs to see the cooking process, plus have a "convection-like" effect. They are also able to easily turn the steaks as needed.
• Finally, aged beef. If you ask around and pay attention, you will find places that offer aged beef. This is the next level, or should I say, the highest level. Usually aged beef is well marbled and is graded up to prime on the USDA rating scale. Aging allows intra-cellular moisture to be drawn out and enhances the flavor of the meat. Also this method allows intentional intra-cellular bacterial breakdown of the proteins structures that make the meat softer. This is if the process is done to regulation of the USDA specifications. Then it's safe, and highly prized.
So when arguing about these beef choosing issues, remember when beef used to be a "man's man" kind of food. Not anymore. Women love beef! It's good for their iron count (I'm not going to get into that), tons of protein, rich with nutrients and vitamins, great for low carb diets and is intensely satisfying to the palate and body because of these dietary strong points. Men and women both crave beef. This is without really knowing why. But it is this craving that tells us, that when we finally eat it, we're satisfied. That's why it's worth the whole mess of establishing: who, what, where, why and how's of looking for good beef.
If you're wondering about the prime rib part of this, I'll tell you that very often, most places with great steaks have great prime rib. So try both if you can. You might see that these restaurants or steakhouses take equal pride and techniques for both their steaks and prime rib if offered both on the menu.
I leave you with this recipe today. I had this steak introduced to me by a great friend. I am usually a minimalist when it comes to steak (just Hawaiian salt), but this recipe is still very simple and very flavorful. Try it and see how you like it at home.
Any cut of steak USDA choice or better - Rib-eye is best.
Any brand of your favorite oyster sauce - Lee Kum kee is preferable.
Montreal or Canadian steak seasoning. - Found at your favorite price clubs.
Whole butter - To finish.
Rub a half of a teaspoon of oyster sauce on each side of the steak. Season to your taste each side of the steak with the seasoning blend. Place steak in/on pan, broiler or grill and cook to your preferred doneness. Generally 2-3 minutes per side on medium high heat, after searing, for a steak about 8 oz. Or, 350-400 degrees in an oven broiler on the top rack. This will yield a medium rare to medium doneness depending how thick the steak is cut versus being thin and flat. Finish the steak with a teaspoon of butter just after cooking to let it melt. Always let your meat rest at least a few minutes after you've cooked it. Enjoy!