What makes a great Steakhouse or Chop House, and why don't we have one in the Bay Area?
Great cuts of meat cooked properly. Simple salads and sides that aren't just afterthoughts. Perhaps an appetizer or two on the menu, like a well chilled jumbo shrimp cocktail. An expertly mixed martini. Some good, honest reds on the wine list.
All of the above served at a fair price.
re: Ken Hoffman
FYI: there's an article on steak houses in this month's San Francisco magazine. Maile Carpenter profiles old-guard SF places like Alfred's and Harris' and some of the newer ones, too, such as Beau-Vine in St. Helena and Max's down by the ballpark. Definitely worthwhile reading if your interested in the culture and enduring appeal of steak houses.
Oh dear--Harris' (I always call it "Harris apostrophe" since it chose to omit the required second "s," the Chron to the contrary notwithstanding) "venerable"?
It replaced a truly venerable SF institution some years back but doesn't begin to rate that honor yet, IMH!
I have always believed that we had no typical Chicago or NY steak houses here because the city had different early settlers and traditions from the East. Among prominent ethnic groups, neither the Chinese nor the Italians have a culinary history that includes aged beef.
I have never looked into why steak houses thrived so much in NYC; Chicgao was home to the stockyards, which made it an easy, er, leap.
For many years, dinner at Alfred's included so many courses that one had little appetite when the steak arrived: antipasti, crab, pasta, etc. So it kept a foot (hoof?) in two worlds.
And the king of NY steak houses, Peter Luger, always fell down on the side dishes, except for the availability of the requisite sweet raw onions and beefsteak tomatoes with porterhouse! Plus, years ago, wine was red or white!
We haven't been to Harris's yet, but every other attempted steakhouse in the area has failed to hit the highest mark, for us at least. Ruth's Chris is at least reliable, though you have to like your steak well buttered, which for some is heresy. The Harris Ranch, down on Rt. 5, was a big disappointment. Don't even get me started on Morton's.
Tomorrow we go to Vegas, where we plan on at least one delicious steak at our newest favorite, Smith and Wolensky. We'll also probably hit Charlie Parker's. If only they were here!