Finding Great Steaks in Westchester
Is it just me or is it becoming every increasingly difficult to find great steaks in Westchester? When I think great steaks, I of course think Porterhouse. I think Rib Eye. I think dry aged, custom cut in the restaurant with a staff that can really explain what’s being served.
On a recent trip to Valbella Steakhouse in Scarsdale, I sat at the bar and ordered myself a 22oz rib eye. When it arrived, asked the waitress if I could speak with the manager. She asked if anything was wrong and I assured her everything was just fine and dandy. When the manager arrived moments later, impeccably dressed and well mannered, I pointed to my steak and ask if they used any seasoning on the “rib eye”. No he replied. I told him the “rib eye” was so well marbled. He said thank you. I asked if they were known for these great “rib eye” steaks. He said absolutely. Finally, I had to break down and ask him to replace the shell steak that they served me with the rib eye I ordered. Needless to say, he was embarrassed enough to comp my salad and drinks.
Now I was a butcher. With that being said, I don’t expect everyone to take meat as seriously as I would. I would never ask for a 173 off an 1173, grass fed, 30 day dry aged steak. They would look at me like I was a geek. Instead, how about bringing me a nice porterhouse?
I’ve spent years going back and forth to the Hunts Point Terminal Market learning the meat business. I couldn’t imagine buying frozen meat from a Sysco truck. Hang around “old school” butchers long enough; you’ll learn that such a practice is sacrilegious.
Every time I’m in Tarrytown I stop by Ruth Chris for a cold beer. I love to inquire abut their practice of freezing their meat during transit. I love when they get into their speech about how it’s flash frozen using a proprietary trademarked process. Huh? Ok so is it frozen or not? Yes, sir, it is.
Now the science behind what happens to meat’s cellular structure during and after the freezing process is well beyond the scope of this post so I’ll just say this; try freezing meat, let it thaw, freeze it again, let it thaw again. Wait till you see what happens to the meat. Problem with the meat that’s frozen only once is that a lot of people can’t pick up on it. At Ruth Chris, they smother their steaks with so much butter, most patrons can’t tell. At Mighty Joe Youngs, they render beef fat and then brush so much back onto the steak, you can’t tell their either. At the chain restaurants like Charlie Browns (Sysco Buckhead Beef), the steaks are cheap enough that people don’t seem to even care.
Anyone that’s ever been to Flames knows a good steak. Yea I know it can get a bit pricey at times but if you’re a serious steak lover, you don’t really mind. One of the great things about Flames is that they love to explain their meat. Where it comes from, how it’s fed, how it's cooked on a super hot grill.
About three months ago I stopped into a restaurant in Scarsdale called Backals. I sat at the bar and the bartender told me that the rib eye was one of their specialties. Say no more. But I did have to inquire as to what exactly it was. Prime, choice, aged? From a purely economic standpoint, for $47 I better not be getting some steak that was headed for Boulder Creek Steakhouse. He didn’t know. He got the manager. He didn’t know. Well just tell me where the meat came from and I could figure it out myself. “We get it from a guy that brings it on a truck”. If I asked you what liquor distributor sells you Absolut, bet you’d know that right? And that’s the same no matter what distributor sells it to you.
There are eight grades of meat, two different ways to age and countless ways to feed the cattle. Each one of which can affect the value of a steak by over 50%! I ordered the rib eye. It wasn’t a rib eye. It was a rib steak with the bone in. It wasn’t even a full cut (a single rib of the seven). And it sucked. When he asked how the rib eye was, I told him it wasn’t a rib eye, it was a rib steak. He said “that’s just the way we do it here”.
So what about the delicious Porterhouses from Peter Luger? I deal with the same distributor as Luger in Hunts Point. Peter Luger actually rents their own aging cages on site so no one can mess with their product. It’s such a pleasure to see a restaurant take their beef so seriously. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize why they’re the most famous steakhouse in the world. Say you can’t really afford it? Try the freshly ground lunch burger for $8.
On a side note, has anyone seen the advertisements for Trump’s new line of steaks? He touts that these are the same steaks served in his resorts and golf courses. That’s a lie. The steaks are Buckhead brand which, by the way, Sysco owns. Yes Sysco. Remember Buckhead? Charlie Browns Steakhouse? Hint, hint… But with this, putting Donald’s name on the box is all it takes. Sharper Image sells tons of these steaks.
Now; getting back to the problem with finding great steaks in Westchester. When you visit a place like Craft Steak or Luger, you have serious steak foodies. They ask the questions and the staff at these restaurants have the answers. I once spent a half-hour with Chef Adam Perry Lang from Robert’s Steakhouse (in the Penthouse Club) and I could sense his excitement when we discussed the differences in grass feeding vs. corn vs. grain, aging techniques, etc. He told me how many customers come in and love to talk “shop”. This is what brings me to my next point; the Westchester consumer. They’re just not as knowledgeable and excited about their food. OK there I said it.
I often wonder, if more people cared about exactly what they were being served, would that change things? If I had a dollar for how many posters wrote “I don’t care as long as it tastes good” on my “10 signs to look for” post, I’d have a few bucks. But what’s good? That word, in the food world, is extremely objective. I’ve been to The Palm, the Old Homestead and other great steakhouses. To me, a steak at the Willett House no longer cuts it. After a dinner at Frankie & Johnnies in Rye, I flag down a police officer to file a report for being robbed, literally!
I can see the responses already. Stop being so critical! Just worry about whether it tastes good! Please spare those remarks. Let’s discuss why we don’t have the serious steakhouses that even Long Island has. Ever taken a cruise down Northern Blvd? It’s the steak capital of New York.
Besides your comments regarding what I believe to be a shortage, I’d love to elicit some information regarding restaurants serving great steaks without being a steakhouse. And please, if you’re going to make this a forum to bash my post, save your energy.
It's funny you should mention the rib steak vs. rib eye at Backals. I thought it was o.k., but for that price, I was expecting something familiar, like the rib eye you get at Smith & Wolensky, or Lugers or Old Homestead. I had no idea that it was a different cut of meat! The fat in it wasn't marbled like how I was used to and it just didnt taste as rich and sweet. Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldnt they just label it entrecote? I'm completely illiterate when it comes to steak, but I do know a good one, and if they don't have rib eye on the menu, I usually skip the steak all together.
As far as finding great steak in Westchester, I couldn't agree with you more on the shortage. Never been a fan of Willet, or Frankie & Johnnies but once came close at a Bar Mitzvah at Stone Barnes that served a lovely Delmonico roast. I haven't seen it on their menu since.
I really believe its the lack of competition that allows restaurants to thrive on mediocrity. I swear that I will never eat Thai in Westchester again, but with so little choices and nowhere else to go, we put up with it and restaurants continue to get away with it. I am constantly convincing myself that my o.k. or above average meals are better than what they truly are.
Then I go to Manhattan.
Billy - awesome post. Reading your point about getting a shell steak instead of the rib eye had me thinking...geez...I wonder how many times that's happened to me and I didn't even know...!!
I've personally given up on finding a great steak in the Westchester/Fairfield County area...I've had "decent" (the filet at Gaia in Greenwich) but never "great"...I end up back in the city at Keens, Old Homestead etc etc...A recent experience at the much-vaunted Napa in Stamford bemused me even more...39 bucks for a small portion of sirloin (!)...*sigh* I give up...back into the city I go...
Actually, I just thought of another place I recently ate a very good steak...the West St. Grill in Litchfield Hills...very good rib eye, generous cut cooked to perfection...lovely charring... (well, I hope it was a rib eye...:)...).
Mo's is one of the reasons I even wrote this but forgot to mention them. I went for lunch one day only to learn they don't serve it (they have since began serving it). The chef was at the bar and I couldn't resist the urge to get a little small talk going.
Their vendor list was decent, even serving "Sterling Silver" branded beef (the same you'd find in Westchester Country Club). While they do serve some USDA Prime, there’s nothing Dry Aged. I just lose something when I see meat sit in a bag and putrefy (the process of wet aging meat).
Anyway, my only grievance, again, is when I ask beef questions to the head chef in a steak house and they fall short of answers. The only positive part of the conversation was his admission that “people in Westchester just don’t want to pay”.
If you've been there, please do share.
I recently had a great rib eye at Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville. They do an all-around nice job.