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A Story of STEAK (review- long)

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After being laughed at when trying to make a reservation for 9 people at the Keg Mansion, and after similarly exhausting all the other affordable steakhouse options in the city, a group of friends and I finally settled on STEAK, 96 Richmond in the Sheraton Centre, for a last night out before the holidays dinner on Wednesday night. Formerly the site of Le Biftheque, the room has obviously undergone a re-branding, and now presents itself as a higher-end steakhouse – the hostess on the phone took the time to tell me they had the prices of the Keg, but their steaks were the quality of Ruth Chris’. Overall, my experience suggests they’re trying to look and play the part, but there are still some major things, like atmosphere, missing from STEAK’s attempts at greatness.

Our party was 7, in the end. We arrived progressively for our 6:30 reservation, and the first two apparently had their coats taken by a hostess as they were seated. The rest of us, not so much. This was the first of many service inconsistencies and gaffes of the evening. Our server tried to take drink orders as members of the party arrived, but most of us just ordered with our meal. Still, he did bring one G&T with a lemon instead of a lime for one of the ladie. After not too much time spent perusing the menu of seafood-based apps, salads, steaks, a few fish, and a good variety of sides, we ordered. Our server took the time to tell us that all the steaks were “Sterling Silver” (I’m not a steak person, so I don’t know what it’s all about), and offered a few notes about some of the apps as well. He let us do separate cheques, which was nice, but a gratuity was added to all our bills that we weren’t advised about (I’m sure some of us would have left less than the gratuity took from us!). Most people ordered steak (filet mignons, prime ribs) but one person had chicken and I had salmon, which I was told was steamed, then told grilled, then steamed. Interesting.

My glass of shiraz arrived with cork in it, and was returned after it took me about 5 minutes to get a server. Bread was a while in coming, too, as were water refills, and the bread was so hard that some of the party actually complained of jaw pain! Even worse, bread was placed on our bread plates by a server rather than on the table, and when I asked if they had whole wheat rolls, I was promptly told “No, we don’t”. Four of the party started with salads, the Caesar being huge and good, I’m told. I ordered a side of garlic rapini and had that to start, and it was good, but got a bit tiresome (no variety in flavour/texture) near the end.

Meats arrived plated on their own, as did sides, probably to facilitate sharing. Most of my party, not used to this foodie presentation, were miffed by the multiple plates. We had three sides of the garlic mashed, one person had a baked potato, my SO and I split a side of mushroom caps and one person ordered the half and half – onion strings and frites. The onion strings were by far the best part of the meal. The frites were large cut, not crispy enough on the outside for my liking and underdone on the inside, in my opinion.
My supposedly steamed salmonarrived with obvious char grill marks on one side and skin still on the other, and tasted largely of char and steak. My SO enjoyed the prime rib, and was pleased that it was not too fatty. There were a few complaints about meats not being cooked quite as ordered – a medium-well that was too pink for one’s taste, a med-rare that looked really rather rare to me, but generally people enjoyed the meats. We certainly filled up fast as the potatoes were quite dense and served in large portions. The mushrooms I had were okay, but made much yummier when I added some of the SO’s peppercorn sauce.

The meal was decent, but the server had very awkward tableside manner, and there were gross inconsistencies in service. Further, the prices were not, as I was told like, the Keg’s, because sides were seperate. My salmon without any side was $24.95 as was the prime rib. A sea bass would have run me $35. Sides were $4.95 and salads up around $9. My glass of wine was $8. The thing is, for prices like that and for the look of the room as the service they seem to aspire to (checking coats, plating out the bread, etc), the atmosphere and food just doesn’t live up. The room was half-full on a Wednesday at 7:30, but yo couldn’t tell anything was happening. There was no audible music and the space was way too bright. All the lovely dark wood and dark leather was not effective with the poor lighting. A little jazz, dimmer light, and it might have felt a little nicer, and might have done a better job convincing my party that our meal was worth the big bucks we shelled out. As it was, we still wished we had gotten in to the Keg.

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  1. Thanks for the review. How would you describe the quality and serving size of the steaks?

    1 Reply
    1. re: deelicious

      i didn't have them and don't know the difference, but one of our party said, and i quote (from an email): "The quality was really good for prime rib- not fatty at all. Serving size (mine was 10oz) was adequate. Overall very tasty. Mine was cooked just as I ordered (medium). I haven't had prime rib that good outside of a high scale restaurant."
      which they WISH they were.
      they're also on Winterliciious for $35 dinner.

    2. Excellent review! Let's hope they work out the wrinkles.
      I was surprised to see 'Sterling Silver' as a highlighted item in a steak house. These are selected cuts of Cargill AAA or Canada Prime, chosen for marbling. It is aged two weeks, no mention of dry aging, by Cargill. If I went there I might request a Canada Prime steak rather than AAA, as this should be identified on their packaging.
      Sterling Silver is available at Sobey's, so we have an idea of their source.

      8 Replies
      1. re: jayt90

        Great review, Lemon - sounds as if it is as bad as the Biftheque masquerading with a new facade.
        FYI - by law, you and your colleagues could have altered or entirely deleted any "service charge" added to your bill. I used to do this at Marché, and while it may be embarrassing at the moment, it also sends a powerful message to the proprietors.

        1. re: Bigtigger

          do you have any web links to this wonderful law?


          Chow!
          HL.

          1. re: HarryLloyd

            no, i dont, but was advised that both by word of mouth from friends and confirmed by several lawyers I trust....I suppose it derives from the basics of contract law: you can't be forced to pay for a consideration beyond what the agreement is, be that agreement verbal or written. Also, a "service charge" implies a voluntary assessment for service which is by definition subjective and discretionary. The one time a manager hassled me I invited him to call the Police and have the heck sued out of him and his employers for defamation, etc...

            1. re: Bigtigger

              sound like a fun guy to eat with !

              1. re: Bigtigger

                I can not imagine paying an auto gratuity! I've seen it on the bill & taken it out before. I'll then leave a much smaller tip than I would have & note that I have to be paid for my accounting services.
                A gratuity is up to the patrons discretion.... not managements!

                1. re: Bigtigger

                  But at Marche the card you take around has the words on the bottom "a 15% charge will be added to your total" by taking the card are you not agreeing to the terms? Also "service charge" does not imply voluntary .. "Gratuity" may, but not "service charge".. kind of like the "Service Charges" the banks add to you accounts for performing transaction..

                  1. re: OnDaGo

                    If Marche refused to delete their service charge under these conditions, I don't believe that one would have a "legal" issue. But everything is potentially negotiable, and that includes most service charges at most banks. (I haven't paid bank service charges in 30 years, since long before the emergence of PC Financial and ING Direct.)

                    I haven't been to Marche in a long time. As Movenpick, the food at BCE Place was good and the desserts better than that, and out of town visitors always wanted to go. When I learned that they paid less than minimum wage, that the government subsidized their staff wages, and that they kept the service charge money for the house, I began refusing to pay. I wouldn't have done this had the money gone to the staff. The duty manager always deleted it with no fuss at all. I don't whether Richtree has the same employment polices, but I don't go there any more because the food isn't good enough to endure the hassles. (The locations other than BCE Place weren't very good even in the Movenpick days.)

                    If I'm with a large group and am told about an auto grat up front, I normally pay it without protest. If everything goes really well, I might even leave extra. If the service was offensively bad, I might say something and likely wouldn't return. But administrative niceties go both ways. If they then refuse to provide separate cheques when asked before ordering (a cinch with an automated system), or refuse to split the bill evenly over a few cards, I'd say something and not go back.

                    However, I have a real problem with "surprise" auto grats. That's not the custom here and one likely has no obligation to pay.

              2. re: Bigtigger

                Yikes. I just posted on another thread that surprise "auto grats" were rare to non existent in Toronto. Might they have mentioned somewhere, in writing, that they would do this for a party of six or more?

                If they didn't warn you in advance, you have every right to ignore it and tip less, or nothing, or more, at your discretion. If they did warn you and you didn't react then and there, I'd say you were out of luck.

                Marche was a very special case. Their 10% service charge, for a self service restaurant, went to the house; not to the staff. Once I learned of this, I never paid it again. It mortified my wife, but the managers never made any fuss. One cashier actually thanked me.

            2. Thanks, Lauren. Corked wine is never a good sign...

              3 Replies
              1. re: Ariadne

                I think she said it had cork in it, rather than that it was corked.

                -Josh

                1. re: detritus

                  true. i've never been served corked wine, thankfully.

                  1. re: LemonLauren

                    Many apologies - read that wrong.

              2. "Sterling Silver" is supermarket quality meat, albeit of higher than basic quality. It sounds like they, indeed, simply rebranded Le Biftheque, and it sounds inferior to Le Biftheque's original high value operation (though their quality declined drastically over time).

                Did you discern whether the prime rib was, indeed, roasted? Le Biftheque took to "roasting" in either a combi oven or a plastic bag suspended in water. A rare slice was evenly rare from edge to edge, but didn't taste anything like roasted meat.

                1. Great review, thanks for posting this! I actually had a similar experience there last week, and would definitely not recommend this place to anyone, at least not for a few months, if and when they get their act together. My fiancee and I will never return there again, even in a few months, as some of the highlights included:
                  (1) being told at the front when we arrived that we shouldn't order one of the dishes unless we wanted to share it because it was so big and so many people kept ordering it and it was such a waste (with a tone that suggested people were stupid);
                  (2) dealing with THE most aggressive server I've ever had to deal with, insisting that we get appetizers and wine and expensive water and the most expensive dish on the menu... we fended him off except on the expensive water;
                  (3) the whole time we were there it sounded like a Gordon Ramsay restaurant disaster, with servers telling each other that they were out of fish, out of one entree, out of something else... we didn't get any bread for ages (1 roll put on each of our plates), but when we did it was actually amazingly good so no complaints there;
                  (4) we'd ordered the baby back ribs, which were the reason we went there and were disappointed that Le Biftheque was gone, but we hoped they would be good even under a new name/owners... unfortunately they weren't very good, the meat was a bit fatty and for people who love the BBQ sauces of Tony Roma's and Biftheque, this more tomato-based sauce was a disappointment... the mashed potatos and asparagus were decent though (and served in separate plates);
                  (5) once we got our food, no one came by to check that everything was good or that we didn't need anything else;
                  (6) suddenly, at the end of the night, we started getting served by an incredibly nice, friendly, pleasant server, who took our plates, asked if we needed anything else, brought us the bill... I really wish that she had taken our order from the beginning, because it would've given me a much different feeling about the place... our initial server seemed to be trying to get us for every penny he could, it was just awful...
                  All together we ended up spending about $85.00 between the two of us, not bad for a nicer place but way too expensive for a meal that neither of us really enjoyed, my fiancee because she really didn't like their ribs at all, and me because of the horrible service.
                  We won't be going back and I absolutely would not recommend STEAK to anyone else.