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Apr 13, 2013 10:25 AM

Is it just me or is it rather difficult to find good steak in the Bay Area?

I typically go out to dinner in SF, Oakland, and Berkeley and I'm having a tough time finding a good steak. I don't go to "steakhouses" like Morton's but go out on a regular basis (2-3x per week) and when I see steak on the menu at a new trendy restaurant it is usually a crappy cut like hangar or flat iron.

It seems rare to see a ribeye or porterhouse on a menu. Then the few times that I have ordered one recently, I have been disappointed with the texture. Most recently I was disappointed with the ribeye for two at Scopa in Healdsburg. It was charred on the outside and a lot of connective tissue on the inside. Texture was off and definitely not buttery.

The best steak I have had in the Bay Area is at El Paseo. But I don't feel like I should have to go to Mill Valley every time I want a decent steak.

Am I missing something?

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    1. The reason you usually don't see a lot of ribeye or porterhouse is because it's quite expensive for the restaurant to buy--commodity choice cryovac'd lip-on ribeye by the case runs about $7-$9/portion now, and what you'd want to eat ("good") means things like dry-aged, prime, grass-fed, etc, which could conceivably put the food cost of the steak at $20/portion or more.

      This high food cost, plus the sides, plus the staff, plus the overhead and profit means it's going to be expensive on the menu, and often significantly more expensive than other dishes, which makes it less likely to be ordered. The bay area--and SF especially--is a very expensive place to operate a restaurant, so food costs have to be kept down.

      I wouldn't say a hanger steak is a "crappy cut": it's just different, cheaper (about half the price for high quality), and potentially more interesting.

      If you want a steak, you're probably going to have to go to a steakhouse.

      21 Replies
      1. re: xanadude

        Ribeye's easy to find, you just need to go to the right place.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Well, sure, but if you have to go to the right place, perhaps it's not that easy to find.

          Quick web survey of places off the top of my mind:
          - Range: no beef entree (not burger)
          - Zuni: no beef entree (not burger)
          - Nopa: no beef entree (not burger)
          - Slow Club: sirloin
          - Firefly: flank steak
          - Abbots Cellar: strip loin
          - Delfina: hanger steak
          - Maverick: short rib
          - Foreign Cinema: short rib

        2. re: xanadude

          Thank you. That's a great point about food costs, etc. I probably do have to check out a steakhouse.

          1. re: Ashley12

            Prospect often has a pretty good ribeye on the menu, but it sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes to price. Last I looked, it was $45 whereas their "Snake River Farm Kobe Bavette" entree was merely $27. In other words, a medium-priced restaurant would probably have to charge 50 percent more than any other item on the menu in order to serve a good ribeye.

            1. re: nocharge

              My last ribeye (18oz) @ Lolinda was as perfect as a steak can be. And while $42 it was plenty for two people.

              1. re: bdl

                I love the food at Lolinda, but since it's a steakhouse, it doesn't fall into the category of regular restaurants serving ribeye. However, the second most expensive item I see on their menu is $28. So a $42 ribeye is exactly 50 percent more than the priciest of anything else they serve.

                1. re: nocharge

                  True, but it can deliver well on a "non steak housey" dinner. Also true that the ribeye is twice as big as all their other steaks (except maybe the New York).

                  1. re: bdl

                    Yeah, I completely agree that their "non steak housey" items are very good, too. But Lolinda also seems to be a datapoint in favor of xanadude's theory that price may be a major issue as to whether regular, medium-priced restaurants would serve ribeye. An item that is 50 percent more expensive than anything else on the menu might not be flying off the shelves. I mean, people who decide to go to a restaurant with a $30 percent price point for an entree may not be overly enthusiastic about ordering an item that's $45.

                    Then, of course, there are the behavioral economists and the restaurant consultants who are aware of their research who would happily tell you that having a highly priced item on the menu might increase your profitability even if you don't sell much of the expensive item at all. (The theory being that the expensive item acts as a price anchor that makes it easier to charge ridiculous markups for other items that still look like bargains in comparison to the expensive one.)

                    So maybe the lack of ribeye at regular restaurants could be caused by restaurant owners being unfamiliar with behavioral economics or reluctant to hire highly-paid consultants. (Yes, I'm partly facetious.)

                    1. re: nocharge

                      That makes sense. Now we just need some more restaurants to take Lolinda's lead and have a good steak as their price anchor.

                    2. re: bdl

                      Lolinda's menu says their ribeye is 18 ounces. That's a nice big steak, but for the record, Buckhorn's is 24, Alfred's is 30, and Epic has a choice of 25 or 32.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yes, but quality and execution are more important than price. Admittedly my DH can (and has) eaten 32 oz of rib eye/prime rib by himself, but not many people do.

                        1. re: jaiko

                          Alfred's ribeye is excellent. They have no problem with two people sharing one.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Is their meat clean, though? You can get commercial angus beef for half the price the "painted hills" beef Lolinda serves goes for.

                            1. re: bdl

                              I don't know where Alfred's gets their beef, all they say is that it's corn-fed.


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                If one is comparing value I think it's important to compare the product as well as the price/weight. Restaurants that choose to purchase and serve meat that is more expensive because they believe it is better for health and for the environment should have that included in a discussion of value.

                                1. re: bdl

                                  I didn't say anything about value, I was just pointing out that an 18-oz. ribeye is not particularly large.

                          2. re: jaiko

                            Help me...what does "DH" stand for? So behind the times here...tx

                              1. re: bdl

                                "dear husband"

                                if someone is talking about baseball, "designated hitter" might also apply.

                    3. re: bdl

                      Agree on this - it's excellent. and huge.

                      And the ribeye at Arabian Nights on Mission between 19th and 20th is really good too - smaller, but only $28.00. and we actually shared it the other night. it comes with fries or rice, we ordered a salad and hummus. more than enough food.

              2. Having grown up within smelling distance of the old stockyards in Chicago, where if you didn't eat beef five days out of the week, something was either wrong or you were a very strange and possibly un-American person! Yup, steak generally is sucky in CA.

                We have encountered good steaks on erratic occasions, but forget porterhouses. The days of the magnificent corn-fed, 3" thick porterhouse coming sizzling off the grill is long gone. Ah, well....

                Hubert Keller loves his meat, and although our last dinner at Fleur de Lys was disappointing overall, the one thing that was amazing was the filet. OMG, that was the kind of flavor I remembered: rich, beefy, buttery, needing nothing but a very little salt for utter perfection!

                We don't even bother with aged grass-fed beef. Not worth the extra $$$. Last fall we did a head-to-head comparison at Stark's/Santa Rosa and another at home with FiveDotRanch rib-eyes. Both DH and I agreed the very slight flavor improvement is simply not worth the cost. If it ain't corn-finished, it ain't worth the botherin', lol.

                The best consistent prime rib we've encountered is at Townhouse Grill/Emeryville. Only Wed-Sat, they do two small-end rib roasts. When they run out, that's it, no more till the next day. Get the potato gratin as a subbed side instead of the mashed, they do a very nice little version of it.

                The price is rock-bottom. It has not gone up in the five years we have been going there. Price includes the sides of potato (standard side is mashed but we prefer the gratin) and veggie, which is often broccollini.

                The quality is equal or better than served by Walnut Creek's Fleming's and Ruth's Chris' steakhouses, both of which we've tried multiple times.

                The last time we were at Townhouse a few months ago, I congratulated them on the quality of their prime rib (having tried a week previous yet another EBay place that charged the same price for a skinny cut of watery texture and no flavor). The waiter told us they have been using the same butcher for almost forty years, and "they know what we want."

                I should mention that Townhouse also makes a very good filet, which I ordered as DH is the prime rib lover, and I wasn't as hungry that night. Not Fleur quality, but beautifully trimmed and well-handled, giving life to what is a tender but bland steak.

                9 Replies
                1. re: jaiko

                  On your recommendation we switched gears and went to the Townhouse tonight; and I had prime rib.

                  It was every bit as good as you say--a great tip!

                  p.s. I asked for gratin instead of mashed, per your suggestion, but they didn't have that tonight (only fingerlings).

                  1. re: sundeck sue

                    Oh, good, I'm so glad you liked it too! I'm really surprised more people haven't discovered them. You've gotta like a place that does a particular dish well, and then has the courage to desist from fussing with it over time.

                    For those who enjoy beef but want something lighter, if they have the Thai Beef Salad on the menu, it has an amazing dressing based on lime and cilantro that I really enjoyed, and the sliced beef was very tasty and generous.

                    1. re: jaiko

                      I'm excited to try it! Thank you.

                    2. re: sundeck sue

                      A p.s., ten months later.

                      Last night @ The Townhouse, happily ordered the prime rib. Have had it a couple more times, since the posting above, always delicious.

                      Wouldn't you know, last night, someone in the kitchen messed up, whilst seasoning, such that the edges were beyond over-salted, the insides just fine.

                      Didn't send it back (didn't want to spoil the evening, esp. Valentine's Day, by making a fuss--they would have had to do a new piece entirely, while my husband was eating away at his Cioppino). Wish I had.

                      1. re: sundeck sue

                        Sending a dish back because you find it inedible isn't much of a fuss, and carving another slice of prime rib is no big deal.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Is prime rib seasoned after cutting, or while/before cooking ?

                    3. re: jaiko

                      >> We have encountered good steaks on erratic occasions, but forget porterhouses. The days of the magnificent corn-fed, 3" thick porterhouse coming sizzling off the grill is long gone. Ah, well....

                      Have you tried harris' porterhouse? I like that one a lot, but the only steak houses i've been to are in SF, so i might be missing something. Theirs is definitely not 3" thick.

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        I have had the porterhouse for 2 (that feeds 3!) at Florio on Fillmore St. in San Francsisco. While not 3 inches thick, it is pretty good. However, I don't see it on the current menu.


                    4. lolinda is great.

                      although you can also wait until meat from BN Ranch is in season (yes, there is a such thing as seasonal meat), buy it, grill it yourself,and it will be as good as any of the other top tier offerings.

                      1. Having just spent a week in Dallas and eaten steak three times (ribeye twice), I can only agree with you that steak here at regular place is pretty poor or over priced.

                        I tend to just suck it up and go to a steakhouse when I want a good cut in SF.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: tjinsf

                          It's the one thing we do really enjoy when we go visit the East Coast. Their beef and veal are noticeably better, and considerably less expensive.

                          I dream about the veal chop at Vetro's by Russo on the Bay (salivating at the thought). Best excuse for flying into JFK! And the service was to die for - old-fashioned traditional maitre d'hotel service that was warm and welcoming instead of stuffy and pretentious.

                          I admit I did have a very good veal chop at Prospect/SF the first time I went, but a return dinner was so bad, we haven't been back since. Ravi Kapur had just left in between those two meals and the kitchens at Prospect & Boulevard went into a deep swoon for a while.