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What's At Steak

Friday, 27 September 2013

It seems fitting somehow to follow up Billy's post about working out obsessively with a piece about meat.  Good meat.  Arguably great meat.  And here is where I plan to borrow the syntax of the World's Most Interesting Man by saying:

"I don't eat steak often, but when I do, I eat Ruth's Chris (or something comparable)."

I don't cook a great steak, and there are a number of reasons for that.  First, I've never mastered the cooking of one, torn as I am between grilling, broiling, pan-searing and finishing in the oven.  Second, I'm not willing to pay the money for top-quality beef that I'm going to cook myself (for the reason mentioned above).  Third, I don't eat steak often enough to either master the cooking of it or to justify buying expensive cuts to experiment on.

Red meat is something I try to avoid, however unsuccessfully, and the key to unsuccessful avoidance is that you nibble around the discipline rather than embrace it outright.  Hence, a few crumbles of bacon here, a slice of ham there, maybe a BBQ sandwich or an Oklahoma onion burger with only 2 oz of beef in it.  But the outright splurge of a burger is rare, and even rarer is the flat out, no holds barred, hunk of meat.

Isn't that the wrong approach?  Why should I nickel and dime away my resolve on cheap, fatty meat?  Why shouldn't I enjoy, if I'm going for it, the best I can reasonably get?

The other night, on my first-ever visit to a Ruth's Chris steakhouse, I had the following: fresh bread, a superb Caesar salad, and the Filet Mignon.  It was not cheap--we got out of there for a little over $70/person and that was only because one member of our party not only brought six bottles of wine but also paid the $15 corkage fee for each bottle.  The meal was a perfectly-executed extravagance.

Beyond that, the restaurant itself (which I, of course, pooh-poohed at first for its location attached to a hotel near the mall) established the kind of clubby atmosphere which a steakhouse seems to demand--sprawling, relatively dark, furniture and furnishings designed for comfort rather than beauty, plenty and plenty and plenty of wood, an a la carte menu filled with the classics of the genre--crab and scallop appetizers, generous salads, as entrees a variety of cuts of beef, plus an obligatory chicken dish, a pork chop, and several options from the sea, plus the large sides of creamed spinach, mushrooms, french fries, asparagus, etc.  I'm sure they had dessert; we didn't get that far.

 So here's my theory: why not allow myself to eat steak about twice a year, and why not make that steak the best damn steak I can get, cooked by someone who knows how to do it and who will serve in a setting where it all makes sense to do so?

I know this must sound like an impossibly, annoyingly privileged proposition. It is. Part of that I can do nothing about, the part about being able to plan and splurge for this kind of thing.  But the other part of me is a cheap eater, even in nice restaurants.  Spending a lot of money, ordering one of the more expensive items on a menu, those are things I simply do not do.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I'd much rather eat at a cheap place, or, at an expensive Italian place to get a pizza and a salad.  I don't like to spend big money on meals.

So even to consider a meal like this a couple of times a year is outside my usual range of behaviors. What's intriguing about it for me, though, is not just the two filets with all of the trappings, it's also the modifications that could take place around it--no cheap, greasy meat, no subpar or middle of the road approximation of this Platonic conception of steak, no trolling at a buffet, maybe no hamburger.  Unless, of course, it was a really good one, maybe Kobe beef, that was, you know, like one of the $14 burgers or something, expensive, but not too expensive.

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