What Have Steakhouses Come To?

johnliu_gwJanuary 15, 2014

I went to a corporate dinner at Morton's Steakhouse in San Francisco last night. Unlimited wine, huge steaks, etc. I asked for my ribeye rare, because that is how I like it. Imagine my disappointment when it turns out that, at one of the better steakhouses in the city, a "rare" steak means 10 ounces of flabby, soft, tasteless beef, its outside the color of a weak latte (at best).

Come on! This was an inch thick slab of top grade beef and probably at least a $30 entree (I wasn't paying, so I don't know) and I basically ate about a third of it.

A steakhouse has, or should have, a monster 800 F commercial broiler that can put a brown char on even a rare steak. At home, anyone with a cast iron pan and the willingness to pre-heat it for five solid minutes can do the same. And little tricks like coating with butter or similar quick-browning, deep-tasting stuff can accelerate browning even more.

I am sad. That was a very nice steak, wasted.

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probably at least a $30 entree

$47, at least that's what it would have been, here.

Funny you should mention Morton's. I almost posted about them the other day.

My wife and I went to Morton's last Friday for our anniversary dinner. I made 8:30 reservations and although we were exactly on time and the restaurant was less than half full, we were shuffled off to the bar for a two-drink wait before being seated. Obviously a ruse to get us to spend money and while I'm never one to refuse a cocktail, the wait didn't need to be quite so long.

Dinner time, my wife ordered a filet mignon cooked medium. I cringed when she ordered but made the mistake of not saying something, so I'll give them benefit of the doubt on that $45 hunk of chalk. But my $57 NY strip was another story. I ordered it medium rare plus just like I always do. When I sliced into it the center was as expected, but otherwise I was disappointed at the profile of the steak. A nice char followed by a thick band of gray on both sides. I could almost hear dcarch laughing across the dining room.

Creamed spinach nutmeg and mashed potatoes salt. You get the idea. Even my wife said something about the potatoes, and she's not one to complain about too much salt.

Service was impeccable. When making reservations they asked if it we were celebrating anything, and our menues had "Happy 10th Anniversary" printed on them - nice little touch. The staff was very attentive, with someone dropping off new flatware the second anything was removed, etc. In addition to the dessert we ordered, they presented us with a complimentary slice of chocolate cake. Somewhere along the line the hostess came and took a picture of us which she then printed it out and put in a personalized card.

Dessert and service were great, but the meal itself was amateur hour. With tips, I dropped well over $300 that evening but did not get the main thing I had gone there to get - a perfect steak.

This post was edited by foodonastump on Thu, Jan 16, 14 at 1:54

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 1:43AM
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I have business lunches regularly. I have not had bad luck with steaks. Mostly I don't order steaks in restaurants I don't know.

Then I don't order steaks often. I don't see paying someone to simply heating up a piece of beef that I can make anytime with the same or better results.

I mostly order fish, or dishes that require complicated recipes or preparations, or ingredients that I don't have.

I don't order pasta often either. Many chefs can't tell the different between al dente and uncooked pasta.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 8:49AM
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It can be so disappointing to go out for a fairly expensive meal and have the professionals get it wrong. In Chicago, me and dh went to Gibson's Steakhouse for my birthday a few years ago. The steak was done well but everything else was meh. Not that I go to a steak house for sides but all of the sides were cold, the salad was just a tiny bit of wilted lettuce, the only good part of the meal was the steak. For $200 I was really expecting a lot more. Really ruined me on spending that type of money on a meal. We have family-owned steakhouses in the burbs that are way less expensive and do a superior job. They may not have the name but sometimes thats all you are paying for.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 9:47AM
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I feel your disappointment but at least you weren't picking up the tap.

Finally, I found a restaurant that cooks a PERFECT Pittsburgh Rare steak. It's a chain but not a high end restaurant so we were excited to find a reasonably priced great steak, unfortunately it's 45 miles away. I asked the waitress why the same restaurant near me couldn't cook the steak correctly. She explained that that location doesn't have the code required ventilation to cook Pittsburgh Rare.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 10:27AM
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The quality of beef is much lower than it used to be. What is now Prime used to be labeled Choice fifty years ago. In addition, I live in CA where people have been snowballed into actually believing that grass-fed beef is far superior to grain-finished beef.

And then they wonder why the steaks are so lousy! Sheesh.

We've actually had our best luck at either extremely high-end restaurants - Fleur de Lys' Hubert Keller adores beef, and his filet is precisely what great beef should be (but it's also very small and way more expensive than a steakhouse); or at medium-price local restaurants.

There's a couple of the latter that occasionally get good beef and handle it properly. One of them is a Cal-French bistro and one is an old-time bar-turned-restaurant, but both rely on good butchers and have line cooks that are properly trained.

One cut we love and are happy to see slowly come back is the filet of rib-eye - the best of both worlds (filet vs prime rib). Nothing like it for rich beefy taste that's tender and juicy.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 12:50PM
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What is Pittsburgh Rare?

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 12:53PM
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The problem lies in the fact that the well known steakhouses such as Morton's and Gibson's cater to the expanse account crowd. They know full well that you will eat there on some else's dime and probably not come back, since you just might be from out of town.

I have been lucky enough that I have eaten in both here in Chicago and around the US. If out of town, I may let it go, but at home, I have a quiet talk with the wait staff or manager and fully expect the order to be corrected if they would like to see me come back. Funny how they wake up then.

Melissa, next time try the Rosewood in Rosemont for a really great meal.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 2:26PM
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I'd have taken that sucker home, brought it to room temperatures, and then seared it. Been good to top a salad with. Dang!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 4:48PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I'm another who rarely orders steaks in restaurants. As dc, I usually order dishes that are complicated and not easily duplicated at home.
While not a popular technique, a thin frozen steak, (or if thick-partially frozen) and pan seared or grilled, produces a beautifully rare interior and crusty exterior. I do it all the time in my plebeian kitchen.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 5:26PM
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Add me to the list of people who just doesn't order steak out. Of course, I'm a bit spoiled with my own organic and grass fed beef that jkom is so dismissive of, finding it far superior to any of the fatty/greasy pieces of nondescript beef I get at steakhouses. To each their own, I know some don't like grassfed beef, finding it too "beefy". I'd give up beef completely if I had to eat the commercial stuff, so it's just another case of taste being subjective, not objective.

I do agree that beef just isn't the quality it used to be, the cattle are grown in such quantity and in such deplorable conditions that it compromises the final product. Plus, there is now a rush to market, so meat is seldom aged properly, it takes too long. Breeds are selected not for quality of carcass but because they grow quickly and the beef can be produced more efficiently. That's why we feed them all that grain, they get fat quickly, but the quality suffers along with the health of the animal.

In addition, I've yet to find a restaurant who really believes me when I say "rare". Outside a nice crunchy layer, inside just warm. Waiters nod when I describe it for them, but it just never happens.

Even if it was on someone else's tab, I think I'd have mentioned the steak. And in the case of FOAS, I'd definitely have mentioned it, as it's somewhat local for him, even though not something done with any regularity.

As for me, I ate my grassfed rib eye recently with a butter knife and a fork, in spite of it being grassfed. It was nicely marbled, perfectly rare and with just a tiny bit of chew and big beefy flavor.

I think I'd still complain to Morton's, it won't improve if management doesn't hear from dissatisfied customers and especially at that price point.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 5:45PM
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Here's yet another one who rarely orders a steak when out. I'm ALWAYS disappointed! My husband has totally spoiled me. We go to our favorite shop for meat, get a thick-cut, and he barbecues it to perfection. NOBODY does it better. We even invested in a small grill to keep at my parents' home, because Mom and Dad love the way my husband barbecues a steak.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 8:38PM
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What is Pittsburgh Rare?
Regardless of the origin, I thought it was the steelworker thing, it's charred on the outside and just warm on the inside. Ruth's Chris has more times than not done it right.

Origin of the term:

One story relates that the method originated as an explanation for an accidental charring of a steak at a Pittsburgh restaurant, with the cook explaining that this was "Pittsburgh style."[2]

It has been said that the 'original' method of preparation was by searing the meat with a welding torch. Whether this is true is unknown; in any case, it is difficult to attain high enough heat with a common blowtorch. Another method, related by a staff member at a Pittsburgh branch of Ruth's Chris Steak House, originates from the region's steel mills, and the practice of workers cooking a steak on a cooling piece of steel. The temperature of the steel would be such that it would be impossible to do more than char the outside of the steak while keeping anything worth eating.

One popular version of this myth is that steel workers would bring raw steaks to work and on their lunch break throw them against the huge, searing hot molten steel "tubs". The steak would burn almost immediately then fall off, then they'd throw it up against the other side of the steak. Whether any of these origins is genuine or just a play on Pittsburgh's industrial image is debatable.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 9:06PM
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Me too! I can cook a steak at home...

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 1:37AM
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