God forbid any fashion choices prevent me from dinner at one of the most talked about new steak houses, even if the chatter surrounding this $7.5 million beef palace at Broad and Spruce is mostly controversy over its restrictive dress code and a policy requiring diners spend a minimum of $100 per person.
The splurge edict is condescending considering patrons at this swanky 400-seater already spend on average $140. A single “colossal” shrimp costs $10, so you’re halfway there with a shrimp cocktail. Though, considering these mutant crustaceans are as big as rubber crowbars, and just about as tasteless, I wouldn’t want to eat so many.
But what of the beef? Or the whole experience? “Excruciating” is what came to mind as I sat in a stuffy little room with Rod Stewart rasping over the speakers and the server’s robotic spiel promising “excellent service” only to be followed by not one, but two wrong plates delivered to our table. The correct $70 “bone-in” filet finally arrived with a puny excuse for a bone attached, terribly overcooked (”medium rare-plus,” it turns out, is the broiler chef’s joke for the hesitant). It was also so encrusted with Steak 48′s proprietary “steak dust” seasoning, my tongue smoked with sodium sparks the second it made contact. And don’t get me started on dessert, a hot crock of doughy vanilla-caramel cake that came with a towering pile of whipped cream so tall, I kept waiting for the clown to appear.
I’m still bitter about the $330-plus bill for two, and refused to go back for another visit. Instead, I went to another buzzy new chophouse, DePaul’s Table in a former bank space in Ardmore (7 E. Lancaster Ave.), which replaced the Bercy, whose French-themed menu was “a labor of love and the labor of (too much) labor” to survive the pandemic, says co-owner Justin Weathers.
I can’t say this “modern” steak house rerun — from the cheesesteak spring rolls to the lobster mac & cheese and bready crab cakes — inspired many culinary thrills. And unlike Steak 48′s salty sledgehammer, none of DePaul’s pricey chops seemed to have any seasoning.
Both experiences seemed to pander to clichéd notions of indulgence that, without better execution, feel garish and tired after the difficult year we’ve all been through. Such a waste of money and good beef.
I can think of more than a dozen superior places where you can better use that $100-worth of steak splurge money. From perfect steak frites glossed in Bordelaise to a chili-rubbed bavette with smoked pistachios, massive dry-aged rib eyes, porterhouses and strip steaks for sharing, and a truffled and marrow-glossed morsel of Wagyu that melts off the fork like a dream, almost none of these beefy beauties come from restaurants that actually define themselves as steak houses. (Yes, there are exceptions.)
Here are the eight best steaks I’ve eaten since spring, plus eight more from before the pandemic I can’t wait to get my steak knife back into.
Hanger steak with black sesame tare, $20
Sushi star Jesse Ito is known for his sublime raw fish at Royal Sushi & Izakaya. But this moody Japanese pub in Queen Village also serves stellar cooked fare influenced by Jesse’s dad, master savory chef Matt Ito. This grilled hanger steak gets marinated in shiro dashi before it’s grilled and fanned into rosy tiles beside a midnight dark swipe of black sesame yakiniku tare sauce, which accents this cut’s earthy sweet undertones. Squeeze some of togarashi-dipped lemon overtop for a beam of spicy tartness, then pair it with a rich Sempuku Shinriki 85 junmai sake. At $20 for an 8-ounce cut, this is one of the most fascinating steaks in town, and a phenomenal bargain.
N.Y. strip for two, $110
The 2-inch thick hunk o’ beef for sharing has been one of Randy Rucker’s signature moves since the Texas native opened his modernist kitchen across from East Passyunk’s Singing Fountain just before the pandemic. Now that it’s transitioning into a tasting menu format Thursday through Saturday, this locally sourced, sustainably raised beef will regularly anchor the remaining à la carte menu night on Sunday’s new Wine Bar series. My recent version of this chop paired the light mineral funk of that dry-aged beef with a juniper-scented miso caramel and caraway-flecked buttery Caraflex cabbage. Not up to $110 fee? The restaurant’s tremendous Mother Rucker burger ($15) is on offer Sundays, too.
Steak frites with bone marrow ‘Bordo’, $25
Chloe Grigri’s bustling French Bella Vista bistro serves one of the city’s definitive versions of steak frites. Our 6-ounce cut of N.Y. strip for $25 was impressively supple, thanks to the piercing of a Jaccard tenderizing tool’s 45 tiny blades. But I was most bewitched by new chef Michael Valent’s “Bordo,” a classic red wine Bordelaise turned ebony with charred onions and rendered glossy with the richness of roasted bone marrow, garlic, and a sherry vinegar tang. Add a dusting of green herbs, a pile of crispy French frites, and a sip of lusty red — an earthy Chinon or bottle of Domaine l’Iserand syrah from Grigri’s upstairs bar à vin, Le Caveau — and this is the happy taste of la vie en rose. Bonus: the fries (and steak) are gluten-free.
Chili-rubbed bavette, $34
Chef Eli Collins takes an elevated bistro approach to bavette steak, marinating this well-marbled $34 cut of sirloin flap in guajillo chili spice, fresh oregano, and black garlic. After grilling it to a perfect medium-rare, he builds more layers of bold flavors with smoked zucchini and pistachio relish seasoned with herb oil and an arugula salad tangled with pickled banana peppers, basil, and more smoked pistachio.
Porterhouse for two, $103
I don’t hate all steak houses. In fact, I love Alpen Rose for its combination of clubby style and modern updates to forgotten pleasures like beef Wellington. Mostly, though, I’m impressed by the Schulson Collective’s beef dry-aging program. The 68 days of dry time coaxed a magnetic, but well-calibrated swagger out of our 32-ounce porterhouse that, once grilled over the oak wood flames then expertly carved tableside by server Julian Soto, made for a truly memorable splurge for two at $103.
Parillada Argentina for two, $63
Sure, there’s a filet and strip steak on the menu at this romantic Argentine steak house on Head House Square. But for that true South American carnivore spirit, trade pure tenderness for the savory tango of the rustic parillada Argentina, a $63 mixed meat sharing platter of grilled bone-in short ribs, flavorful skirt steak, blood sausage, and chorizo links ringing a pile of crispy grilled sweetbreads.
Dry-aged and tallow-dipped rib eye for two, $136
I was already swooning over the charcoal-grilled strip steak on the mixed meat platter at CookNSolo’s Israeli-themed grill house in Kensington. But by the end of August, chef Andrew Henshaw is upgrading his beef to prime-grade rib eyes that, after 30 days dry-aging, get dipped in tallow for another 30 days of age, a technique that enhances flavor without sacrificing moisture. Once rubbed in harif chili paste with floral cardamom and coriander, each 18-ounce chop comes with a dozen stellar salatim, silky hummus and fresh pitas for a $136 feast for two.
Wagyu strip steak, $130 (part of tasting menu)
Bigger isn’t always better with beef. Chef Chad Williams makes that point clear with the $130 tasting menu at his Rittenhouse Square gem where, after seven exquisitely creative little plates, two matchbook sized slices of strip steak appear. But oh, that 3-ounce dose of dry-aged Texas Wagyu glossed with marrow and encrusted with black truffles melts like butter. It’s perched over a tiny dark puddle of brown jus of such deeply caramelized onions, Chad’s wife and partner, Hanna, estimates the equivalent of one whole onion is reduced onto each plate. Add that frothy dot of Comté cheese cream, and one could argue this is now the greatest deconstructed cheesesteak in town.
Other great steaks I’d love to sink my teeth into again: the wood-grilled Italian porterhouse at Wm. Mulherin’s & Sons (1355 N Front St.); the gargantuan 40-ounce dry-aged prime porterhouse at Hearthside (801 Haddon Ave., Collingswood); the N.Y. strip with tomato conserva at Via Locusta (1723 Locust St.); the steak au poivre (or steak frites) at Parc (227 S. 18th St.); Steak Vermeil in garlicky Pecorino and wine butter at Villa di Roma (936 S. 9th St.); the city’s gold standard for dry-aged luxe prime rib eye at Barclay Prime (237 S. 18th St.); all the skewered picanha at the original Picanha Brazilian Steakhouse in Northeast, which now also has a Center City satellite (6501 Castor Ave.; 1111 Locust St.); the cut-to-order filet mignon at newly refurbished Library II, a retro South Jersey classic now under new ownership (306 Route 73, Voorhees).