Fortunately, great steaks are easier than ever to get in restaurants — and better. As the sheer number of steak houses has grown, so too have their variety, quality, and hospitality. “The most obvious change has been in the look and feel,” notes Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appétit magazine. “Steak houses no longer have to be bastions of masculinity. It turns out that friendly waiters and modern decor go great with a medium-rare porterhouse.”
Restaurants have also moved beyond ubiquitous side dishes such as creamed spinach and hash browns. Chef Michael Mina gives his creative appetizers and sides billing equal to that of the grass-fed, dry-aged beef at his Bourbon Steak and Stripsteak eateries, wowing customers with everything from beet-and-potato gnocchi to charred octopus. Likewise, Wolfgang Puck’s CUT steak houses feature a vast array of rare, dry-aged steaks, but are equally loved for their gourmet cavatappi take on macaroni and cheese and highly original starters like apple salad with dates, almonds, and cheese.
“I think high-end steak houses offer more excitement now; you don’t just get iceberg lettuce and a tomato,” says Puck. “It’s more inventive in terms of appetizers, vegetables, and desserts. You also get different cuts, and more people are enjoying dry-aged beef now. I remember when hanger steak, flat iron, and tri-tip did not exist at restaurants. Years ago, no one served short ribs. Now they’re on every menu.”
While steak houses are all the rage, they are hardly all the same. Instead, they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles, from ultramodern to stoically old school, truly offering something for everyone — even for seafood and poultry lovers. At one of the nation’s oldest, most traditional, and most revered steak houses, Keens in New York, the specially sourced dry-aged steak is not even the star entree, an honor that goes to the restaurant’s famous mutton chops.
And steak houses have another distinct advantage: They can survive even in a weak economy. When people eat out less, they want their meals to be special, and to many people “special” means a great steak. Says Ming Tsai, the James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef/owner of Blue Ginger outside Boston and host of Simply Ming on public television, “In most societies, having a bone-in rib eye or big piece of beef with a big red wine is real status. Everyone’s talking health, but we’re still pounding down steak like it’s going out of style.”