Culinary crazes come and go. But the steakhouse endures — and even thrives — when times are tough and we crave comfort food. Here in the Hudson Valley, we haven’t seen many classic steakhouses of the Smith & Wollensky type — those testosterone temples where men in suits wash down huge slabs of meat with big glasses of Cabernet. Ours are generally more family-friendly places, and even the newer ones that have opted for the clubby, leathery look are welcoming to women and kids. But that doesn’t mean the steaks aren’t just as juicy — even if they’re the smaller cuts that savvy restaurateurs are offering for those who have taken heart-health warnings to, um, heart.
Home-cooked steaks never quite measure up, partly because domestic stoves don’t achieve the super-high heat necessary to char them well, but also because most of the best beef (Prime and Choice) is sold to restaurants in the first place. Anyway, with supermarket prices the way they are these days, many of the steakhouses listed here are quite a bargain — especially those that throw in a couple of sides. So forget about dining on dainty, high-concept morsels that have you wondering “Where’s dinner?” — and put a little sizzle in your day.
Chef John Kees and manager John Lekic in Sapore’s distinctive dining room
When Sali Hadzi opened this sophisticated steakhouse in 2004, it was something of a departure — he’s best known as the proprietor of Il Cenacolo and Cena 2000, two of the Valley’s favorite Italian eateries. Although he gave the place an Italian name (it means “taste”), this is one of our most Manhattanesque steakhouses. “The idea was to have it be like Sparks,” Hadzi says, speaking of the New York City place described as “the quintessential he-man steakhouse” by Zagat. “The chef and manager is an old friend of mine, so he came up here and we put it together.”
The collaboration resulted in a menu that features USDA Prime meats (including domestic, organic Kobe Prime), as well as a few exotics like buffalo, elk, ostrich, and venison. (Exotic in Fishkill, at least.) Beef is dry-aged in-house for three to four weeks.
The space had been a steakhouse in a previous incarnation, but Hadzi spent generously to “refresh” things, as he puts it, adding tony touches like Persian rugs, paintings, cushy leather couches in the entrance, and a spiral wine display to show off some of the 400 wines on the global list, which includes varieties from Lebanon and Israel. “And I got a special guy from Pennsylvania to rebuild the grills, so they heat to 1600 degrees, very high,” Hadzi reports. (Thirteen hundred degrees is the norm.)
Bone-in U.S. Kobe sirloin is the house specialty; sides are a la carte in the classic tradition. “We keep it simple,” Hadzi remarks. “We do have a seasoning ingredient for the steak, but it’s a secret, so I can’t tell you.”
As for attracting local he-men: “We see a lot of corporate business,” manager John Lekic reports. “But there are plenty of women in business these days, too. We’re not stiff — we have a very social atmosphere.”
Is Hadzi worried about the economic slump? “The best always survives,” he replies.
Crowd pleaser: The 56-ounce porterhouse for two.
Special appeal: The real McCoy, clubby, comfortable, luxe.
The bottom line: From $21 for a Black Angus hanger steak to $64 for the porterhouse.
Photograph courtesy of Angelo’s 677 Prime
Back in the olden days when entrepreneurs had plenty of cash (circa 2005), Angelo Mazzone spent well over a million refurbishing this Capital Region eatery — and it shows. Rich cherry paneling, luxurious leather upholstery, original paintings, swanky light fixtures, and a granite-topped bar — it’s posh, elegant, and urban, with a deep-pocketed clientele to match. There’s even a wine club, the Prime Wine Society, whose 60 members fork over $5,000 to get a personalized cherrywood wine locker, 20 percent off any wines they order, and a guaranteed table and valet parking, among other perks (there is a waiting list to join).
Naturally, all the beef is dry-aged Prime; those up for a splurge can try the real Japanese top grade Kobe New York strip at $15 an ounce. A raw bar, oysters Rockefeller, and caviar service (described as “lavish”), plus a la carte sides such as lobster mashed and toppers like seared foie gras, shaved black truffles, and bone marrow fondue, are other signs that here the high life still exists.
But don’t despair if all this seems a little too highfalutin for you. There are moderately priced wines on the 230-plus list, and locals rave about the lunch, where prices are moderate. Go for a burger (a mere $10) or maybe the steak sandwich for $15, have a slice of coconut cream pie, soak up the stylish surroundings, and you’ll feel like a million bucks yourself.
Crowd pleaser: Prime porterhouse for two.
Special appeal: Virtual Manhattan, hip, high-energy — and you may spot a legislator chowing down.
Bottom line: From $33 for the filet rib eye Certified Angus to $95 for the 40-ounce porterhouse for two.
Flatiron Steakhouse’s namesake dish is tantalizingly juicy, and comes with house-made steak sauce
One glance at the menu at this Red Hook newcomer and it’s plain this is not your average meat-and-potato joint. Sure, there’s a selection of steaks at the bottom of the list, but en route you pass such tantalizing options as crab and leek fritters, molasses braised pork belly, and duck burgers (duck burgers?). There are oysters and steak tartare — rarities in Dutchess County — and even the toppings (chimichurri, pecorino truffle fondue) smack of fine dining.
Jessica Stingo and her chef-husband, Craig Stafford, who opened this casual place last August, intended it to be that way. “We thought a steakhouse was what this area needed, but Craig is very talented, so we wanted to show what he’s capable of,” Stingo says.
The young couple (she’s 30, he’s 34) met when they were working at Giorgio’s of Gramercy in Manhattan — Stafford in the kitchen, Stingo meeting and greeting. After the couple married, they decided to open a place of their own. “We had a dream,” the genial Stingo says with a laugh. Like many a Culinary Institute graduate, Stafford had developed a fondness for the region while in school here, so the couple settled in Red Hook and made over an old lunch place on the main drag. Now its dark wood floors, beige walls hung with Stingo’s black and white photographs of local scenes, and bluestone bar have a comfy, bistro-ish feel. “We have tablecloths, but we don’t want people to think we’re too fancy, so we put brown butcher paper over them,” she says.
The couple serves USDA Prime steaks from a Massachusetts distributor, but otherwise they buy locally — ground beef and ground lamb come from Meiller Josef Farm in Pine Plains; vegetables from Migliorelli in Red Hook. Pork, pheasant, and quail from North Wind Farm in Tivoli show up as specials on the menu from time to time.
“Everything’s made in-house except the mustard,” Stingo says. “Even the ketchup.” Those who don’t want to tackle Fred Flintstone-style portions can opt for a relatively diminutive five- or eight-ounce flank or flatiron steak. And that duck burger? “Craig invented it a couple of months before we opened. It’s really great.”
Crowd pleasers: Oysters, steak tartare, and the signature flatiron steak.
Special appeal: Steakhouse plus at moderate rates.
The bottom line: From $12 for the 5-ounce flank steak to $44 for the 20-ounce rib eye for two.
When he was 18, Frank Capasso started work in his family’s sanitation business, dreaming that one day he’d open a restaurant. The years ticked by. Finally, when Amarone’s in Sugar Loaf went belly-up last year, Capasso decided the time was ripe — and never mind the troubled economy. “I’m 38, and if I don’t do it now, I never will,” he says.
Capasso painted the walls burgundy to match his new table linens, and opened for business last October. “I’d always liked the homey feel of the place, and it’s even friendlier now,” he says. Scott Bally, who’d cheffed at Amarone’s, stayed on.
Why a steakhouse? “There were Italian places to the left of me, Italian places to the right, but nowhere nearby where you could get good quality meat,” Capasso replies. His burgers are made with American Kobe beef, the prime rib is Angus; otherwise the steaks are Prime or Choice, hand-cut in house, but not aged. “If you buy a good quality piece of meat, it’s going to be tasty and tender,” Capasso declares.
Special sides are available (Capasso particularly likes his version of proscuitto-wrapped asparagus), but steaks all come with a potato and a vegetable of some kind.
Business people pile in at lunch; everyone else turns up at night, Capasso says. There’s a well-priced kid’s menu, too, with a mini steak for budding carnivores, chicken fingers, pizzas, and other favorites of the younger set.
Marinated hanger steak and many of the other preparations are those Capasso devised when cooking for his friends and family during the years the restaurant was but a gleam in his eye. Stop in, and you may see him bussing tables, tending bar, pitching in. “I love it,” he says. “For the first time in 20 years, I’m in my element.”
Crowd pleaser: Signature Blue Ribbon filet mignon, served with roasted tomato and fresh mozzarella in a balsamic reduction.
Special appeal: Casual, friendly, affordable.
The bottom line: From $18.99 for the hanger to $29.99 for the prime rib.
Chef James Russell and his wife, Denise, opened this eatery right off the Taconic in 2005, naming it in memory of Denise’s mother and adding the word “neighborhood” to suggest its easygoing vibe. A big brick fireplace warms up the sprawling dining room, with its wraparound windows and curved wooden bar.
Russell keeps costs moderate by choosing wet-aged USDA Choice beef, and butchers the generous cuts himself. (At least one reviewer has declared his meat “stellar.”)
Steaks come with a salad, a medley of vegetables, and a potato in one guise or another. The popular stuffed baked version has “onions and lots and lots of sour cream and butter — it’s very rich, and very high-calorie,” Russell gleefully reports. But who’s counting calories in a steakhouse? Special a la carte sides include the usual suspects as well as Russell’s signature prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with citrus beurre blanc. “It’s nice,” he votes.
The latest additions to the menu are rib-sticking German specialties like Sauerbraten, bratwurst, and Wiener Schnitzel. “Good comfort food for winter time,” notes Russell. As for the clientele: “We aim at everyone from the suits to the construction guys. Sunday’s a big family day — we’ve got an old piano and kids bang away on it. Weekenders and skiers — we catch them on Thursday going up, and then on Sunday going home. We love that.” And the wine list: “Choices are from all over. My wife changes it like she changes her clothes.”
Crowd pleaser: 12-ounce New York shell steak, served on Cognac caramelized onions and topped with butter blended with Gorgonzola, roasted garlic, fresh parsley, and sundried tomatoes.
Special appeal: “We just want to keep the customers happy,” says Russell.
The bottom line: From $23 for a 16-ounce rib eye to $30 for Kansas City shell steak.
Frank Roudis is serious about the meat he serves (“USDA Choice, corn-fed Steaks with an Attitude,” declares the menu), but almost as serious about making sure his customers have a good time. Roudis grew up in the biz (his family has owned eateries in Kingston since 1951). When he opened this roomy steakhouse right off the Thruway’s Kingston exit in 1994, he lined the walls of the seven dining rooms with nostalgic bits and pieces ranging from 78 rpm records to vintage farm implements and sports equipment, including his own childhood sled. Film fanatics love the lounge, where a 32-foot-long mural depicts movie stars from the silent Charlie Chaplin to the rowdy Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was painted by Jeffrey Brown, one of the restaurant’s cooks, and “was quite an undertaking,” Roudis remarks. “People like seeing how many movies they can name.”
(Speaking of Arnold, the Terminator burger is a one-pounder served with a pound of french fries and assorted fixings. “Eat it all, including the pickle, and you get the next one half price,” Roudis says. “We like doing little gaggy things like that.”)
Everything’s made from scratch, including the mashed potatoes. As for those Steaks with Attitude: center-cut short loin steaks come from a butcher in Boston; the rest are wet-aged 28 days and hand-cut in-house.
With the emphasis on enjoyment, Roudigan’s is naturally the scene of many a celebration. “We get businessmen doing things in the corner, and lawyers at lunch, but we do lots of birthdays and anniversaries, too.”
Crowd favorite: The President Porterhouse. (One taste and you’ll shout “Roudigan for president!”)
Special appeal: “Things ain’t so hot right now, so you can come here, look at the all the memorabilia, and think of a better time in life,” says Roudis.
The bottom line: From $18.95 for a 12-ounce New York strip to $26.95 for 12-ounce filet mignon.
In 2000, after 25 years as proprietors of Westchester’s Armonk Grill, Jim and Antoinette Troetti opened up in this spot as the Country House, offering an Italian-American menu. Gradually, though, patrons began choosing steaks, prime rib, and beef dishes far more than anything else — so, Jim Troetti figured, why not switch gears? “We closed down for two days, prepared new menus, reopened as Steakhouse 22 in 2004, and we’re doing very nicely,” he reports. “Comfort food is always a home run. No frills, down-home meat and potatoes, generous portions — and it all’s made here.”
Troetti creates recipes for his line cooks, but does the baking himself. He’s particularly proud of his blueberry turnovers. “We even got a write-up that featured a photo of the blueberry turnover. I’m saying, ‘What’s this? We’re a steakhouse.’ We were very pleased, though.”
Okay, back to the beef. It’s dry-aged Prime, or Triple A Canadian, which is similar, all butchered by Troetti in house. Steaks are served with two sides — you choose. (You might want the potato casserole of the week — a house special.) The kid’s menu includes such robust fare as prime rib and an eight-ounce steak. (“You’d be surprised how many children eat it,” Troetti remarks.)
Connecticut horse people, the blue-collar crowd, and whoever falls in between mingle in the woodsy main dining room, where there’s a huge cut-stone fireplace and walls and ceiling lined in cypress planks. An enclosed porch and a canopied deck both overlook the sunset — a big draw, especially in summer. A small wine-colored room is currently getting a makeover with a polo motif.
Crowd pleasers: Filet mignon, followed closely by beef short ribs “with a secret homemade BBQ sauce.”
Special appeal: “We’re comfy, cozy, unhip,” Troetti blithely admits. “Almost a dinosaur today. Our costs reflect that — and we’re holding prices, even through this bad time.”
The bottom line: From $17.95 for a marinated hanger steak to $28.95 for the 8-ounce filet mignon.
Rustic but comfortable: Quinta’s wood- and leather-accented dining room is perfect for a quiet steak dinner
Brothers Ricardo and Armando Cerdeira opened this eatery five years ago this month, modeling it after New York’s Les Halles, where Armando was once maitre d’. (They even put a butcher’s shop in the entrance and will still sell you meat, if you ask, although the display cases are now full of cheeses.) Classic décor in the roomy space includes wood floors, mirrors, and bright red leather banquettes (“You have to have red banquettes,” Ricardo announces).
Chairs came from the famous Wall Street hangout, Harry’s at Hanover Square, their seats worn smooth by the expensively clad derrieres of hot-shot traders from the good old days. But apart from the look of the place, the Masters of the Universe chairs, and the high-quality meat being served, there are few similarities between the all-guy chopshop and this cheerful bistro. “That old-fashioned steakhouse is dying,” Ricardo says, noting that “businessmen, teachers, firemen, and families” all frequent his place. “Pearl River’s a very friendly town.”
Steaks — dry-aged Prime and Choice — come with fries and a side. Diehards can get an appetizer of crab cakes or shrimp cocktail, but most go for fancier fare like pecan roasted brie, baby grilled octopus, or chorizo empanadas. Traditional desserts — crème brûlée, apple tart, and cheesecake — are all made in-house.
A few Portuguese dishes (and some very reasonable Portuguese wines) perk up the menu, but it’s the basics that usually win out here. “Steak grilled with French fries is good, simple food,” Ricardo says. “It’s hard to go wrong.”
Crowd pleaser: The Angus, which comes with spinach and blue cheese risotto.
Special Appeal: Famous chairs; good prices; lively, bistro-esque vibe.
The bottom line: $19.95 for a 10-ounce hanger steak to $33.95 for the 22-ounce porterhouse (“Good for a big man”).
Grilled for greatness: Neil Schlesinger cuts his own steaks and dry-ages them for at least 28 days
Attention cigar-smoking steak lovers: Here’s a place for you! First the meat: Neil Schlesinger, who enjoys an occasional cigar himself, buys Prime and Choice beef from the same supplier as Brooklyn’s legendary Peter Luger, then dry-ages it in-house for at least 28 days. “You need to be fussy about getting your own specs, size, and quality,” he says. “A lot of new steakhouses will get precut steaks. But I’m old school — I’m the butcher, and I keep a close eye on the aging. Nothing’s served until it’s ready.”
His fussiness pays off — steaks here have been voted best by Hudson Valley’s own readers, and Schlesinger’s name comes up as an example of how to do it right in on-line chats on the subject. He has been in the steakhouse biz since 1972, so he knows whereof he speaks — and he has also witnessed the genre’s enduring popularity. “There are crazes — they come out with this diet and that diet, but people listen only for a very short time. Americans have always been steak and potato people,” he asserts.
Yes, potatoes: Don’t miss the Rocky Mountain Mashed Potatoes here — a signature garlic mash with the skins that Schlesinger takes credit for inventing 14 years ago. “I’d never heard of them before that,” he says.
The restaurant is set in the 1762 fieldstone Brewster House, distinguished as one of the few places where Washington did not sleep during the Revolutionary War (although some of his troops were quartered there). The dining room is cozy and atmospheric, with mustard walls, wood chairs, and white tablecloths.
Good news for cigar smokers coming up: Twelve years ago, Schlesinger and his glamorous, body-building wife, Glynna, connected the main house to the onetime carriage house, installed a cigar bar in the new space, and furnished it with comfy sofas, club chairs, a walk-in humidor, and four tables. Now cigar aficionados can dine and indulge after dinner in comfort, without troubling other diners.
Everything on the menu, from soups to desserts, is homemade. The latest addition: “Delicious crab cakes and steamed clams.” And what about that half rack of ribs listed as a side? “Some of our customers are hearty eaters,” Schlesinger replies.
Crowd pleaser: “Our steaks are all about equally popular,” says Schlesinger.
Cigar smoker’s crowd pleaser: Twice-yearly cigar dinners on the pretty patio.
Special appeal: Family friendly in the main dining rooms, with penne pasta, chicken fingers and such for the little’uns.
The bottom line: $23 for a 12-ounce ribeye “pub steak” (with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and blue cheese) to $27.95 for a 12-ounce filet mignon. The T-bone at “market price” is usually around $40.
Photograph courtesy of De La Vergne Steakhouse
Dutchess County businessman Kevin Rooney opened De La Vergne in the summer of 2006, offering a New American menu that appealed mostly to weekenders and the wealthy few. “The local people felt intimidated,” Rooney says. “I’m from Amenia and I wanted it to be a place where people from all walks of life would feel comfortable.” What to do? “Everyone said, ‘We’re dying for a place that has normal, simple food,’ ” Rooney reports. So he closed down for 10 months, hired new executive chef Vincent Sorrentino, retooled the kitchen with hotter stoves, and reopened on December 30th as a steakhouse.
Sorrentino, another Dutchess County native, created a new menu inspired by Manhattan steakeries. “It was sort of froufrou fine dining before,” says the CIA grad, who has worked alongside such luminaries as Waldy Malouf and David Bouley, so he knows froufrou when he sees it.
As for the beef: It’s Certified Angus, a well-marbled grade that Sorrentino says falls between Prime and Choice. The steaks, topped with garlic-chive compound butter, come with a salad and a few onion rings. Sides are a la carte, reasonably priced from $1.95 for a baked potato to $3.95 for the likes of penne pasta with aged cheddar and truffle oil.
“Some steakhouses have great steaks and mediocre everything else,” Sorrentino remarks. “My challenge is to make sure the other dishes are spectacular, too.” One of the fancier ones — pan seared sea scallops with beurre blanc, mashed potatoes, and spinach — sounds like a seafood lover’s version of a classic steak ensemble. “Well, yes,” Sorrentino agrees. “Only it’s a lot more elegant.” A few down-home dishes like roast chicken and meatloaf round out the menu. Desserts — cheesecake, key lime, pecan pie and such — are made in-house or come from Best Creations in Millbrook.
The rustic setting remains unchanged. Two dining rooms and an eat-in bar have dark floors made of wood that Rooney (whose day job is in construction and restoration) reclaimed from the inside of an old silo; booths are made from the silo’s weathered exterior. There’s a big stone fireplace and a horsey theme to reflect Amenia’s horse-country location. “I wanted it to be like an Irish pub, where everybody gathers,” Rooney says. “Now people hang out in the bar… It’s a really good mix. It’s really clicked.”
Crowd pleaser: “People are saying they’ve had the best steak of their life here. I’m not making this up,” Sorrentino says.
Special appeal: “Tell everyone it’s changed. It’s more warm and welcoming — cozy, upbeat, happy. People were scared away, and we want them to try us again.”
The bottom line: From $16.95 for the T-bone to $39 for the porterhouse for two.
It didn’t take long for Skytop co-owners Anthony and Joey LoBianco to carve out a top spot in the local pecking order: The father-son duo (who also operate the Hyde Park Brewing Company and Steakhouse) opened the Kingston eatery in 2005, and within three years Hudson Valley readers had voted it the region’s best steakhouse. Already legendary for its dramatic views, the restaurant’s dining room showcases downtown Kingston and, emerging in the distance, the Shawangunks and Catskills. The tap room, meanwhile, offers patrons a peek at the family’s beer-making vats, separated from diners by a wall of glass. The owners acquire their stock (all Choice) from Tyson Fresh Meats, a large beef-and-pork provider in the Midwest, for reasons of “quality, consistency, and price,” Joey LoBianco says.
Skytop’s specialty is its grilled hanger steak, a dense portion that packs the firm texture of flank steak into the tubular shape of a filet mignon. Cut from the steer’s diaphragm, hanger steak readily absorbs marinade, which makes it an especially flavorful slice of meat (the chefs regularly wrap it in a puff pastry as a special). “Years ago, it was one of those cuts the butchers would keep for themselves,” LoBianco says. Patrons can combine their steaks with crab cakes or shrimp to create a surf-and-turf entrée; the establishment’s deep-fried Skytop fries, seasoned with garlic and parsley, are the side dish of choice.
Crowd pleaser: The Porterhouse for two, a 32-ounce New York sirloin, and filet mignon.
Special appeal: Breathtaking views and ample opportunity to enjoy homemade brew with your beef.
The bottom line: The hanger steak costs $21.95, while the 18-ounce T-bone goes for $26.95. The menu tops out with the massive porterhouse at $41.95.
Josh Applestone is every bit the old-style butcher his grandfather and great-grandfather were before him. He and his wife, Jessica, run Fleisher’s, the only independent butcher shop in the Valley, selling organic, pasture-raised meat from local farms.
Butcher is an odd profession for a former vegan — even one who worked for years as a chef. The switch came after Josh made what he calls “a mixed marriage” (“Jessica ate meat, and I didn’t”). The couple’s concern about the cruelty of most animal husbandry and a desire for “clean” meat led them to open this delightfully old-fashioned store in June 2004. “It was the only way to deliver a product that’s safe, treated humanely — and very tasty,” says Josh, whose grandfather taught him butchering skills.
These days, Josh picks up whole animals from local slaughterhouses, delivers some to restaurants in New York, and cuts the rest for the shop, which also carries farm-cured bacon, local cheeses, dairy products, and organic dry goods.
“Josh and I eat nose to tail — tongues, everything,” says Jessica. “These animals died for us, so nothing goes to waste.” Scraps become sausages (they make 18 types), bones go into stock, suet becomes soap or bird food.
As with all artisanal products, prices are a little higher — but you also get cooking tips. “Pasture-raised meat has a very beefy, full-bodied flavor, and cooks much more quickly than supermarket meat,” Jessica says. Here’s her suggestion for cooking a Fleisher’s steak (she recommends their aged sirloin):
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat an oven-proof pan on the stovetop until it’s searingly hot (add a little oil, if you wish). Cover the room-temperature steak with coarse salt, and sear each side for one to three minutes, depending on thickness, until there’s a nice, brown crust. Place the pan in the oven for four to six minutes. “I like to put a dollop of butter on top,” says Jessica. “Josh usually puts a dollop of bone marrow reduction, but he’s decadent that way.”
307 Wall St., Kingston
SIRLOIN Cut from muscles in
T-BONE Cut from the center section of the short loin, the T-shaped bone has a strip steak on one side, and a smaller piece of tenderloin on the other, for a combination yielding both deep flavor and extreme tenderness.
RIB EYE (aka Delmonico, cowboy) Plenty of marbling makes this cut especially flavorful and, when properly prepared, gives it a buttery texture. The bone-in variety
TENDERLOIN (aka filet mignon) The tenderest steak of all is cut from the long tenderloin muscle in the short loin (between rib
FLATIRON (aka top blade steak) This well-marbled steak, a new restaurant favorite, is cut from the shoulder and (surprisingly) tests as the second most
STRIP (aka New York strip, Kansas City strip, or shell) A dense grain gives this juicy favorite, cut from the short loin,
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Theoretically, medium-rare provides the best taste and most juiciness, as the heat required for that degree of doneness causes marbled fat to melt into the lean meat to the optimum degree. More cooking, and the meat begins to dry out.
According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the most tender steakhouse cuts, in descending order, are:
Kobe and Kobe-style beef
The Japanese Wagyu breed is the Rolls-Royce of cattle. The marbling of Wagyu steaks, in quantity and quality, yields flavor that is “the concentrated essence of beef”; a forkful will, quite literally, melt in your mouth. While USDA Prime steaks have about eight percent marbling, top-grade Wagyu has nearly 20 percent. This fat dissolves into succulence at about 77 degrees. “Kobe beef” is a registered trademark for Wagyu beef raised in one small corner of Japan. If you want to try the real thing, Costco will sell you an authentic imported 15-pound Kobe rib eye roast for a mere $2,300.
Kobe-style beef raised in America, from Wagyu crossed with Angus, is far more affordable, and most gourmets say the difference is barely perceptible.
When choosing a wine pairing for a steak dinner, most people automatically shift their gaze toward the red side of the wine list. Some varieties of white wines, however, can complement the right cuts of meat just as well.
Fuller-bodied whites are the best choice for beef, since a delicate selection will simply be overpowered by the meat’s strong flavors. Tim Buzinski, co-owner of the Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon, suggests California or Australia Chardonnays, Rhone Valley wines, or Italian whites. “In general, you’re looking for a white with abundant fruit and with ample oak,” Buzinski says. “The fruit will help match the richness of the meat, while the oak often creates tannins that also help to cut the fat.”
The meat’s cut and sauces make all the difference, Buzinski insists. He warns diners who crave white wines with their meals to avoid anything too fatty and rich, such as a rib eye steak. “I would suggest a leaner cut, such as beef tenderloin,” he says. “It’s less fatty, but tender and flavorful.” The rich, hollandaise-like qualities of a béarnaise sauce work best with an oaky Chardonnay, and fuller whites pair well with cream-based sauces like mustard or peppercorn.
Buzinski warns diners against pairing whites with meat reductions, on the other hand. “Rich meat reductions are more difficult for white wines,” he says. “They bring more intensity and power to the dish.” For these, stick with your favorite red-wine selection.
Tenderness, juiciness, and flavor are what we prize in a steak, and getting all three requires juggling the variables. It starts with the beef. The best gets a USDA grade of Prime. Inspectors examine two rib eye steaks from every carcass (cut from between the 12th and 13th rib). If they have abundant marbling, firmness, good texture, and color, they make the grade. Only two percent of beef is designated Prime, and most of that shows up in restaurants. Choice is the second-best grade.
Next comes aging. There are two options, wet-aging and dry-aging, both of which allow natural enzymes in the meat to start a biochemical process that transforms flavor and texture.
Dry-aging was the only option until the 1960s. In this method, sides of beef are hung uncovered at temperatures hovering a few degrees above freezing, in an environment controlled for humidity and air circulation. The process takes between two and five weeks, with flavor becoming more concentrated and tenderness enhanced as time passes. Dry-aging causes the meat to shrink by as much as 30 percent, which inevitably leads to higher prices.
Wet-aging takes place at similar near-freezing temperatures, but the beef is vacuum-packed in Cryovac, so humidity and air flow aren’t a concern. The meat comes out even juicier than it was to start with. As the easier method, wet-aging is now predominant.
Scientific tests conducted by the beef industry suggest that there’s no difference in tenderness between the same cuts of wet- and dry-aged beef held for the same amount of time. Flavor is another story: Chemical analysis shows that different flavor compounds develop in wet- and dry-aged steaks (as well as in different cuts of steak). Which flavor is “best” is a matter of taste. ♦