Steak Houses

Porterhouse. Rib Eye. Filet Mignon. Are you hungry yet? From city-style hot spots to down-home dining rooms, here are eleven of the Valley’s best places to find the beef



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("Know Your Cuts": illustration of a bull)

 

Sirloin cutSIRLOIN Cut from muscles in
the hip section, the sirloin
tends to be cheaper than the rib
eye or the T-bone, making it an excellent value. But beware: while some of the sirloin muscles can be cut into
flavorful and tender steaks, others are best suited for hamburger or stews

T-Bone cut 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.
A porterhouse is basically a supersized version of the
T-bone

 Rib Eye cutRIB 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
has a slight edge on juicy richness

Tenderloin cut TENDERLOIN (aka filet mignon) The tenderest steak of all is cut from the long tenderloin muscle in the short loin (between rib
and sirloin). Those who like
their meat to “cut like butter” don’t mind the trade-off of
milder flavor

 Flatiron cutFLATIRON (aka top blade steak) This well-marbled steak, a new restaurant favorite, is cut from the shoulder and (surprisingly) tests as the second most
tender

Strip cut STRIP (aka New York strip, Kansas City strip, or shell) A dense grain gives this juicy favorite, cut from the short loin,
a slightly chewier texture than
rib eye

Total U.S. beef consumption:

2003:
27.0 billion pounds
2004:
27.8 billion pounds
2005:
27.8 billion pounds
2006:
28.0 billion pounds
2007:
28.1 billion pounds
 

How would you like that cooked?

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.
 

Tenderness Ranking

According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the most tender steakhouse cuts, in descending order, are:

  • Tenderloin

  • Flatiron

  • Loin, strip loin
    (NY strip, Kansas City steak)

  • T-bone and porterhouse

  • Beef rib (bone in)

  • Beef rib eye

     

 

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.
 

A glass of white wine

White Fright No More

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.
 

Aging Gracefully

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.

A cut of beef

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. ♦

 

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