By Amy Sowder and Diane Weintraub Pohl; featuring photography by Andre Baranowski
A thick, juicy steak has always been synonymous with success and celebration. A steak is not just dinner—it’s a reward. But what makes a steak great? What separates that standard supermarket grayish-pink hunk of shrink-wrapped beef from the sizzling, juicy, mouthwatering marvel at your favorite steakhouse? Despite its ostensible simplicity, a lot of care goes into making delicious cuts of beef. And it all starts on the ranch.
First, we owe that rich, savory flavor to the breeding—and feeding—of the cattle. Were the cattle grass-fed or grain-fed? Their diet will affect the way the steak tastes. For instance, grain-fed beef tends to have a richer, fattier flavor, while grass-fed has a beefier taste. Typically, cattle graze on pasture for the first six months to a year of their lives, and most finish at a feedlot on a concentrated mix of corn, soy, grains, supplements, hormones, and antibiotics—a process that speeds the animal to slaughter weight while enhancing fat marbling. Grass-fed cattle produce beef that, in addition to tasting meatier, usually has less marbling due to higher muscle mass.
And speaking of marbling, its importance cannot be under-
estimated. Those luscious white threads of fat within the steak that melt while cooking keep the meat juicy and tender while infusing it with flavor. In fact, marbling is so important, it’s a key factor that determines the cut of beef’s USDA rating; the more fat within the meat, the richer the taste and the higher the grade. Prime-rated beef accounts for the top 2 to 3 percent of all steaks and is generally available only from the finest purveyors. There’s choice and select as well; check out the various grades in the Steak Eater’s Requisite Terms box on page 143.
We sampled and savored more than 15 pounds of meat to select 11 steaks prepped and cooked by those who know how to do it best. Here is the result of all of our hard work.
Several cultures are known for their steak; there’s Japan’s highly prized Kobe and Scotland’s Aberdeen Angus. Gaucho Grill in White Plains is the place to taste how Argentina does steak.
Gauchos were nomadic horsemen/cowhands of the South American grasslands in the 18th and 19th centuries who subsisted on a diet of mostly meat. Today, the restaurant’s most popular meat is the Argentinian churrasco steak (although more tender, expensive cuts are offered).
But this skirt steak is a classic. The long belt of meat is from the steer’s belly, cut thin with a visible grain. Gaucho Grill’s foot-long, half-inch-thick skirt arrives on a white rectangular plate with the smaller end of the steak tucked under. A little cup of red-flecked, tangy chimichurri accessorizes the skirt, along with a garnish of whipped potatoes and a dramatic wreath of delicate fried onions.
Seared medium-rare, the skirt steak is chewy yet moist inside and slightly crispy on the outside. On the wider, thicker end, the rosy blush spreads, leaking garnet when pressure is applied.
For side dishes, venture toward Gaucho’s quinoa mix for $8 with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and sweet plantains. Experiment with other interesting choices: garlic mojito tostones and fried yuca.
A mixed-berry salad of baby greens, red wine-poached pears, apple slices, mango, Gorgonzola cheese, and blueberry vinaigrette doesn’t fall along traditional Argentinian lines, either. The dining room’s crystal chandeliers, cowhide wall panels, and white leather pin-cushioned booths borrow elegance from the range and the metropolis.
1 N Broadway, White Plains
(914) 437-9966; www.gauchogrillnewyork.com
Come on—it’s a meat parade!
Fourteen meats on sticks weave, swagger, and prance around the tables at Copacabana Churrascaria in Port Chester. The palatable parade tempts diners until they’re so full they must stop the table visits by flipping their cards from green to red.
Five meats are different cuts of steak: tender prime rib with sections cooked medium-rare, medium, and well-done; juicy top sirloin with a nice outer char; long beef rib with a thready texture like slow-cooked roasts; a smoky flank steak; and beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon for an extra flavor punch.
If nothing else, it’s a great steak education.
As a rodizio, Copacabana charges one fixed price for this all-you-can-consume protein fest, which includes an extensive salad bar (there’s even sushi!) and dishes of beans, white rice, fried bananas, and yuca flour, while the fluffy, heady, Brazilian cheese bread balls called pão de queijo are delivered to your table at the start of your meal.
The dining room’s mango-yellow walls contrast with all that sizzling, browned meat and match the bright ties on the servers and cloth napkins at the tables. Start off with a Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail using cachaça, sugar, and lime. A few spoonfuls of passion-fruit mousse ends the parade on a light, sweet note.
29 N Main St, Port Chester
(914) 939-6894; www.copacabanasteak.com
You’ll catch a whiff of the sense of humor wafting through Wolfert’s Roost in Irvington when you scan the menu for meat.
The open kitchen cooks one steak, and one steak only: The Dope ’Effing Steak, a bone-in rib-eye dry-aged (28 days) tomahawk from Pat LaFrieda, one of America’s most celebrated butchers (New York magazine called him “The King of Meat”), operating since 1922. If you like your steak well-done, this isn’t the place for you; they won’t cook this bad boy longer than medium for maximum juiciness.
The creative, casual eatery plays hip-hop, garage rock, and angst-y ballads that mirror the eclectic cohesion of Chefs Eric Korn, Jennie Werts, Willie Korn, and Jorge Ortiz. Because they’re offering only one steak, they went all out. The 38-ounce behemoth is enough to feed two or three people and comes with a choice of two sides, such as sautéed herbed broccolini, which is cooked so perfectly, it loses none of its crunch or emerald color, and roasted carrots and parsnips, gleaming with fresh herbs and basil-infused olive oil.
The tomahawk (so named for its shape) is cut so the entire rib bone is intact, leaving a trimmed “handle.” People have described the bone “as a Wiffle bat; it’s so large,” says Chef/Owner Eric Korn, swinging an imaginary bone in the air.
This two-inch-thick, highly marbled cut is cooked about 23 minutes, including the eight-minute resting time between presentation and cutting. Rosemary sprigs adorn the meat, and rock salt trumpets the steak’s flavor even more than the bulb of garlic roasted for squeezing softened cloves on your slices—beautiful in its simplicity.
100 Main St, Irvington
(914) 231-7576; www.wolfertsroostirvington.com
Mae West’s famous quote, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful,” is just one of the pithy remarks stamped on the brown papered tables soon to be heaped with a variety of steaks and sauces.
In 2006, Jim Stake and Liam Harvey created a boutique steakhouse that’s a little bit city and a little bit country in North Salem’s Croton Falls. Croton Creek Steakhouse & Wine Bar has an inviting atmosphere, somewhat reminiscent of a cozy West Village jazz club, with lots of knotty pine and warmly glowing red votives. In fact, Wednesday through Friday, a jazz pianist might accompany your steak.
Arguably the best steak to order here is the 16-ounce New York strip for $38. While the center-cut 10-ounce filet mignon offers two inches of tenderness for $42, and the surprisingly lean 32-ounce tomahawk rib-eye for $75 (including two sides) is a sight to behold, the strip garners raves for being tender without compromising on bold beefiness.
On the flip side, the 14-ounce skirt steak for $28 is well seared for a nice charcoal crunch and smoky flavor. It comes with a traditional Argentinian chimichurri, a vinegary condiment that can be used as a tenderizing marinade.
“We’re in this weird vortex of low income, middle income, high income,” says Harvey, and, because of that, “we’re into versatility, so there’s something for everybody.”
That’s especially true with the other six steak sauces: creamy Gorgonzola cheese, green peppercorn brandy, shallot red-wine reduction, horseradish cream sauce, herbed truffle butter, and fresh guacamole.
Steakhouse & Wine Bar
4 W Cross St, Croton Falls
(914) 276-0437; www.crotoncreek.com
However many meat eaters are in your dining party, there’s a porterhouse for you at the classic Benjamin Steak House in White Plains. Opened in 2010 by two Peter Luger alums, this 350-seat restaurant is the sibling of midtown Manhattan’s Benjamin Steak House.
The bone-in porterhouse offers a top sirloin on one side and a filet on the other. If you select the porterhouse for two, expect a 32- to 34-ounce steak before it’s cooked. The meat is dry-aged 23 to 28 days in the restaurant’s cold aging box, so enzymes can break down the muscle fibers, creating a natural tenderness. The porterhouse is cooked at 1500 °F degrees for five minutes to medium-rare, which results in crispy edges with a tender interior seeping with juicy flavor.
Family-style sides run the traditional lines of peas; asparagus; potatoes (mashed, fried three ways, baked); and creamless “creamed” spinach (made with butter and chicken stock instead of cream).
This meat comes from Master Purveyors in the Bronx, a butcher specializing in USDA prime beef, supplying the likes of The Four Seasons, Peter Luger, Wolfgang’s, Christos, and 21.
Sporting black bow ties and a sophisticated demeanor, Benjamin servers use spoon-shaped tongs to place the pre-cut slices you select from the sizzling gargantuan steak.
Avoid the Benjamin Steak House bottles of steak sauce on the table, better suited for cold shrimp. The light flurry of kosher salt it receives in the kitchen is enough.
Benjamin Steak House
610 Hartsdale Rd, White Plains
(914) 428-6868; www.benjaminsteakhouse.com
You don’t have to get all gussied up to dine at a great steakhouse. Come as you are and sop up the sauce with a hunk of bread at Solano’s Lincoln Lounge, the circa 1950s family-run eatery with wood-paneled walls covered in fading photos and kitschy memorabilia.
If you’re not a regular or a local, you can thank us for helping you discover a steak so special, it’s not on the menu. Simply ask your server using the not-so-secret code: “special steak.” Shhh.
After a basket of sesame bread and a bowl of black olives and pickled peppers, you’ll munch on romaine salad topped with pepperoni, mozzarella, tomatoes, spicy-sweet pepperoncini, and more olives.
Then, the charred shell steak arrives in a pool of buttery balsamic-herb sauce.
Your steak comes with a choice of potato, pasta, or vegetable, typically broccoli or spinach.
This tender, juicy, one-and-a-half-inch-thick boneless steak sits on a hot plate buffered by a wooden board, and arrives perfectly rosy inside (that is, if you order it medium-rare). The kitchen buys the whole slab of meat and butchers it to order, so size and cut can vary. A few ripples of fat, mostly on the edges, lend their flavor.
Solano’s Lincoln Lounge
209 Stevens Ave, Mount Vernon
The feel of this steakhouse on tony Purchase Street is of a deep-pocketed secret club, a handsome, happening place at which to see and be seen.
Its allure comes in great part from its location in a stately old Rye Trust Bank building; a soaring balcony and wall-spanning reproduction of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks enhancing the granduer. The hush-hush appeal is inherited, if you will; the original Frankie & Johnnie’s on 269 West 45th (there’s a third location at 32 West 37th in a townhouse where actor John Barrymore once lived) started as a 1926 speakeasy, complete with door with narrow slot where whispers of “Frankie” and replies of “Johnnie” led to intoxicating sips of rum and other potent potables.
The other part of Frankie & Johnnie’s allure is from the menu: buttery Dover sole, fresh-as-the-sea raw bar selections, heady desserts like bread pudding and apple strudel, and, of course, dry-aged in-house prime cuts complemented by a 650-label wine list.
Most of the cuts of steak mentioned in this article are from parts of the middle of the steer’s back, which get the least exercise and are therefore the most tender. The F&J sirloin is a terrific exemplar of this: thick, succulent, and full of the intense beefy flavor only dry-aging can bring.
And we’d be remiss not to give kudos to the professional waitstaff that makes the carrying of trays loaded with massive plates up and down stairs look relatively effortless.
Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse
77 Purchase St, Rye
(914) 925-3900; www.frankieandjohnnies.com
If any piece of meat is worth $92, it’s the American Wagyu rib-eye at BLT Steak in White Plains, where Chef de Cuisine Andy Schilling presides. Yes, that’s a high price, but this velvety steak is a special find: the highest grade (A5 BMS 11 Kagoshima) on offer in the US and only available at BLT White Plains and Manhattan. Called the caviar of beef in Japan, Wagyu indicates cattle breeds of a pure, traceable, and direct bloodline.
“The steak is going to be more tender than a regular rib-eye because of the way the cows are treated,” Schilling says. “But the star of the show is the buttery flavor that comes from the rich marbleization—the whole idea behind the Wagyu rib-eye is the rich, creamy, buttery flavor.”
Schilling serves his American version of this delicacy with a whole garlic bulb, crowned with a circular pat of herbed butter. Any other sauce is an insult. Refrain from the sacrilege of slathering this regal piece of meat with any of the eight sauces offered on menu.
There’s a fine-textured mouth-feel to the rib-eye and no wobbly fat in sight, not even blanketing the outer edges. The marbling melts while it’s broiled at 1,700 °F so that meaty juices erupt in your mouth as you chew.
Looking for a delicious steak with less sticker shock? Consider the 28-days-aged, naturally raised Black Angus steaks, such as the New York strip, either bone-in (20 ounces, $57) or without bone (16 ounces, $48). That strip is broiled so well, the fatty end stays buttery after resting on the table for 20 minutes, without congealing.
While you’re waiting for your perfectly prepared steak, bask in the rich, modern ambience—complete with gleaming blond-wood floors and mod but comfy seating—and enjoy the fluffy-inside, crunchy-outside popovers with nutty Gruyère baked in that cloud of dough. And just when you think it can’t get any better, Pastry Chef Jason Sturdevant’s desserts give Chef Schilling’s steaks a run for their money. Opt for melt-in-your-mouth banana and ginger ice cream or pleasantly sweet and smooth huckleberry sorbet.
221 Main St, White Plains
(914) 467-5500; www.bltsteak.com
This grilled beast vanquished Bobby Flay, America’s most celebrated grill master, on Iron Chef: America in 2007. Need we say more? Well, we will anyway.
Sporting a red handkerchief, the 40-ounce rib-eye at X2O Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers lassos some highfalutin treatment after it journeys from the 900-degree broiler to your table for a warm reception of oohs and aahs. The steak then disappears for a private slicing before returning to the table.
It takes two to wrangle this piece of meat amid the high-ceilinged dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Hudson. Created by 31-year-veteran restaurateur and Chef Peter X. Kelly, the rib-eye can also be tackled at Kelly’s Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar in Congers, New York.
Kelly ages his steak 21 days and then marinates it in a brown sugar and cayenne rub for three days. The red pepper’s heat is barely discernible, but the smoky-sweet, crunchy char lends a satisfying contrast with the ruby inside, only broken occasionally by a layer of fat. If this meat isn’t rich and juicy enough for you, a French invasion via gravy boat of creamy, tarragon-flecked Béarnaise sauce awaits for added decadence. Unlike other steak sauces, this one doesn’t detract from the steak’s rich, beefy essence.
Also unlike many other steak entrées, the X2O cowboy rib-eye automatically comes with two traditional sidekicks, served family-style: creamed spinach with nutmeg and luxurious potatoes au gratin covered in bubbly Gruyère.
So, go easy on those introductory mini French baguettes and blue cheese-chive biscuits served with cold, hard pats of butter. A wild ride is coming.
X2O Xaviars on the Hudson
71 Water Grant St, Yonkers
Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar
117 N Rte 303, Congers, NY
Chef Eric Gabrynowicz of Restaurant North in Armonk earned a James Beard nomination for 2015’s Best Chef in the Northeast, his third Beard nomination. That doesn’t automatically mean his steaks are awesome. But, oh, they are.
Restaurant North’s menu is seasonal and farm-based, so expect a different steak each time you visit, even within the specified cut. This is no Outback Steakhouse; this is fine art, and each plate is an original.
We’ve been impressed with Gabrynowicz’s hanger steak with chickpeas and, most recently, his Meiller’s Farm filet from the chemical-free Josef Meiller Farm & Slaughterhouse, founded in 1971 in Pine Plains, New York.
The filet arrives as a fist-sized browned nugget surrounded by a creamy carrot purée and ginger beurre blanc. Roasted, unpeeled, and halved lengthwise, the carrots lean on the filet while a short-rib raviolo spans a third of the plate. The meat is one-and-a-half inches thick with a lightly browned crust and a gleaming, blushing center, tender as a filet should be.
Beyond the plate, you’ll find white walls lined with photography, creating a clean, chic look inside the charm of a converted old house. Male and female servers embody the atmosphere of relaxed sophistication with pale denim collared shirts, black skinny ties, and chinos.
386 Main St, Armonk
(914) 273-8686; www.restaurantnorth.com
A genteel masculinity permeates Flames Bar and Grill in Briarcliff Manor, radiating from the restaurant’s name and its hearty steaks to the glossy black bar and dark, opulent décor with well-spaced winged seating.
In the vestibule, look left for a presentation of hanging, chilled hunks of meat displayed behind glass like a museum exhibit. These USDA prime steaks are dry-aged three to four weeks. The bone-in shell steak, a top sirloin, is marbled so that it melts in your mouth but retains a bit of beefy chew, with excess fat relegated to the edges.
True to convention, the steak is served by itself, pre-cut on an oval plate tilted toward you on an upside-down plate, with sides ordered separately. The server will place a few strips on your plate and spoon on some amber-colored juice. He’ll also fill your plate with sides of classic creamed spinach, as well as home fries, french fries, sautéed onions, or fried onion rings—all ranging between $6.95 and $12.50 each. Using the house steak sauce, a russet-colored horseradish concoction in a silver gravy boat isn’t a horrible idea, but it’s not necessary for steak purists.
Dine under the medieval chandeliers with thick rope and exposed light bulbs, or book a private dinner party in the wine cellar.
Flames Bar & Grill
533 N State Rd, Briarcliff Manor
(914) 923-3100; www.flamesbarandgrill.com