Archive for the ‘Best steakhouses’ Category

Keens is an institution of NYC, a piece of restaurant  history that started in the  19th century (established in 1885). Its dark wood walls are covered with a tasteful  display of  memorabilia (time-honored paintings, photos, cartoons).   This restaurant could be an incredible shooting location for a movie.

 

The avid fan of history that I am  had to find himself in this charming old world  decor, espying what could have possibly been the pipe of Roosevelt over here (thousands  of clay pipes of  patrons who dined at Keens are on display on the steakhouse’s ceiling), climbing the same stairs as Einstein over there.   Nowadays, Keens is one of NYC’s most popular steakhouses, attracting tourists, locals as well as many connoisseurs of North American steaks (as you will see below, their steaks did not « rest on their laurels »). But, with legendary places like this one, I am on my guard, always ensuring that  the lore shall never be part of the lure.

On a previous visit here, over 2 years ago, I did try their fabled slow roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop (aka the ”mutton chop“). It is not mutton, anymore. It  is  lamb  that they do serve nowadays. The lamb is raised in  Colorado,  some of the  most sought after lamb  in the nation. Colorado does offer to its  free-ranging sheep,  vast swathes of vegetation to feed on, thanks to the numerous mountains and hills of the state. The sourcing of this piece of  pasture raised lamb was  of high level , its subtly earthy lamb flavor  (milder than, say the flavour of lamb from New Zeland)  dazzled. Boasting an enticing color, definely tender, this  was as great as your roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop  will be if served to you at a top tier  steakhouse. 9/10

Then last year I dropped by with a long time genuine connoisseur of North American steakhouses and we had the porterhouse.  For anyone truely familiar with beef aging, it was easy to enjoy the great effect of the dry aging (they dry-age and butcher the meat on the premises) process that went into that piece of meat (great concentration of beef flavor). The thing about aging meats is to think about the right effect for the right meat. Oftently, you see people dry aging then wet aging their meat (perfect recipe to cancel the benefit of dry aging that meat …), dry aging meat that has fat that is so delicate that it cannot  ‘age’  well (highly marbled wagyu as in this case at Dons de la Nature, one of Tokyo’s leading steakhouses. It is the sort of fat that is way too delicate to   benefit from dry aging — I will write, later on, a detailed article on what type of fat benefits from the aging process and why), dry aging fishes that have the taste of nothing if you age them (few fishes do benefit from the dry aging process, most do not…most fishes that are aged do simply fit in the ridiculous trend of aging the flesh for the pleasure of following a trend, as stupid as that – ). Not all steakhouses do master the dry aging of meats as  obsessively well as, at, let us say, Le Divil in Perpignan, but the concentration of flavor of that porterhouse steak  at Keens revealed some serious mastery of the dry aging of their meats.   8/10

 

This is my 3rd visit here, and this time I ordered the prime rib of beef  (king’s cut – meaning that it’s bone-in),  the  medium rare doneness that I wanted was precisely achieved,  and it came charred at my request, served with au jus.  The loin end   rarely fails to be flavorful once cooked,  and yet, you realize how, in the USA, they have perfected its cooking  with no shortage of dazzling renditions of the  prime rib such as the ones you can enjoy at  establishments such as the House of Prime RibLawry‘s or   Dickie Brennan‘s  to name a few. But this prime rib at Keens was not out of place in that fierce competition, as here again, you had all the qualities of a stellar piece of North American steak (the quality of the meat really high as you would expect from a North American steakhouse of this reputation, the standing rib roast timely cooked, its delicious fat properly rendered, the seasoning competent, the steak craveable ).   8/10

 

I love Keen but I was NOT  in love with my platter of a dozen of oysters: all had their superb maritime flavour in evidence, true, but some of the oysters were served a bit too cold than expected at a restaurant serving seafood. The shucking could have been better, too.

Our sides of creamed spinach , sautéed mushrooms and cooked broccoli did not tantalize both my girlfriend and myself :  for both of us,  this preparation of their creamed spinach  did not  enhance  the taste of the spinach. And they did add a bit less cream than I would have preferred.  Still, their way of doing it is one legit classic way of cooking the creamed spinach and I am fine with that.  The broccoli,  I need them to retain a vivid fresh appearance  (I am not here to talk about cooking techniques but there’s a technique for that, there is a technique that allows your broccoli  to be nicely cooked while retaining its perfect crunch and vivid looks, a technique that is widely documented. There is no doubt that the kitchen brigade at Keens knows how to do that, but, again, their choice is to remain classic, therefore they did use a more classical approach  and that is to be respected. As for the mushrooms, they  looked and felt as if they were sautéed a bit too long  and served a bit too late,  the taste of the mushrooms not in evidence.

The crab cake of my girlfriend  featured   fresh crab flavour, the seasoning well judged. The crab came from Maryland and it is in season right now, consequently its depth of flavour was remarkable. Of her crab cake, she said that it was about “”the full taste of the crab and not a lot of filler””, which was a good thing.  7/10

Bottom line: This article of the NY Mag had its author arguing that   « The meat isn’t first class anymore, especially by the standards of today » at Keens…another one of the absurd and senseless suggestions of our so-called food journalists. A steak is first class if the quality of the meat is great, the cooking accurate, the flavours on point, the extra steps to elevate the taste of that meat making a difference (for example, my pieces of steak, here, at Keens, did benefit from the nuances that an educated palate would detect as nuances that can only come from a competently dry aged piece of quality meat). And you do all of that better than at most other steakhouses, which is the case of Keens.  You stop being first  class the day your steak costs an arm and a leg only to have the taste and feel of a generic-tasting piece of meat that you  would buy at the supermarket (the case of one so-called legendary steakhouse right here in The old Montreal …). Keens has nothing to do with an outdated steakhouse.  For his  steaks, Keens is still one of NYC’s very best. I was not in love with the sides, but again, this was (more of) a matter of preference (at the exception of the mushrooms) rather than the sides being faulty. They need to control the temperature of those oysters, though. My number 1 North American steakhouse is still Peter Luger (the one in Brooklyn) , but that takes nothing away from the superb steaks of Keens. The service and ambience at Keens are  also  great. One of my preferred chophouses in NYC. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (7/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (8/10 ) –  Keens steakhouse Addr: 72 West 36th St. New York, NY 10018 Phone: 212-947-3636 URL: http://www.keens.com

 

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Le Divil (Addr: 9 rue des Fabriques D en Nabot, 66000, Perpignan, France Phone: +33 4 68 34 57 73)

 

 

According to  the international experts of the steak, the best restaurant of France, for meat, in 2017 is le Divil –  Franck Ribière and  Vérane Frédiani, authors of Steak in France as well as internationally acclaimed  experts of the steak have awarded le Divil with the title of France’s best restaurant, for meats, in 2017. Franck has also a movie  about steaks called Steak Revolution in which he documents his trips  around the world in search of the finest steaks possible.

Aging beef : an art or a just a trend? –  Beef aging is nowadays a trend in the restaurant world, but as it is the case with everything that is lucrative, many are aging their meat but rare are those who are delivering an aged beef that lives up to the hype. That is because it is not …lucrative enough to go through what it takes to get the job done properly: months of trial and error, matching the right technique….to the right cut of meat… at the right storing temperature, etc. It is a complex combination of know-how (that few can have because the most are busy running without taking the time to learn walking…) and genuine passion (the attitude of a true artisan, but that is too old school/too time consuming by the standards of the most, nowadays).

Aging beef is  also another strategy of the restaurant industry to ‘milk the cow’. But when done properly, I will admit that it’s a luxury (because …. obviously … properly aged quality meat will not come cheap) that is worth the hype.  Earlier on, I argued that it is rare to find people, in the food industry, that have the right know-how of aging meat, and that could not have been more accurate: just look at how, most of them, do store their aged meats and the lack of proper know-how is an evidence for those in the know. Another proof of the total lack of proper know-how: have you noticed that most restaurateurs do recommended the same doneness no matter the cut, no matter the marbling…that’s absurd as anyone with proper understanding of the science of meats should know that the doneness needs to be adjusted to, as an example, how marbled or not the meat is. Absurd is actually an understatement: many do mix wet and dry aging to…inevitably…an ordinary effect. Why? Well, again….the basic principles of ‘ science ‘ is misunderstood by most of those people aging meat: when you put something wet on something dry… guess what…the dry effect is cancelled. Aging beef is sublime when it is an art. Sadly, it is oftently  no more than  just a trend in the hands of the most.

What  I ate at Le Divil – I ordered a bone-in ribeye of Baltic Beef (tasting a bit of  nuts, saline), dry aged for 100 days days, from Poland as well as a 70 days dry-aged Montbéliard (France) bone-in ribeye (to the smell, before they cooked it, it had the smell of  dry cured ham) . Both were examples of world class dry-aged pieces of quality red meat.  Just remember that they do not serve them to you as  whole steak the  way that a steakhouse would serve it to you in North America, but as meat that is sliced  in pieces (a bit like how they serve your red meat at a Japanese teppanyaki). With meat of this quality, always opt for the default suggested doneness of the house as they know what they are doing (indeed, the doneness ‘bleu’, which the Chef did strongly suggest, was the best doneness for both dry-aged meats as the texture of the meat as well as its flavour were at their best).

Bottom line: Oftently, in the industry, many mix dry and wet ageing, and you are punished with a meat with no real beefy character. Both the Montbelliard and Baltic beef were dry aged meats (as well as all their aged meats at Le Divil), and it was obvious that the meat was aged in perfect conditions (finding the right temperature, and not just using the defacto recommended ones is key to a beautifully dry aged piece of meat, which is what was achieved here). And I am traditionally fond of red meat grilled on open fire, which is the cooking method they use at Le Divil. But next time I will go there, I will insist to get my 20oz bone in rib eye steak…The Chef finds it (a whole piece of 20oz of bone-in ribeye) too much, for 1 pers, but in North America, we are used to it. When meat is superbly dry aged like these, a chunky 20oz bone-in rib eye is what I am looking for. I will go back. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (N/A), Sides (7/10 ), Service (8/10 )

 

WOLFGANG1***Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (New York)

 

I dropped by Manhattan which is situated couple of hours drive away from Montreal and ate at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Ave which owner (Wolfgang Zwiener) was a waiter at Peter Luger for four decades. If,like me, you are both a huge fan of North American style steakhouses as well as Arts, then this place combines both attractions  under one roof as the artfully decorated ceiling is worthy of attention. On to the point, I could not order their star item, the Porterhouse for two , because my dining companion insisted on ordering her sirloin, which I did not taste, thus cannot opine on, but she certainly was not unhappy about it.

WOLFGANG2I ordered the Bone-in rib eye steak  which, although not the best I had in North America, was at least not far neither from the (rare) better  ones, the 28 days ++  dry aged USDA prime cut packed with enticing robust taste sensation, featuring a well judged char  (charred enoughly long for a proper crusty exterior while leaving the inside perfectly buttery tender and juicy), the steak cooked  to the exact measure of doneness requested (medium rare). I also  had some excellent blue point oysters from Long Island, big, plump and tasting marvellously of the sea. The sides are also well prepared here: broccoli was timely sauteed with chips of garlic, the french fries packed with fresh  potato flavor and boasting attractive texture, with only the mushrooms failing to be enjoyable because they were  way too salty.  My verdict (Benchmark>Great>Good>Above average>Average):  NY is a mecca for good steakhouses, so the fierce competition is obviously forcing  the chophouses to step up their game  and the diners to be particularly picky. But at the end of the day, at such  level of perfecting the steak, it boils down to personal tastes:  I like and I am perfectly able to appreciate the nuances of the “feel” of dry aged over wet aged meat, and this rib eye  steak met my expectations. I tend to perceive meat that is dry aged in between 35 to 40 days  to provide the mouthfeel I want, and the taste of that steak  had an effect on the palate that got  close to what I wanted  (perhaps short of  3,4 extra days of dry aging, for my taste, but I am nitpicking here).  There are perhaps two or three  exceptional North American artisan butchers as well as steakhouses that  did surprise me with rib  steaks that were a  tad superior to this one I was having at Wolfgang Steakhouse, but  WS  is a genuinely great North American chophouse.  That said, it is pricey and at those prices, I wished the service could be more consistent: it was not bad, actually really great in the beginning (not overbearing, very courteous) , but as soon as it got busy,  both my dining companion and myself  virtually stopped existing (our  glasses of water were  left empty for 45 mins…I can understand that you want us to  enjoy our meal and not be bothered by the  constant presence of the wait staff…but 45 minutes and not realizing that the glasses of water are empty…well, I can see no excuse for that) – Steaks (8/10), Appetizers (8/10), Sides (8/10 ), Service (5/10 ) – Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue , Addr: 4 Park Ave, New York, NY 10016,  Phone:+1 212-889-3369

***Joel Robuchon, unleashes a restaurant in Montreal – In 1989, Gault Millau, once a major competitor of  the Michelin guide,  did not hesitate to name Joel Robuchon their “Chef of the century”. Since then, the legendary Chef has opened plenty of michelin starred restaurants around the globe and this year, Chef Robuchon will add Montreal to  “his map” as it was first  announced by the Journal de Montreal in April 2015 (the article can be found here). The restaurant will be located in the  Montreal casino . It will be an “Atelier Robuchon” (Think  of  gourmet French/Cosmopolitan food  served to you in a  tapas-bar inspired  contemporary chic dining room, in  black and red tones,   where you can sit at a square counter and  interact with the kitchen brigade. In general, at an Atelier Robuchon, you have table seating too )  and  it is expected to open this fall.  For those familiar with the reality  of the local  restaurant  scene, the idea of opening  an “Atelier” Robuchon instead of  a  formal Robuchon fine dining venture is certainly a no-brainer. But time has come for much  more than just “ideas that make sense”  as this is  the 3rd attempt of a  Michelin starred Chef in Montreal after Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud (Gordon’s adventure lasting not long and Daniel, which currently opened downtown restaurant, although  fine and popular,  never managed to overwhelm its local competition).  Atelier de Joel Robuchon,  Addr: 1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal

WOLFGANG1***Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (New York) –  I dropped by Manhattan which is situated couple of hours drive away from Montreal and ate at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Ave which owner (Wolfgang Zwiener) was a waiter at Peter Luger for four decades. If,like me, you are both a huge fan of North American style steakhouses as well as Arts, then this place combines both attractions  under one roof as the artfully decorated ceiling is worthy of attention. On to the point, I could not order their star item, the Porterhouse for two , because my dining companion insisted on ordering her sirloin, which I did not taste, thus cannot opine on, but she certainly was not unhappy about it.

WOLFGANG2I ordered the Bone-in rib eye steak  which, although not the best I had in North America, was at least not far neither from the (rare) better  ones, the 28 days ++  dry aged USDA prime cut packed with enticing robust taste sensation, featuring a well judged char  (charred enoughly long for a proper crusty exterior while leaving the inside perfectly buttery tender and juicy), the steak cooked  to the exact measure of doneness requested (medium rare). I also  had some excellent blue point oysters from Long Island, big, plump and tasting marvellously of the sea. The sides are also well prepared here: broccoli was timely sauteed with chips of garlic, the french fries packed with fresh  potato flavor and boasting attractive texture, with only the mushrooms failing to be enjoyable because they were  way too salty.  My verdict (Benchmark>Great>Good>Above average>Average): Great (8/10 Categ: World Class North American Steakhouse) NY is a mecca for good steakhouses, so the fierce competition is obviously forcing  the chophouses to step up their game  and the diners to be particularly picky. But at the end of the day, at such  level of perfecting the steak, it boils down to personal tastes:  I like and I am perfectly able to appreciate the nuances of the “feel” of dry aged over wet aged meat, and this rib eye  steak met my expectations. I tend to perceive meat that is dry aged in between 35 to 40 days  to provide the mouthfeel I want, and the taste of that steak  had an effect on the palate that got  close to what I wanted  (perhaps short of  3,4 extra days of dry aging, for my taste, but I am nitpicking here).  There are perhaps two or three  exceptional North American artisan butchers as well as steakhouses that  did surprise me with rib  steaks that were a  tad superior to this one I was having at Wolfgang Steakhouse, but  WS  is a genuinely great North American chophouse.  That said, it is pricey and at those prices, I wished the service could be more consistent: it was not bad, actually really great in the beginning (not overbearing, very courteous) , but as soon as it got busy,  both my dining companion and myself  virtually stopped existing (our  glasses of water were  left empty for 45 mins…I can understand that you want us to  enjoy our meal and not be bothered by the  constant presence of the wait staff…but 45 minutes and not realizing that the glasses of water are empty…well, I can see no excuse for that) – Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue , Addr: 4 Park Ave, New York, NY 10016,  Phone:+1 212-889-3369

01***The best Hakata style Tonkontsu  ramen in Montreal is at Yokato Yokabai – Usually  I am not a big fan  of Hakata style Tonkontsu  ramen (just google it if you want to learn about the different types of ramen)  which is what they do offer at Yokato Yokabai, but this bowl I was having was the  Hakata style ramen by which I will judge all other Hakata style ramen in Montreal. Fautless texture, great depth of flavor, and well conceived toppings.  My verdict (Benchmark>Great>Good>Above average>Average): Benchmark (10/10) Hakata style Tonkontsu  ramen by Montreal standards, but even in Tokyo (yeah, I know, Hakata style ramen is not from Tokyo, still …Tokyo is a major world foodie hub offering  ramens from all parts of Japan) it would   be considered as a good bowl (though, …. a bit too small in terms of the portion – that is actually my only quip about that bowl). I just hope they do not change their current recipe as oftently seen at other ramenyas which started on the right foot (genuine bold flavors,  broth with depth) but turned into average ramenyas after trying too hard to please local palates (with lightly flavored broths).   Yokato Yokabai Addr: 4185 Drolet, Montréal  Phone: 514- 282-9991 UPDATE April 4th 2016: I went back (my review here). The ramen was not as dazzling as on that initial visit, but make no mistake, it remains one of the very best ramen in town.

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Event: Dinner at Peter Luger
Addr: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211-6131
Phone: (718) 387-7400
Type of cuisine: American Steakhouse
Time/Date: Saturday Febr 23rd 2014, 18:00
URL: http://www.peterluger.com
Michelin star: 1

***NOTE – This meal at Peter Luger is listed on the left side of this blog among the other reviewed Michelin starred meals, since it is a Michelin starred restaurant at the moment of writing/posting this review. It goes without saying that the score that I did assign to it IS NOT to be compared with the score of the reviewed meals that  you’ll find there (PL is not a fine dining destination). That score reflects my appreciation of  PL  as a steakhouse delivering a North American Porterhouse steak of  world class standard, nothing  more, nothing less.  And in case you are the kind to believe that it is crazy to praise a place that  specialises in just one sort of  steak, then you are running straight into an instance where we’ll have to agree to ….disagree: for me, if  one thing is done better than anywhere else  (the North American Porterhouse cut of PL, in this case), then it deserves to be considered as highly as you’ll consider any other favourite food destination. Japanese people have got this since a long time (a specialist of pork cutlet, specialist of tempura, etc) and I’d rather admire a ‘specialist’ that does its craft beautifully rather than  … ‘a jack of all trades” playing it safely.

***Sorry, no pics – Just wanted to eat quietly with no hassle / distraction of photo nor note taking. After all, it’s a steakhouse, so the 1000th picture of their steaks or 3000th picture of their side of spinach won’t make those items look nor taste any better ;p

 

NY is not far from Montreal, so I recently spent a weekend in  NY to  see if  Peter Luger is still doing great especially after reports from some food journalists about PL losing a bit of its past glory (my 3rd visit here in 6 yrs).

Picked:
-The Porterhouse steak: The succulent beef flavor that shone through is a reminder that Peter Luger has mastered, for so long, the art of delivering the perfect North American porterhouse steak: this is one of the few great American steakhouses which dry aging technique of the meat is rarely paralleled. But there’s much more, of course: the right grade and the right cooking degree for the right cut. It’s a breeze to appreciate that they are genuinely obsessive about where that beef grew up, how well did it live, what was it fed with, how great and knowledgeable was the butcher behind that cut, how properly aged and hanged was the cut, etc. One of the few benchmark aged USDA prime Porterhouse (some complain about the sauce that’s underneath the steak…well, this adds to the character of that Porterhouse. If you can’t take it, simply ask them to serve it aside). 9/10
-Their legendary creamed spinach: deliciously rich as usual, though hardly something that anyone behind a kitchen should miss. Still, they do it well, it tastes good and it’s a perfect logical match to that Porterhouse steak 7/10
-Their old fashioned sauce: not too sure how that fares with their patrons, but their old fashioned sauce is not to my taste (I do not find that it pairs well with meat). Of course, a question of personal preference (anyways, the only time I am fine with sauce over my steak is when I eat it French-style as with steak au poivre) , especially since the sauce that’s underneath that Porterhouse largely suffices for me. I won’t score that sauce since this boils down to a matter of personal taste only (I am just not used to pair my steak with the flavor profile of this kind of sauce – a mix of sweet and savoury flavors which, for my palate, had following dominating aromas: horseradish/ tamarind/vinegar/molasse. There are, of course, more ingredients to the recipe, but those were the ones that my palate has primarily detected). I did replicate that sauce at home and after several tries, it now tastes almost like theirs, so that my palate gets used to it.  Yep, that is how food works lol: you do not like it, do not  ive up on it, just accompany your palate in gradually appreciating it and there will be more power to you ;p
-The fabled side of beacon, which I finally got to try this time (kept skipping that one on the past 2 visits): Decent thick slabs of porky meatyness, but beacon abound in North America, its preparation varying widely in quality and depth of deliciousness from one place to another, so it is hard for me to get excited over  their beacon. Certainly not bad, but there are definitely better beacon to be enjoyed across North America 6/10
-The dessert list here features typical classic American steakhouse dessert items (Ice cream, pecan pie, cheese cake, etc). This time, I tried  their Cheese cake (7/10) which was as classically well executed as it gets (as expected, New York style cheesecake that was and as I wrote, in its classic version), the schlag that I also tried being just Ok.

PL is what it is, not what you want it to be, which is exactly how things should work: it has its charms (the classic setting), its relative weaknesses (obviously, not a modern trendy fancy steakhouse so  if that’s what you are looking for, you’ve knocked at the wrong door + it’s not cheap) , its own character (old world charm). You learn to know what they are, if that pleases you, you go, if that does not fit, then you look elsewhere. I am delighted  to observe that  PL  remains as it is, which means at it has always been, regardless of the pressure that new trends put on our perceptions/appreciations: a classic house with personality.
I have read online arguments about PL being a tourist trap to some (100% pure BS! IMHO) , that they have suffered at some point from a shortage of Porterhouse, that they once had a matriarch who was second to none when it comes to selecting the finest meat and that perhaps her successors are not as diligent as she used to, but I have also spent 15 years in North America, enough time to familiarize myself  with most major NYC’s and USA’s steakhouses and came to the conclusion that if PL is a tourist trap, then the definition of tourist trap has evolved into a compliment. There’s no way a serious steak connoisseur  would confuse PL with a tourist trap. Has PL delivered the perfect Porterhouse steak on each of my 3 visits (I took the Porterhouse everytime I went there)? The answer is NO. On one particular visit, I could easily name  plenty of American steakhouses which Porterhouse was superior. But it’s naïve to attempt to convince oneself  about the definitive appreciation  to have of a  restaurant based on just one meal. You can judge the meal, which I do too and that is  fine, but not a restaurant. Which leads me to where I am getting at: on the two other visits, their Porterhouse outshone their major competitors by leaps with effective superior aging technique and far better sourcing of the meat. Are there steakhouses in NYC where I had more fun? Of course Yes. Are there better cost performance steakhouses?  Absolutely.  But again, ambience and better value have nothing to do with why I like Peter Luger: the quality of its Porterhouse!   I was impressed to see that PL continues to deliver some of this globe’s finest American Porterhouse steaks. The Porterhouse steak, their star item, remaining as glorious as ever.

Portehouse steak  (9/10), Appetizers (6/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (7/10 )

Recommended: This  great article on America’s current finest steakhouses