We all love a good experience, we like it when we go somewhere and we are made to feel special. Steakhouses are one those places... the low lights, the wooden chairs, the upscale ambiance, the fancy hostess and sommelier. It can all add up to one of the best dining experiences money can buy.
That said, while I enjoy a good experience, I go to a restaurant for the food... and while the ambiance and décor are certainly important, to me the food is the one thing that actually matters.
So how do you tell if a steakhouse is actually good?
Simple. Look at the menu, usually that is all you need to know.
- Sourcing: The menu should tell where the steak comes from and include its grade. Google is your friend, do not be afraid to pull out your cell phone and check out the program. Many broad-liners (massive commercial suppliers who sell everything from beef to Clorox) have programs that sound as if they come from a very high end farm... but it does not. Even the butcher will mean a lot, some steakhouses have partnered with high end butchers to add credibility to their sourcing. I place a lot of value in this as there are some REALLY good butcher shops and purveyors in America.
- Grade: Beef grading is fairly simple. Particularly for non-wagyu beef. A GOOD steakhouse will mostly carry USDA Prime beef for the middle cuts (Ribeye, New York and Filet). However, a named USDA Choice program can be very good, particularly if cooked well. That said, if you do not see the words PRIME or CHOICE in the menu... run for the doors. Learn about beef grading HERE.
- Beware of Wagyu: Wagyu beef is all the craze right now, but it is also a very easy way for steakhouses to rip you off. Precisely because Wagyu beef is not graded by the USDA. When it comes to Wagyu, sourcing is everything. There is such a thing as low grade wagyu (that will not even grade USDA Choice). For example, the difference in price between a low grade Australian Wagyu steak and a high grade Wagyu steak can be as many as 5 times... and yet they can both be labeled "Wagyu". Learn more about Wagyu beef grades here. Do not be afraid to ask about the source and grade of the beef. The good Wagyu programs are VERY proud and will come up in a quick google search. You can always ask your server to show you the steak before its cooked... this is not a practice I recommend and it can be a bit "tacky" but hey, if you are dropping big money on a steak... its a fair request.
- Pricing: Beef is a commodity, meaning you get what you pay for. There are no "volume discounts" for restaurants. If the prices are too good to be true... they are too good to be true. Good chefs may be able to save some money by portioning their own muscles... but that is about it. As a rule of thumb, the "fancier" the steakhouse and the "better" the location the prices need to be higher. That being said, no tomahawk is worth $500 , and you will not find A5 Japanese beef that is inexpensive... beware of prices that make no sense.
- Stay away from toppings: A good steak will be flavorful and tender on its own. It doesn't need a sauce, a massive shrimp or a lobster on top of it. It does not even need butter. These are all nice to have, on the side... but if a restaurant is pushing toppings I often wonder if they have something to hide.
In a nutshell, a GOOD steakhouse will be proud of their sourcing. They will talk about specific programs and farms, certifications or at least disclose the grade of the steak.
Shameless Plug: Meat N' Bone just launched their own take on a Steakhouse "The Wagyu Bar". It is a casual steakhouse, perhaps the first of its kind. No fancy chairs, no sommelier, no high end atmosphere and it isn't in a prime location. We keep our overheads low so that we can work with high food costs and offer an amazing steak for a fraction of the price other steakhouses would need to charge. No Smoke, No Mirrors, just Meat N' Bone
2257 Coral Way, Miami FL 33145 | www.thewagyubar.com | @thewagyubar