The Mystery of Steak (and Restaurants)

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I freely admit that I know nothing about the food industry, except that I'm well-fed..   Still, I've sometimes considered that my third (or fourth) career might be a restaurant.   I'd probably just work the bar of the restaurant, serving drinks and listening to the patrons.    Seems like a great place to take the pulse of a situation.   As managers walk around and ask "how was everything", most polite people feel inclined to not answer with constructive criticism.     The often-less polite lubricated souls at the bar are more likely to tell a resaurant prioprietor that their steak tastes like an old shoe or their tea jug is turning sour.  

(Well, they probably wouldn't be drinking Tea but you catch my drift)

It is surprising to me, though just how often steaks at restaurants are a disappointment.  Even from the high dollar steakhouses.  Some are decent but most will agree, the real steaks, the good ones -- are being made at home on the grill.   In fact, I'd venture to guess that most people feel that way.  The steaks that their spouse make are better than anything they could get at the store or even some friend's house.   

When I first visited my grandpa in Indiana after having moved off on my own, I remember one day he offered to cook us a steak.    My wife had already impressed upon me that my way of making steaks was the uber-best-est of all and I was anxious to impress upon this father-figure from my life with my newfound culinary mastery of the art of steak.     So, I was somewhat amazed to watch him throw a frozen-solid steak onto a grill with little preparation, no marinate and very little seasoning at all.

The result was a pretty awesome steak. But, I still thought my way was better.  Since those early years in marriage we've had multiple groups of friends over for steak and more than you'd think go to the trouble to bring their own meat, marinated or seasoned in their own way with their own toppings.   Some, because they may feel bad about you "buying them a steak" and others because they want the control.   Because, in a BYOS (bring your own steak) situation this is what you do.  You can't leave such an important thing to chance!   Will they season it correctly at Bill's house?  What about the fire, will it be wood or charcoal or gas?  Toppings?  Will they have mushrooms and onions or fried potatoes or what??   


…and that's just it.   When it comes to a steak, the preparation is such a subjective thing that everyone feels they have it figured out.   and everyone does have it figured out.. the steak THEY like.

… Try it..  Mention to a coworker about an amazing steak recipe you have and watch them shut you down, then fire back with their own preparation method.  I'm serious!  It's a thing..

Some like them marinated, some like them rubbed, sometimes both.     On a grill, in a pan, blackened or rare, topped or un-topped, I'm telling you -- everyone is a steak expert.  

A Steaxpert?  ummm.. anyway..

So, restaurants continue on with their uninspired, boring, middle-of-the-road Goldilocks steaks.   Not over seasoned, not under seasoned… just something safe, for the masses.  

and that's why you prefer steaks at home.

Some restaurant owners are more about the gimmick than the food.   Tilman Fertitta of Landry's comes to mind.   You get some very ruby-tuesdays, almost-frozen-food college-grade food with decent service but a neat atmosphere. Mr. Fertitta has been quoted as saying, paraphrased, "it isn't about the food…"    

He's right.   You put an animatronic dinosaur near the table, it isn't about the food at all.   It's about the environment.   Will we go back to a Rainforest or T-Rex Cafe on our next trip to Disney?  You bet!  Do I remember anything from the menu?  Only that the steak was like what you would expect from a Waffle House.    

But, hey, Tilman's a billionaire so he's got to be onto something, right?

Enter my idea for a restaurant.  Here it is, public domain, do what you will with it, just call me on opening night so I can come check it out.

Let me paint a scenario for you.  A single guy, second or third date with this lady and they have tons in common.   They've hit it off.  He's a pretty good cook and he'd like to prove it.  But, inviting to the house has all of those awkward coming-on-to-strong overtones, right?

So, you make your reservation at Restaurant and build your steak, online.  Pick some meat, pick some marinate or seasoning, pick the cooking method, optional toppings, sides, a nice bottle of wine and save it as a custom menu item for your reservation.     Now, as you are at the restaurant and you want to impress upon her that your steak is the most amazing thing since cows were invented - the restaurant's table has a multiple-touch menu that is built into the table (in an elegant way).   Your steak is on her list of options.  She doesn't have to order it but there it is, just for her.. Proof you know how make a steak, if she so chooses to choose it.  Plus, maybe she'll surprise him with her own style of cooking :)     

I like the multi touch desktop as a restaurant gimmick b/c it solves a problem for me.   I get to order exactly what I want, from a machine.   It isn't me, being too picky as I communicate with a server.   My drink's empty?  I click an icon, while our conversation continues.   No need to "flag down the waitress", which always seems awkward.

I could carry this on to many other scenarios but I'll leave you with mine from this evening.  I'd been working in the yard, I was tired, really wanted a steak since I'd burned a billion calories putting out rock and mulch.   if I could have bought "my steak" somewhere, already cooked… You bet your ass I would have.

Instead, I cooked the one pictured here :)

I'll leave you with some steak and steak-prep "recipes" I like.   Feel free to add your own in comments!  

When you want a marinated Pretty Dang Good Ribeye

Marinate your favorite cut of meat (for this one, usually ribeye) in a mixture of Dales  or Moores Marinade, a Splash of Brandy and equal portion of whatever wine or beer you plan to have with the meal.  Because you are diluting the Dales/ Moores it won't be so salty but it will need longer than 30 mins in most cases to marinade.   Watch it, pull from them marinade based on color.  Darker == More Marinate Flavor.

Pull the steaks and let them rest, poor the marinate in a pot.   Add a stick of butter and another portion of beer or wine, as needed to cover 1 or 2 sweet onions and a package of baby bella mushrooms.   Bring it to a boil, as the onions start to brown from the marinate mixture (as they get soft) dump the marinate and finish "grilling" the mushrooms and onions in the bottom of the pot minus the marinade.

Dad's Fried Potatoes:

Cut up some red potatoes, skin on, into small cubes,   Add 1-2 sweet onions cut similarly and fry with some olive oil and a few pads of butter, adding Mckormic italian Blend Seasoning and Lawry's Garlic Salt.  

Grill the steak (I prefer a ceramic grill) to your choice temperature and enjoy :)

(Fair warning: your kitchen will smell like onion, garlic and button for about 24 hours.  It is nice at first but gets old a few hours after the meal)

For the steak pictured here, I didn't want or have time for marinading so I went a different route.

Your local butcher sells a crust called Char-Crust.    Toss around a Filet or NY Strip until the crust is completely covered.   Sometimes it is good to coat the steak in Olive Oil First, then toss it around to completely cover it.  Just know the olive oil will make the steak cook faster.  

Get a cast iron skillet that will only be used for this.. (b/c of seasoning) and put it, coated in olive oil, in the stove and preheat it all at 500 degrees.   When the stove gets to temperature, toss on your crusted steak with a mixture of olive oil, butter, a splash of wine and brandy.   Flip it halfway (top if you like that sort of thing) and finish cooking.

In a pinch, it'll do nicely, especially if you were a photographer / programmer / tired-from-yard-work looking for material for a blog post whilst yielding a killer appetite..:)