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My fork and knife hover over a slice of double-cut New York strip "Pittsburgh." It's the best thing on the menu at the Strip House, the new downtown steak house that's decorated with naughty pictures.
1200 McKinney St.
Houston, TX 77010
Region: Downtown/ Midtown
Shrimp cocktail: $16
Double-cut New York strip steak: $70
Truffled creamed spinach: $8
Goose-fat potatoes: $8
Baked potato with caviar: $19
Lunch entrées: $14
The double-cut steak is a monstrous 32 ounces, a full two pounds, and that's without a bone. "Pittsburgh" steaks are charred black on the outside and a very red shade of medium-rare on the inside, the waiter informed my dining companion and me when we ordered it to share. Though the outermost quarter-inch of the steak is pure carbon, each chunk still exudes a nice squirt of juice when you press down on it with a fork. And the wet-aged USDA Prime beef is delightfully tender.
But choosing what to eat in between bites gets complicated. If you're used to steak houses that send the meat out on a bare platter, you'll find the Strip House shocking in the opposite extreme. First, there's a whole head of roasted garlic on each of our plates. The top has been hacked off to allow easy access to each creamy segment.
And then there's a spectacular package of cooked leeks, which have been wrapped with bacon and broiled. The oniony leeks and salty bacon are a wonderful complement to the meat. There's also a pile of roasted fennel, celery and carrot strips and a sprig of rosemary on the plate.
As if these accompaniments weren't enough, we've ordered two of the Strip House's phenomenal sides. Black truffle creamed spinach comes in a little copper sauce pot. Although the truffle aroma is faint, it's still some of the best creamed spinach I've ever had.
Our other side order, "crisp goose fat potatoes," looks like a giant tater tot. The inside resembles baked potatoes, but the outside has been cooked in hot goose fat until it develops a light brown and slightly crunchy crust. I've marveled over the rich flavor of potatoes cooked in goose or duck fat many times in the Southwest of France, but I've never seen them in an American steak house before.
A bottle of 1999 Coudoulet de Beaucastel, my favorite Côtes-du-Rhône, makes a magnificent match-up for this collection of big flavors. A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes, the wine is deep-colored, with fruitcake and black cherry aromas. The smoothed-out tannins give it structure, but it's softened enough with age so that there's no unpleasant astringency left.
Actually, Beaucastel is best known for its spectacular Châteauneuf du Pape. But Coudoulet de Beaucastel comes from another vineyard on the wrong side of the A7 highway, just outside the boundaries of the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation. Wine from this vineyard can be marketed only as lowly Côtes-du-Rhône, despite the fact that it drinks better than much more expensive wines from inside the Châteauneuf du Pape borders.
So the ugly duckling Coudoulet de Beaucastel generally sells for around $30 in a liquor store, about half of what you'd pay for its big sister the swan, Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape. All of which means the Strip House's price of $65 for a bottle of the Coudoulet is a great deal on an exceptional bottle of wine.
For dessert, we continue the over-the-top theme with a slice of chocolate layer cake that easily could feed four. We count 12 thin layers of chocolate cake and an equal number of frosting layers in this fabulously moist cake. "We supply Neiman Marcus with it, too," the waiter tells us. "They call it the 24-carat cake." (The whole cake goes for $90 at the department store.) We barely make a dent in our slice. I take it home, and my two housemates and I work on it for a week.
The Strip House is owned by the Glazier Group, and their executive chef, David Walzog, is spending a lot of time here. Walzog has had plenty of practice cooking steaks at other Glazier restaurants, including Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in New York. And he has long been famous for his creamed spinach. John Schenk, formerly of Monkey Bar in New York, is the head chef at the Houston Strip House.
"So, what do you think of the decor?" I ask my dining companion over the cake. We've both been so utterly engrossed with the food and wine that we've barely spoken during dinner. I save about half of my share of the steak to take home in a doggie bag. He couldn't stop himself; he devoured the whole thing. I admire this kind of passion.
Sated now, he exudes the rosy glow of someone who has just polished off plenty of good wine and great steak. He looks at the wall by our table, which is covered with photos of naked breasts, and says, "I like it."
"Steak and titties, what's not to like?" another male dining companion remarks on my second visit. For an appetizer, we get a shrimp cocktail made with honking enormous shrimp over a salad of extremely thin cucumber slices and housemade cocktail sauce. Then we split a medium-rare porterhouse for two, which costs more than the double strip steak yet contains a lot more gristle. For sides, we split a giant salt-crusted baked potato, which is carved tableside and smothered with lumpfish caviar and sour cream.
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