By Brooke Viggiano
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There are two things I loved about the humongous porterhouse steak I ate on my first visit to Bob's Steak & Chop House. Number one, the 28-ounce wet-aged USDA prime porterhouse is one of the thickest steaks in town. The reason that a thick bone-in steak tastes so good is the variety of textures it gives you. I ordered the porterhouse medium-rare, but that's really just an overall average. In fact, the outer edges were well done and black with tasty char, while the meat next to the bone was bright red and gushingly juicy. It was like getting a little bit of rare, lots of medium rare and a little bit of well-done meat, all on the same steak.
But the second, and maybe more compelling, reason to order Bob's big porterhouse is that at $55, it's a hell of a bargain if you split it with somebody. Luckily, the attractive young woman in the sexy dress who sat across from me in the mahogany booth was willing.
We started our meal with a pair of martinis. The house gin at Bob's is Beefeater (appropriate, right?), so I got a Beefeater martini, while she got a Grey Goose martini. We slurped on the cocktails and munched on some of the free kosher-style pickles and pickled red peppers that sit in a jar on every table.
1801 Post Oak Blvd.
Houston, TX 77056-3803
28 oz. porterhouse: $54.95
12 oz. filet mignon: $41.95
22 oz. bone-in rib eye: $42.95
Beefeater martini: $10
The wine-by-the-glass list is made up of solid standards. I got an inky Argentine Malbec with tannin to spare, and she got an easy-drinking, fruity Santa Barbara Pinot.
The porterhouse we got looked to be somewhere around an inch-and-a-half thick. It came to the table already carved. Half of the butter-tender filet and half of the crusty black strip were put on each of our plates. I took the bone, too, to satisfy my need to gnaw.
Bob's isn't shy about seasonings. The exterior of the steak had a heavy salt-and-pepper coating. On a skinny steak, it might have been too much, but the thickness of the porterhouse kept the salt level from getting overwhelming.
Each steak at Bob's comes with your choice of potato dishes and an oversize glazed carrot. The only downside to splitting the porterhouse is that you have to split the potatoes and the carrot, too. But nobody actually finishes the bratwurst-size carrot at Bob's anyway. And one order of skillet-fried potatoes with sautéed onions and peppercorn gravy turned out to be plenty for the two of us. There was more than enough steak as well. I took some home in a doggie bag. (Along with the bone, which I really did give to my dog.)
One day I looked in my mailbox and found a padded brown-paper envelope with a press release and a black granite tile with the word "tony's" on it.
The letter explained that Bob's, which is located in the former Tony's location on Post Oak, preserved a bunch of tiles from the old lobby. The press release canonized the old Tony's tiles as holy relics of Houston's culinary past. And in a clever publicity stunt, the tiles were given away at Bob's grand opening to anybody who made a $100 donation to the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.
So the tile I got was technically worth $100. Which means if I kept it, I was accepting a gift from Bob's. In the world of restaurant criticism, that's what's known as a bribe. So I have donated the holy icon of Houston restaurant history to you, the readers of the Houston Press. (Watch the HouStoned blog for more information.)
Truth be told, I never thought much of Tony's anyway. What I remember about the place is being greeted by the overly effusive Jon Paul, walking into a dining room with bad furniture, gaudy artwork and Versace chargers on the tables, and feeling contemptuous about their elitist practice of saving the best tables for "the best people."
Walking into Bob's for the first time, I couldn't even picture the old Tony's. With its dark wood paneling and huge mahogany booths, Bob's looks like an old-fashioned men's club. The artwork consists of archival black-and-white photos of great golfers. There were guys in starched shirts and ties at the tables, there were guys in shorts and sandals at the bar, and there wasn't any obvious snobbery going on. It looked like my kind of place.
Which is sort of what I expected, since the original Bob's in Dallas has long been my favorite steak house in the Big D. The bar there always seems to be crowded with flirty blonds and guys in cowboy boots who laugh real loud. The contrast between the staid dark wood interior and the outrageous atmosphere is disarmingly amusing. You can't help but have a good time.
One my first visit, the new Bob's in Houston was every bit as fun as the one in Dallas. Women in designer dresses and guys in silk shirts stood three deep at the bar, and everybody was smiling.
The difference between the atmosphere at Bob's and other Houston steak houses came to mind the other day while I was watching a golf tournament on television. A commercial for Smith & Wollensky kept repeating during the telecast. There was some church music playing over a video of the restaurant interior with lots of waiters and steaks. The tagline was, "If steak is a religion, then this is its cathedral Smith & Wollensky." I guess eating a steak in church is a fair characterization of that self-important dining establishment.
Then I thought of the thick porterhouse, the Beefeater martini and the good-looking women at Bob's bar. And I began trying to write a commercial in my head. How about, "If steak is an exotic dancer, then this is her topless bar Bob's." Too sleazy?
Okay, then why don't you submit your own slogans? We can send them all to Bob's in a padded brown-paper envelope.
On my second visit to Bob's, my anonymity was compromised when I ran into the restaurant's publicist, Dick Dace, who I recently met at a food writers' conference. If he tried to influence the service I got, he did a bad job of it. They forgot to put our jar of pickles on the table. And my steak fell short of my admittedly high expectations.
All of the USDA prime steaks at Bob's are wet-aged. I got the "Cote de Boeuf," which is what they call their 22-ounce bone-in ribeye. It cost $42. The meat was tough and chewy, and the flavor was bloodier and more metallic than either side of the porterhouse had been. The coating of seasonings tasted much saltier, too. The excellent "smashed" potatoes tasted like mashed potatoes made out of baked potatoes.
My friend John Bebout got the 12-ounce filet mignon, which was as tall as it was wide. It looked like a baseball made out of steak. Bebout loved it. I found it very juicy, but tender to the point of mushiness. I hate to sound obsessed with the porterhouse, but it was a better steak for half the price.
Bebout had the waiter load his smallish baked potato with sour cream, bacon and green onions. Then he added a big hunk of butter for good measure and mixed it all up. It's been a long time since I tasted such an overdressed baked potato. It tasted more like bacon and dairy products than potato, which is not all bad.
Bebout got a glass of the old stand-by, Mondavi Cabernet. It was elegant and reserved, with a velvety texture and a cigar box aroma of cedar and tobacco, a wonderful wine with a prime piece of meat. I got an Acacia Pinot noir, which had a light cherry note to the aroma and flavor and a beautiful balance of acidity and fruit. It was quite restrained compared to the slutty new Southern California Pinots with their low acids, high sugar and jam jar fruitiness.
During the course of our dinner, a young man in a velour top, shorts and sandals wandered by several times. Bebout pointed his sloppy clothing out as a symptom of the decline of our civilization. Maybe he was just jealous. I know I was. Bebout was stylishly dressed in a tuxedo jacket and a white shirt, while I was wearing my favorite tie and a black blazer. But I would have been a lot more comfortable in shorts and flip-flops.
I said I thought that rappers were changing fashion. Sometimes the guy in the T-shirt and shorts is the richest guy in the restaurant. So the next time the kid walked by our table, Bebout asked him if he was a rich rapper.
The kid said yes he was, and that he had just flown in from California and was partying in the back room. There were plenty of women and champagne back there, he said, and we should come and join his private party when we were done with dinner.
"What's your name?" Bebout asked him.
"Paul Wall," he answered. Then he left to go smoke a cigar.
I can't say that I'm a Paul Wall fan, but I did sit in the same row with him at an Astros game once. And after a dozen people climbed over me to get his autograph, I asked somebody who he was. So I know what Paul Wall looks like. This wasn't Paul Wall, it was a slightly drunk kid who was returning our goofy questions with his own line of richly imagined bullshit.
Even if our steaks weren't perfect, we had a hell of a good time. After we paid the check, Bebout said we should go see what was really going on in the private dining room. It wasn't quite the champagne fest Paul Wall had promised us.
"It's a private party for Washington Mutual," a Bob's employee told us. We opened the door, walked in and Bebout pointed to our new friend.
"Is that Paul Wall?" he asked a guy at the table by the door.
"No, that's Maurice," the guy responded. "Has he been causing you any problems?"
"Not at all," Bebout said. When Maurice turned around to see what the commotion was about, Bebout yelled. "Hey Paul, we didn't see any champagne, so we told the waiter to put a bottle of Dom P. on your tab; hope you don't mind."
Everybody at Washington Mutual's private party turned and stared at Maurice. And we laughed all the way to the door.
It was just another night at Bob's.