Whether it’s for a casual family dinner or a special occasion, steak is always a popular choice when dining out. At upscale steakhouses, prices can range from $40 to $60 for the steak alone. Shareable sides are typically an additional cost and specialty beef such as Wagyu and Akaushi will cost you even more. The Houston Press ventured to The Woodlands to discuss how to seek out the best steak experience with Robard’s Steakhouse executive chef Sammy Holmes and general manager Chris Perry.
The first decision to make is what kind of experience you want from a steakhouse. A night out for steak can lead you to a casual family restaurant like Taste of Texas, a laid-back sports bar like Hay Merchant, or an elegant setting like Steak 48. Perry explains there is a difference between “going out to dinner and having a dining experience.” For example, at Robard’s, diners unfamiliar with steak can get what Perry calls the “meat show” and have a tray of cuts brought to the table and explained to them. Guests can even pick out their particular steak as well as choose their own specialty steak knife. A quality steakhouse experience takes time, so plan to stay a few hours and enjoy it.
What makes steak so expensive? It’s all about the beef. Where it comes from, how it’s raised and how it’s graded all play a factor in the price. Most high-end steakhouses only serve prime beef and typically get their beef from various sources. Vic & Anthony's, Morton's Grille and One Fifth all serve Black Angus steaks from 44 Farms in Cameron, Texas. Robard’s not only serves Prime, but all its beef is from a single source – Creekstone Farms in Kansas. Each section of beef is tagged and can be traced back to the steer from which it came.
B&B Butchers is one of only nine restaurants in the United States to serve A5 certified Kobe beef from 100% Tajima cattle in Japan. This rare and exclusive beef will cost you $220 for a four-ounce serving. Not quite as costly is the Texas Wagyu from Gearhart Ranch.
Wet-Aged vs. Dry-Aged
Fresh-cut beef is generally pretty tough, but over time the connective tissues break down and it begins to tenderize itself. The majority of steakhouses in Houston wet-age their steaks, but several do a combination of wet- and dry-aging. Steaks that are wet-aged are vacuum-sealed in plastic for at least a week. The meat sits in its own juices during this time while it tenderizes.
Dry-aging takes time and is an expensive process. The beef is either hung or placed on shelves in a cold room with low humidity. Over time the meat loses moisture and weight, which helps intensify its beefy flavor. Restaurants can choose to do their aging on or off-site. Robard’s has its own aging room and its beef is specifically aged for 34 days. B&B Butchers has a carefully curated meat cellar with one wall entirely covered with imported pink Himalayan salt. B&B's beef is aged for either 28 or 55 days.
The main cuts of steak served in steakhouses are filet mignon, rib eye, New York strip, T-bone and porterhouse. The filet is tender with a mild flavor and very little fat. The rib eye contains the most marbling (fat) and is juicy and flavorful. The NY strip has less fat than the rib eye and is tender with a buttery taste. T-bones contain sections of both the tenderloin and the strip that is separated by a T-shaped bone. The porterhouse is a larger version of the T-bone and usually starts at a serving size of at least 20 ounces. When he was asked what the most popular steak ordered at Robard's is, Perry's response was, "That's easy, the filet." According to Perry, 51 percent of the restaurant's steak sales in any given week are filets mignon.
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As you wait in anticipation for that “perfect cut” to arrive at your table, the last thing you want to do is cut into a steak that isn’t properly cooked. Steak preparation varies at each steakhouse, but the most common cooking methods are grilling, broiling and searing. Robard’s seasons its steak with a 3-to-1 mixture of kosher salt and course black pepper. It is cooked at 1,800 degrees until it reaches the desired doneness and is then rested for ten minutes. Before being served, it is topped with a scoop of butter and seared on a flat top.
The desired degree of doneness of a steak is a personal preference. Rare (cool red center), medium-rare (warm red center), medium (warm pink center), medium-well (slightly pink center) and well-done (little to no pink) are the standard degrees of doneness. Medium-rare is the optimal cooking temperature for prime meat, allowing the steak to remain tender and juicy. If well-done is more to your liking, chef Holmes's suggestion is to "order your steak medium and ask for a really hot plate. The hot plate will continue to cook the steak as it's sliced without drying it out."