A new breed of chef with a passion for fresh, locally sourced produce, and a small specialty farm in Pennsylvania, are colluding. Their goal is to topple the ancien regime of traditional steakhouses that inhabit dusty, wood paneled chambers where gruff, cantankerous waiters serve you heaping plates from a ubiquitous generic menu: porterhouse for two, creamed spinach, hash brown potatoes. It is here, in these hallowed halls of beef that the finest steaks have heretofore been exclusively available.
But what if one wants to retain the virtues of a steakhouse—a huge slab of properly cooked beef without the stuffiness that accompanies the ritual of steakhouse dining and with a supporting menu that has higher culinary aspirations? A few years ago I would have said that it was not possible but these days there is a paradigm shift occurring in high-end beef in New York City—an extraordinary cut of beef is being offered in three avant-garde but very different restaurants in the city: Tom Collichio’s Craft, David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar and Resto (with new chef Bobby Helen) collectively pose a serious challenge to the hegemony of the chophouse.
Once a week Steve Pryzant travels three and half hours from Four Story Hill Farm, his ten-acre property in North East Pennsylvania, and delivers Roen ducks, Berkshire pigs, milk-fed chickens and USDA Prime beef to a select group of restaurant clients. The rib-eye he sells is dry aged USDA prime and has an ethereal tenderness and that prized moldy, mineral rich, blue-cheese like tang that comes from the dry aging process.
A43 East 19th Street (b/n Broadway & Park Avenue South) Manhattan NY 10003; map); 212-780-0880; craftrestaurant.com
Comes with: Roasted bone marrow
Price: $130 for 32 ounces
Notes: Reservations recommended
The first time I sampled the Four story Hill Farms rib-eye was at Craft and it came drizzled in au jus and accompanied with earthy marrow bones and a small forest of herbs. Because the cut is roasted after an initial searing on a flattop griddle, as opposed to the violent grilling that steakhouses employ, new dimensions of flavor and texture are revealed. The meat takes on a sweeter character, approaching milk-fed veal and one can almost taste the corn used to fatten the animal for slaughter. Texturally the flesh becomes buttery and almost fork tender. I have never before had a steak to rival what a steakhouse can offer but with a far more adventurous menu and effusive service that Craft provides.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Over at Momofuku Ssam bar the same cut is available, also seared and roasted, but served with a shallot confit on top and accompanied by a different side dish each night. On one occasion I enjoyed it with some sweet smoked peaches and onions, on another with salty, bacon strewn fingerling potatoes but you may well end up with market greens and XO sauce, or any number of other dishes. The rib-eye here is as captivating as the one at Craft, though it's also markedly different, taking on an even sweeter character and highlighting an earthy, truffle-like gaminess in the beef.
111 East 29th Street, New York NY 10016 (b/n Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue South; map); 212-685-5585; restonyc.com
Comes with? Bearnaise sauce, pomme frites,arugula salad
Price: $140 for 32 ounces
Notes: Call ahead to check availability of cut, appears as a blackboard special
Resto serves their version of the rib-eye with Bearnaise sauce, golden pommes frites and an arugula salad. They distinguish themselves from both Craft and Ssam Bar by dry aging the beef for an additional two weeks after taking delivery and the result is an extremely pronounced, moldy flavor. The French refer to the fungus that grows on selected grape varieties as "noble rot"; I think the same nomenclature should be applied to the dry aging of beef. And I have experienced no rot more noble than the rib-eye at Resto.
In all three cases the rib-eye offered by these restaurants is exceptional, offering all the virtues of a steakhouse without the formality and limited menu options. The fact that the same cut of beef, prepared in three markedly different ways, equals and arguably surpasses what's offered at a top steakhouse is a testament that both the chefs and Four Story Hills Farm are doing something revolutionary.