Steakcraft: Carbone's Porterhouse Combines Old and New Steakhouse Traditions
Steak Fact SheetCut: Porterhouse
Grade: USDA Prime
Breed: Black Angus
Dry Aged? 60 Days
Pre-Cooked Weight: 40 oz.
Price per Ounce: $3.75/p>
Broadly speaking, there are two principal steakhouse traditions in NYC. The first, and oldest, is a fine dining model established by Delmonico's, America's first fine dining restaurant and creator of the Delmonico steak. The second springs from the beefsteak dinners of the 19th Century—fraternal gathering where groups of men, be they trade unionists, members of social clubs or criminal enterprises, would gather to eat massive amounts of steak and quaff gallons of beer. This style of dining gave rise to the steakhouse model best exemplified by Peter Luger in Brooklyn: a stripped down, beer hall aesthetic where gruff, masculine waiters hurl sizzling platters of steak at you.
Mario Carbone and Rich Torissi combine both traditions in their porterhouse for two at Carbone, their West Village restaurant. Carbone is a homage to the grand Italian American restaurants that arguably reached their zenith in the mid 20th century. This is at least where the menu stopped evolving and became cast in stone and vodka sauce. I consider Carbone to be the highest expression of the genre and the steak is no exception.
Carbone uses a USDA dry aged prime Black Angus from Creekstone Farms. The steak appropriately comes from Italian-Amercian butcher Pat LaFrieda, who ages it for 45 days. Carbone then age the steaks in-house for an additional 15 days to further intensify the flavors. The steak is presented in its raw form tableside when ordered. They do the same visual inspection with their fish, something that plays into the restaurant's theatrics, but also its sense of pride in its ingredients.
At the time of presentation the guest will be given the option of having the fillet removed and served as tartare for an appetizer, an option that is both unusual and inspired. The filet tends to cook more quickly on a porterhouse because of the relative size difference to the strip side of the steak. By removing it and serving it raw, Carbone offers you two different preparations of the same piece of premium meat, and in my opinion maximizes the flavor of the fillet, especially given its prodigious aging.
Order the tartare and things get even more referential. Like most everything on the Carbone menu, the classic form is given the technicolor treatment. The diced beef comes served on a bed of Bernaise sauce, an homage to both the raw egg of the classic dish and the sauce that you might have with your steak at a classic steakhouse, like the aforementioned Delmonico's for example. Since the egg is on the bottom, Carbone uses melted coins of bone marrow to top the dish.
The remaining strip is left on the bone and cooked over both coal and a regular gas grill. The grills are side by side in the cramped kitchen, and the steak is alternated between the two; the gas grill with its more consistent heat output is used to sear and reach the correct temperature. Meanwhile, coals infuse the steak with a smokiness that is not only evocative of pre-regulation steakhouse cooking, but also the old country itself. When I asked Carbone about why he chose coal and not wood he dryly replied that his last name translates into coal, and that his ancestors, likely coal minors, would be pretty upset if he didn't honor the vocation. In an acknowledged tribute to Peter Luger's. the steak is sliced and served in a sizzling platter with an anointment of butter and, in another nod to Italy, olive oil.
The resulting steak is both familiar because of its presentation and technique, but also—thanks to protracted aging and highly specialized cooking methods—an exaltation of the form.