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Review of DC Steakhouses

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/a-perfect-steakhouse-experience-elusive/2012/06/28/gJQAyW1qKW_story.html
Quote:
A perfect steakhouse experience? Elusive.

View Photo Gallery — Best steakhouses: Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema reviews the best places to go when you want memorable meat, first-class sides, an inviting backdrop and distinguished wine service.


By Tom Sietsema, Published: July 3

Eleven years ago, with Washington savoring a boom in steakhouses, I grazed through nearly 20 to determine if there was a best among the lot. While I found plenty to admire, at the end of a three-month steak streak, no single player delivered the Perfect Steakhouse Experience formed by memorable meat, first-class sides, an inviting backdrop and distinguished wine service.

Repeating the drill in the District recently, I found that at nearly a dozen restaurants, the recession and over-saturation have taken their toll. A sense of deja vu infused my exploits. Charlie Palmer Steak has a terrific all-American wine list and a tender aged New York strip, but perfunctory service and nothing-special Caesar salad. The blandly dressed Morton’s downtown serves its lackluster side dishes in heart-stopping portions that point to restaurants as a prime culprit in the obesity war. Capital Grille shakes great drinks, but just about everything else I’ve eaten there — potatoes pureed to the texture of baby food, nutmeg-blasted creamed spinach, wan filet mignon — fails the pleasure test. And if there’s a kitchen that makes hash browns as they should be, (grated, thin and golden) rather than barely crusty potato cakes the size of Idaho, I didn’t find it.


Other discoveries: Most of the steakhouses are lit as if they were casinos. Noon looks like 8 p.m. — all the more tempting for a customer to imbibe at lunch. Lots of places claim to serve prime meat. But I have my doubts, both because of the middling quality of what I’ve been served and the reality that no more than 3 percent of the roughly 25 million head of cattle in this country get the USDA’s top grade, earned in part for the amount of marbling the beef reveals. As ever, you should hope someone else is picking up the check. A full-press steak experience, including cocktails, wine, tax and tip, runs about $150 a person.

The highlights of my meat-a-thon:

Decadent dough
Boring bread launches most steakhouse meals. The exceptions include BLT Steak downtown and Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. The former welcomes diners with mitt-size popovers, served piping hot and with their recipe attached; the latter seduces patrons with a skillet of truffle butter rolls that threaten to fill you up before even appetizers show up. Bet you can’t stop at one.


No. 1 crab cake
J&G Steakhouse in the W Hotel has much to laud: a sumptuous dining room with ceilings that seem to rise forever, top-notch cocktails, crisp service and perfect lamb chops. Chef Philippe Reininger also fashions one of the city’s top crab cakes ($18, dinner only). Shaped with fresh jumbo lump crab, diced bread and just enough house-made mayonnaise to keep the treasure together, the appetizer perches on an elegant salad of artfully snipped sugar snap peas moistened with zesty remoulade. Garnishing the plate are micro pea leaves dewy with lemon vinaigrette. Bliss in every bite.

Singular steak
By the time I got to Bourbon Steak, I had 10 New York strip steaks from competing restaurants under my belt (and chin). One slice into the 14-ouncer ($54) prepared a la chef Adam Sobel, who recently rolled out a local meat program, rousted me from any cynicism. The source of my immense satisfaction: grass-fed, organic beef from Piedmont Ridge in Maryland. Per the chef’s request, the meat is aged for 50 days, or what Sobel calls “the sweet spot,” then briefly poached in butter before hitting the grill. Tender, succulent and juicy, the primal pleasure comes with a hint of earthiness. Try the role model with snap peas briefly sauteed with ginger, garlic and purple shiso from the restaurant’s own garden.

Star spuds
I consumed a field of potatoes in my search for a worthy partner to steak. The tubers I found myself most susceptible to were BLT Steak’s bite-size potato skins ($8), clinging with flesh and lavished with gooey cheddar and Gruyere, bacon chunks and sour cream in their cast-iron skillet.

Stellar service
John Stauch of The Palm is proof that restaurants are about more than what’s on the table. A presence at this downtown VIP draw since 1986, the Michigan-born, Maryland-reared steak bearer proved the single-most-impressive server of my weeks-long beef odyssey. “I like to treat everyone as if they’re a guest in my home,” he says. During a busy weekday lunch, I admired how Stauch took time to describe his employer’s best assets, reveal the name of the kindest president he ever served (George H.W. Bush, immortalized in one of the many celebrity caricatures on The Palm’s walls) and bond with the cute couple from Alaska who may never be back, but who will certainly remember the reception they experienced here.

Winning wine list
Bourbon Steak makes its fascinating roster of American and international wines easy to navigate, thanks to the careful delineation of grapes and regions on its menu. Selection isn’t easy: Hidden gems and hard-to-find boutique wines pop up throughout the list, at price points ranging from the thoughtfully budget savvy to the statement-making. Among the document’s many attractions are the 2007 Santa Duc Côtes du Rhône — one of the best by-the-glass pours of my tour for $10 — and representation from all the serious West Coast red wine producers. For diversity, consider the 2010 Arizona Stronghold Nachise — from Cochise County, Ariz. After eyeing the list’s premier crus and ripe old Guigals and Beaucastels, including the choice 2006 Claude Dugat Lavaux St. Jacques from Burgundy ($499), my friend the wine maven said, “I hope they have armed guards at the entrance to the cellar.”


Best-dressed (old-school division)
At The Prime Rib these days, the shrimp cocktail smacks of the freezer, and the New York strip steak goes down dull. And yet, I retain a soft spot for the downtown dowager, the subject of my inaugural review as Post food critic in 2000. No other steakhouse summons as much nostalgia and romance as this genteel Art Deco interior, which serenades patrons with live piano at lunch and dinner (joined by a double bass player on Friday and Saturday) and still asks gentlemen to dress the part (loaner jackets are stocked for guys without them). Also: The signature prime rib still rocks.

Edited by FLMountainMan - 7/9/12 at 3:51pm
post #2 of 25
Sietsema is actually a very good reviewer of restaurants. And, having been on the DC steakhouse circuit a few times, I can't say I disagree with him. Most of the meat is mediocre or poorly cooked. The chains really don't perform well, outside of the Palm. Charlie Palmer's service is terrible and so are the acoustics. Only the wine makes the place tolerable. Ruth's Chris is really up and down in terms of both meat quality and cook to order. Morton's is adequate. I don't like how BLT chars the meat on the outside - but that's personal taste. Capital Grille is meh. The Caucus Room is pretty solid all the way around.

I actually haven't been to Bourbon Steak, so I can't say if it's the best, but maybe it is.

DC's best steak is probably at Central, when one's on the menu there. But, even Central has fallen off a bit, as most places do after several years. Then again, you don't go to Central for the steak. But, if you're there and in the mood for a hunk of beef, go for it.

DC's best restaurants aren't steakhouses. There's plenty of top notch places to eat- some just outside the city like Restaurant Eve (specifically he tasting room). Fish shines in DC too. But, for steak, mostly it's mediocre, just as the review states.
post #3 of 25
Not sure what's "pretentious" about his writing?
post #4 of 25
I'll agree with him on the bread at Burbon Steak. Its like the next level of the Red Lobster rolls.
post #5 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by scurvyfreedman View Post

Sietsema is actually a very good reviewer of restaurants. And, having been on the DC steakhouse circuit a few times, I can't say I disagree with him. Most of the meat is mediocre or poorly cooked. The chains really don't perform well, outside of the Palm. Charlie Palmer's service is terrible and so are the acoustics. Only the wine makes the place tolerable. Ruth's Chris is really up and down in terms of both meat quality and cook to order. Morton's is adequate. I don't like how BLT chars the meat on the outside - but that's personal taste. Capital Grille is meh. The Caucus Room is pretty solid all the way around.
I actually haven't been to Bourbon Steak, so I can't say if it's the best, but maybe it is.
DC's best steak is probably at Central, when one's on the menu there. But, even Central has fallen off a bit, as most places do after several years. Then again, you don't go to Central for the steak. But, if you're there and in the mood for a hunk of beef, go for it.
DC's best restaurants aren't steakhouses. There's plenty of top notch places to eat- some just outside the city like Restaurant Eve (specifically he tasting room). Fish shines in DC too. But, for steak, mostly it's mediocre, just as the review states.

Restaurant Eve is fantastic. The tasting room was one of the most enjoyable meals I've ever had -- not just for the food, but for the leisurely pace, excellent service, and ambience. One of the few things I miss about living in DC.
post #6 of 25
Do any of the DC steakhouses cut your steak for you, so that you can have a mommy experience?

I'm talking bite sized pieces.

Just to be clear, I'm talking normal mommy, not the kind who chews the pieces for you.

Thanks. Haven't been to DC in a few months.
post #7 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by NameBack View Post

leisurely pace, excellent service, and ambience.

For the ambience, how was the air scented?
post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by F. Corbera View Post

For the ambience, how was the air scented?

White people tend to smell like cheese to foreign noses.
post #9 of 25
I've always enjoyed Tom Sietsema's writing, so this article didn't bother me. Perhaps I've just become familiar with his style. DC actually has some very good food writers, including Sietsema, Tim Carman, and Todd Kliman.
post #10 of 25
Liked the review and Sietsima's writing...
post #11 of 25
Bourbon Steak, at least at its home base, is fucking awful. I'm generally a really easy customer to please, but it is an abomination. It's adorable that he wrote that his steak was poached in butter before it was grilled. I wonder if he means it.
post #12 of 25
I want my steak boiled then deep fried.
post #13 of 25
I have been to many steakhouses in the DC area (Smith & Wollensky, Sam and Harry's, Bobby Van's, BLT Steak, Capital Grille, Charlie Palmer). I haven't found one to be noticeably better or worse than the others.
post #14 of 25
DC not really known for its steakhouses but if I want a good steak, I go to Ray's the Steaks in Arlington. For DC proper, I like the Porterhouse at Bobby Van's original location.
post #15 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cuttingboard View Post

DC not really known for its steakhouses but if I want a good steak, I go to Ray's the Steaks in Arlington.

I do the same. The steaks at Ray's are pretty much just as good as most of the other steak houses in the city, but they are half the price. The sides are kinda blah, but you also get them for free. You don't get the steak house experience, whatever that really is, but when I'm with a group of friends, I think I prefer the vibe at Ray's. I don't know enough about wine to comment on the selection, but I know they hired Michel Richard's sommelier. The wine program at Citronelle won a James Beard award under him, and he focuses on real values:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/05/AR2009050500851.html
For a wine novice like me, it's more pleasurable knowing I'm getting a good wine, instead of getting gouged. I just don't see the need to go anywhere else for steak in D.C., unless someone else is paying.
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