A couple of weeks ago we went out for dinner. It had been a long time since we had treated ourselves to a nice bottle of wine and a good steak out on the town.
Just a bit of background here - there are 2 kinds of "dining", one is when you're just hungry, and you don't to have to rustle up something for the kids at home, and you pile them in the car to make it easy. For this kind of dining, one usually ends up at some sort of chain restaurant like Applebee's or Chili's or some sort of neighborhood grill. The other kind of dining is when you think about it for two weeks, plan a spot and look forward to it with your salivary glands working overtime the whole time. For us, these occassions don't bring us to any sort of chain restaurant at all. Typically, when we are after a nice culinary experience, we don't look to the chains to provide it.
So anyway, almost a year ago now, there was a Ruth's Chris steakhouse opened up here. Our city had been briefly flirted with by Morton's, but they ultimately decided to bag it, since the liquor laws are so stupid here.
But Ruth's Chris came. I was generally excited about this, because I had eaten at the Ruth's Chris in Las Vegas once, on a trade show stay there. One thing you need to know about me is that I am pretty much a carnivore. I love beef. Well prepared beef. It doesn't have to be giant, but it does have to be good. In years past, it did need to be giant AND good, but now it just has to be good.
When I ate at the RC in LV several years ago, I ordered the Filet Mignon, and I swear, the animal that made it had to be two stories tall. It was the biggest I had ever seen. I wasn't looking for that this time, but I was expecting a little more out of the entire experience.
Dining in Salt Lake has a bit of a redneck flair to it, no matter how much you spend. No matter what, you're looking at a pretty loud and distracting evening. It's very difficult to find a restaurant that is QUIET, nice, has great food and impeccable service. I have eaten at several Morton's Steakhouses before in different cities, and they nail the entire experience. And Spencer's here comes a LOT closer to this - and you can enjoy a nice cigar afterward in an adjoining area - at least for now. That will be going away in the not-too-distant future. Thanks Utah Legislature - I needed someone to get right in there and tell me how to live my life. But I digress.
Anyway, the food was good all in all, but not spectacular, but as I said, I was put off a bit by the atmosphere. It was too loud for us to comfortably hear a conversation between the four of us. We had a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon though, the SILVER OAK CABERNET NAPA'01/02. It really set the steak off in a great way.
A day or two afterward, both ThatOneWife and I remarked that although the experience was nice, and it was nice to get dressed and go out to a nice dinner, we had each had better steaks from our back yard grill.
There are several USDA grades of beef (8 to be exact), but they are mainly broken down into four categories: Prime, Choice, Select, and Standard. There are variations within each of those categories. Almost all "Prime" beef brought into any city (at least around here) is reserved for restaurants, leaving the "Choice" category for the local butchers and grocers. I have a butcher that we go to when we want to spend a little more, but stay home and cook. They cut my beef while I wait, and I can choose the piece I want. Thicker and smaller around is better than a thin one the size of a volkswagen tire. ("That's what SHE said" - sorry - juvenile joke there...)
Usually, when I prepare it, there are two ways I will do it. The first option is for when I don't have four hours. I will set the meat out to get to room temperature - this relaxes the grain of the cut, allowing oxygen into it, and it will cook up more tenderly. About a half hour before I cook it, I season it with some peppery spices - I like the "Montreal Steak" seasoning you can get in the grocery stores. I put that on, and rub it in a bit to make sure it sticks. The peppery part of that rub will be accentuated with a nice Cab, Shiraz, or even a Chianti
On the other hand, if I decide to spend the time, I'll get the steak to room temperature about 1.5 to 2 hours before I want to cook it. Then I take about a cup of a decent Cabernet or Shiraz, mix in about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, and some fresh garlic to taste. I stir til the sugar is dissolved into the wine, making it sweet and a little thicker than it was when it came out of the bottle. I'll paint this stuff onto both sides of the steak and let it sit for maybe just over an hour - any longer, and the meat absorbs too much of the wine and loses some of its "beefy" taste.
About 20 minutes before I want to start cooking the steak, I turn on the grill full blast, and leave the lid down. This heats it up nicely to close to 500 degrees. I'll scrubb off the grill, and paint it with olive oil. I then throw the meat on there, at high heat, leaving the lid open, for about 4-5 minutes, then turn it over, leaving it on that side for about that same time. While much has been written about whether "searing" the meat actually improves the taste by locking in the juices, it's still a matter of preference. Once I have done that, I'll move the heat down to a medium high for the rest of the cook time. I will only turn the steaks one more time, to even out the cooking on the inside. I leave the lid open all the time the meat is on the grill. We're grilling here, not "baking" or poaching our steak. I'll leave it on there til the internal temperature reaches about 135-140 degrees, then take it off the grill and let it sit for about 5 minutes. It'll finish cooking to a nice medium rare, the way steaks should be eaten.
With that high heat, the meat will slightly caramelize the coating you put on it, adding to the complex tastes.
And there you have it - I wasn't really going to go through and do a post about how to cook your meat, but that's what came out anyway.
Sorry for the long post.