Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Craftsteak



The recent explosion of steakhouses in the NYC has made it difficult for the aficionado to keep up although I will admit that I am more than a little tired of Peter Luger replicas, often replete with "former Luger staffers." I expect the Peter Luger dishwasher to open a steakhouse any day now, or perhaps it will be the ruddy faced gentlemen who watches the garage. I just don't see a need for anymore traditional steakhouses in NYC, the ones we have are so excellent - Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, The Palm, Keen's, Gallagher's, Mark Joseph, Wolfgang's, et al that I think we, the steak eating public should put a moratorium on any new steak restaurant that don't offer anything original. With that said the recent lifting of the ban on Japanese Wagyu beef and the emergence of "celebrity chef"driven steakhouses has opened up new vistas for the beef eater. When it comes to celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio is among the most visible these days. I don't personally know Mr. Colicchio but from his performance on the reality TV show Top Chef he comes off as rather austere, slightly aloof but certainly demonstrates a broad culinary knowledge and the success of his Craft franchise speaks for itself, it got him on TV after all. I wouldn't say Colicchio is passionate about food and flavor as much as he is a deliberate, clinical technician, nay a craftsman. This is reflected in his latest addition to his Craft empire Craftsteak but perhaps steak needs a bit of fiery passion to pull off correctly. Located on the sight formally occupied by Frank steakhouse, a once decent institution that fell in to serious decline in recent years, on 10th Ave Craftsteak is located in a very modern room with a huge window overlooking the Westside highway and a high ceiling. The room could be considered minimalist but I find it a bit busy none the less. Still a far more agreeable surrounding than my recent experience at Kobe Club NY.



Some reviewers have complained that there is too much choice on the Craftsteak menu, indeed Frank Bruni of the NY Times referred to it as a "tyranny" of choice in his review last year. And I will agree that there is probably little reason to offer three different aging periods for the NY strip, who in their right mind would choose a 28 day dry aging over one that has been aged for 56 days considering the cost differential is only $6? But I wholeheartedly applaud the inclusion of three different NY strips of varying pedigree as well as non traditional steakhouse cuts like flat iron steak and hanger steak. Here is the full meat menu:

corn-fed


New York Strip (Dry-Aged In-House)
Nebraska
28-Day 18 oz. 49.
42-Day 18 oz. 52.
56-Day 18 oz. 55.
New York Strip 12 oz. 39.
Brandt Beef, California

New York Strip 12 oz. 39.

Pine Ridge Farm, Maine
Filet Mignon 6 oz. 32.

Nebraska

Filet Mignon 10 oz. 45.

Nebraska

Flat Iron 8 oz. 32.
Brandt Beef, California
T-Bone 20 oz. 64.
Nebraska

Ribeye 18 oz. 52.
Brandt Beef, California
Hanger Steak 12 oz. 35.
Nebraska

grass-fed


New York Strip 12 oz. 48.
Montana Ranch, Montana
New York Strip 12 oz. 49.
Painted Hills Farm, Oregon
Ribeye 14 oz. 55.

Montana Ranch, Montana

for the table

Ribeye for Two

36oz. 110.
Brandt Beef, California
Corn-Fed Porterhouse
36 oz. 120.
Nebraska


wagyu


Skirt Steak (grade 6) 10 oz. 69.
Snake River Farm, Idaho
Ribeye (grade 7) 12 oz. 88.
Strube Ranch, Texas
New York Strip (grade 8) 12 oz. 102.
Snake River Farm, Idaho

New York Strip (grade 11) 30./ oz.

Miyazaki, Japan


As you can see a dizzying and ambitious selection and one that must cost a lot of money to maintain. Unfortunately, aside from the Wagyu beef, which is exquisite, the other two steaks I sampled, a corn fed 56 day dry aged Nebraska NY Strip and a grass fed strip from Montana were not on par with what you can get at a traditional steakhouse.




Corn fed strip, aged 56 day

The corn fed NY strip, ordered black and blue, was commendably delivered as requested. You would be surprised at how many places cannot get a black and blue order correct. Peter Luger's for one has rarely delivered on the request so I was impressed that Craftsteak could. If Craftsteak trumped Luger's in this regard, that was about it as far as the steak goes. Even with substantially more aging the Craftsteak does not come close to Luger's strip in terms of flavor although it comes closer in tenderness. The flesh on the outside edge of the strip bone is always a good place to taste the wonderful results of dry aging. A Luger steak imparts a complex, mineral rich flavor with hints of Roquefort cheese, the Craftsteak exhibits none of these traits, it is quite bland in comparison. Dry aging is essential for achieving tenderness and flavor in steak but it is a process that is as much art as science I don't doubt that Craftsteak has invested in the technology but they have a way to go in terms of developing character and flavor in their dry aging room. Egregiously, the NY strip comes adorned with some sort of au jus and a sprig of rosemary. I don't for the life of me understand how a restaurant can take the time to source the steer, dry age the beef (to one degree of success or another) and then do their best to mask the flavor.



Grass fed strip

Although they achieved a nice crisp crust on the corn fed steak the grass fed steer, ordered rare and delivered as such, was the opposite. There was simply none of the crackling char that is such a part of the steak experience. Personally I don't find grass feeding makes for very good steaks anyway, the inherent leanness of the steer and resulting nature of the flesh means that it needs to be cooked slower than grain fed lest it becomes too tough. Please don't think that I don't appreciate grass fed beef, one of the finest pieces of meat I ever ate was an amazing prime rib of beef at the Rib Room in London, UK but I find that grass fed beef lends itself more to roasted and braised methods of preparation. In any event while the Craftsteak strip did have an interesting earthy, gamy character its lack of char made it a none starter. It makes me wonder how the NY strip would have faired had it too been ordered rare as a opposed to black and blue. The problem of a lack of char probably stems from the fact that Craftsteak doesn't grill or broil their steaks but rather griddles them to sear the outside and then finishes them off in the oven. I imagine the black and blue steak never made it into the oven and was only griddled.



Japanese Wagyu

If the "regular" steaks underwhelmed the Japanese Wagyu was on par, it terms of quality, if not execution with my past Kobe experiences. Certainly the beef was outstanding, deeply marbled, succulent and bursting with flavor, a true luxury experience and priced accordingly. Unfortunately it too comes festooned with unnecessary accompaniments which at $30 an ounce is unforgivable.



And it comes sliced which I really don't care for, much preferring a continues piece of beef and while it was cooked perfectly medium rare as ordered it could have been a bit more charred on the outside. I would recommend ordering the Wagyu here sans the au jus and sprig of rosemary, at the price you will pay I think that you have the right to ask with out insulting the Chef's sensibilities too much.



Irrespective of these missteps the Wagyu beef here is very good indeed and coupled with the over all dining experience make for a meal that is easy to recommend to those that have the requisite deep pockets.




American "Wagyu" style rib eye


I also sampled the American "Wagyu" style beef rib eye which clocks in at $88 for 10 ounces. It was actually very good, rich and juicy it was a cross in terms of texture and flavor between a traditional domestic steak and true Japanese Wagyu. It was better cooked than the Japanese cut having a darker crust and although it too came needlessly adorned it was definitely leagues above the other domestic steaks on offer here.




As for the rest of the meal it was excellent. From the impressive wine list to the complimentary chicken liver mousse to the magnificent selection of seafood, the oysters were wonderfully fresh, to a lovely beat salad everything led up to the meat course perfectly and if you get the Wagyu everything will be in perfect proportion. The domestic cuts however will be a bit of a let down in comparison, the appetizers are so superior to regular steakhouses but unfortunately the regular steaks are not up to snuff. The end of the meal is were Craftsteak truly distinguishes from your run of the mill steakhouse. An impressive array of artisanal cheeses and elaborate deserts are on offer and make for a pleasing conclusion. The service was excellent through out, attentive and professional and certainly elevated the experience. All in all if you go for the Wagyu, or at least the American style Wagyu you are in for a pleasurable experience and one that I heartily recommend and indeed, look forward to enjoying again. For saner budgets however I would not recommend Craftsteak's regular steak, you can do far better elsewhere.

Craftsteak

85 10th Ave.
(bet. 15th & 16th Sts.)

Manhattan, NY

212 400 6699

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