Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Palm

One would have a hard time inventing a story about the attainment of the the American dream more perfect, and perhaps more improbable as that of Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi. Through four generations these two families have stewarded the fabled Palm restaurant from a single concern to a rapidly growing international chain with over 25 locations. Its name was actually the result of the founders heavy Italian accents which where misinterpreted when they applied for a business license. They intended the name of the restaurant to be that of their home town Parma. The misspelling became simply The Palm and frankly it is hard to imagine that the restaurant could have reached the level of success it enjoys today , nor its ability to branch out across America if they had indeed called it Parma. The name they ended up with makes possible the restaurants iconic logo which of course features a palm tree in place of the L in palm, but beyond the clever use of graphics the name itself conjures up images of an oasis of luxury and fine dining. Indeed the Palm has become synonymous with the fine dining experience in popular culture, featured in TV shows such as The West Wing and Entourage. The Palms website features a list of celebrities as far ranging as George W. Bush, James Carville, John Travolta and Snoop Dog. If you are wondering what this has to do with the quality of food you've got me. I would be more impressed if the gave us the pedigree of their steer and the method used to age it.

All this success has of course come at a price and in case your are doing the calculations of the amount of dry aging that must be needed to satisfy the demands of over 25 restaurants stop right there because unfortunately the beef here is no longer dry aged. At least not most of it. I can't speak for the numerous branches because my only experience outside of the three NYC locations was a meal many years ago at the Orlando, Fl. outpost but the only steak that is dry aged these days is a bone in NY strip. It is this dissolution of the purity of the steak ideal that has allowed the Palm to venture into locales that would be prohibitively expensive to provision for so far from home.

Despite this expansive development there remains, at the original location at 837 Second Avenue, an air of exclusivity and of aloofness on the part of the staff towards those that are not instantly recognized as "regulars" or "celebrities." It is an attitude that makes one feel when dining at The Palm, even with a reservation, as if one is imposing somewhat. How else to explain the fact that on a recent visit I was forced to wait at the bar for close to twenty minutes for a table that was empty the entire time I was there while the Maitre de gushed and fawned over streams of regulars, seating them almost immediately. Certainly had this attitude permeated the rest of the chain it is doubtful that the restaurant would have survived in the numerous locations outside of NYC. But here, despite the glut of steakhouse ventures The Palm continues to thrive, though I suspect that for regulars it is the familiarity and doting they receive more than the food itself. For the food, frankly does not hold up against the top chophouses in the city.

That is not to say that there are not flashes of brilliance. A steak tartar made from dry aged NY strip steak was delightful although one is left to wonder why the rest of the beef here does not receive the same treatment.

Similarly a shrimp cocktail was about as good as it gets for this, admittedly, over done dish. Plump, meaty shrimp where perfectly cooked although I encourage you to avoid the generically bland cocktail sauce.

The hash browns are possibly the riches incarnation of the dish I have had. The burnished bronze hue of the crust gives way to an incredibly buttery interior. Perhaps a little too buttery. I took some home once and was mortified to witness what happens to this dish when it is refrigerated, it turns in to what looks like head cheese - small pieces of potato encased in a mold of solid butter. I would not be surprised if the hash browns had more cholesterol than the steak they serve here.

And what of the steak? It is along with their famed lobsters the principle draw here. As mentioned above only the bone in NY strip is dry aged and even this cut falls behind the best of the breed. It is not that the USDA Prime steak is not tender and well marbled, it certainly is, but it lacks the complex, musky flavors that properly aged beef imparts. I would say that the culprit here is that the steak is just not aged long enough to fully develop the flavor. I should also note that a steak ordered black and blue was delivered to the table closer to tan and blue, the outside barely heated despite the waiters prior assurance that black and blue was not a problem. This lack of char is a problem that I am encountering with alarming frequency as of late. I don't see how there can be much dispute on how this temperature should be achieved but apparently tan is the new black. A massive bone in rib eye, while sharing the marbling and tenderness of NY strip was even blander in flavor.

Despite lacking the dry aged flavors of my favorite prime ribs here in the city (Keens Chophouse and Smith and Wollensky) The Palm's version is gargantuan and has a hearty beef flavor as well as being a beautifully marbled piece of meat. I was also pleasantly surprised at how rare the prime rib was served. I called ahead and requested an "extra rare" cut be held for me which to the restaurants credit was honored. Reserving the cut along with the table is a practice that I have come to employ when I am in the mood for rare prime rib simply because it is a dish that tends to sell out at most chophouses. When it comes to the dry aging of prime rib I am more lenient than with steak. I generally avoid non dry aged steak but find that prime rib, because of its slow cooking process, does not suffer as unduly as steak from not being dry aged. Frankly I would be happier to pay the same price for half the beef as long as it is dry aged but part of the draw of the Palm is the massive serving sizes. This ethos makes its way to the desert tray where some of the cakes and pies on offer look like they tip the scale at over 2lbs.

I find it impossible to recommend The Palm in NYC, there are so many superior incarnations of the steakhouse in the city that offer dry aged beef along with service that while not being obsequious is at least not indifferent. When it comes to the numerous outposts I also encourage you to seek out a local, indigenous steakhouse, rather than a chain. When I travel the last thing I want is something I can get at home. Infact when I am home I don't want what the Palm offers.

The Palm
837 Second Ave.
(bet. 44th & 45th Sts.)
Manhattan, NY

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hamburger America - The Book

George Motz' book Hamburger America, the companion to his seminal film of the same name hit the shelves of Barnes & Noble today. I snapped up a copy as it was being put out for display, look for it in the travel section. It is also available online via Amazon. For the uninitiated George Motz is one of the nations foremost exports on all things hamburger. Check out his website here and his blog here. The book comes packaged with a copy of the film making it a great deal. I will have a review as soon as I have digested it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Home Cooking: Steak

Lest you think that my obsession with beef is confined to steakhouses, barbecue spots and burger joints I assure you that it extends to my kitchen. And just as I attempted to recreate the White Manna slider I have also experimented extensively in an attempt to recreate the steakhouse experience in my home. After numerous steaks and mis-steaks I think I have come up with a technique that works pretty well.

If you have good ventilation and are prepared for a little heat in the kitchen it is possible to achieve a restaurant quality steak at home in a domestic kitchen. You are going to need a thick steak. At least 1.5 - 2 inches thick if you like it rare and I am going to insist that you buy it fresh from a butcher and preferably dry aged. The difference between dry aged beef and wet aged beef is something that I will cover in a subsequent post but suffice it to say that the former has a far more complex character and flavor. I also encourage you to buy Prime beef, the extra marbling will have superior flavor and tenderness compared to Choice or Select beef. As for cuts of beef the most popular steaks - strip, porterhouse, t bone, filet mignon and rib eye are all excellent candidates but this technique works great for more economical cuts such as flank, skirt, sirloin or hanger steaks. In fact I prefer the latter cuts to a filet mignon, they may not be quite as tender but they are more flavorful in my opinion.

A dry aged for 28 days USDA Prime rib eye steak from Lobels.

The real problem the home cook faces when cooking steak is achieving the high levels of heat necessary to violently sear the meat, generate a thick, charred crust while maintaining correct internal temperature. Residential broilers simply do not generate enough heat. They cannot compete with the mega BTU output of commercial broilers. The best solution is the cast iron skillet. It excels it providing high temperatures with even heat distribution and it can go from stove top to the oven or broiler for finishing. It also does not lose substantial amounts of heat when food hits it.

To begin with you should leave your steaks out of the fridge for at least an hour or longer depending on the thickness of the cut. The goal is to bring the meat to room temperature, a cold steak will contract when it hits the heat and this wall cause it to toughen. You want a nice relaxed piece of beef. I only apply salt moments before cooking because salt will soak up moisture and could potentially dry out your steak if seasoned too far ahead of time. Personally I don't pepper dry aged steaks because but if you do try to use fresh cracked pepper and aging apply just prior to cooking As for the salt go for Kosher or real sea salt, it make a difference. I should also note that you will want to trim more off the fat from the steaks circumference than you would if cooking over a grill or than a steakhouse will usually serve. It is not that I don't like the external fat but it will tend to cause a lot of smoke and require that you frequently drain the pan of rendered fat, lest you fry your steak rather than sear it. I don't recommend completely removing all of the fat, the fat provides a protective barrier that will stop the steak being over cooked. As for bone in steaks, I prefer them with the bone but one needs to press down on the steak to insure that full contact is made with the cooking surface.

It may seem like over kill but I like to heat up my skillet on the stove top or the broiler for a good 20 minutes before I use it. Water droplets should skit along the surface of the pan as soon as they hit it, rather than just simmering. I also preheat the broiler, while a home broiler won't give you the initial searing effect it is excellent at crisping up meat that has already been charred and bringing the steak to desired temperature. A note about temperature, in steakhouses I like my meat black and blue, completely charred on the outside, cool on the inside. but this is hard to do using this method unless the steak is particularly thick, so I generally eat my steaks closer to rare at home. I really don't recommend eating anything beyond medium rare, unless it is a particularly thick rib eye which will still be flavorful at medium. I feel that you are killing a lot of the flavor by cooking the flesh through but if you like your steaks this way using Prime beef with its higher fat content will insure that your steak is not completely dried out. Using the method described here you will be able to achieve a rare steak while getting all of the flavor and texture that a top restaurant will offer.

Once your pan is nice and hot, I use an infra red thermometer to make sure it reads at least 600 degrees, I place the steak in the skillet and press it down gently to make sure that full contact is made. If you are worried about the beef sticking to the pan you can rub the steaks with peanut oil or clarified butter (clarified butter will burn at a much higher temperature than butter with milk solids in it) I don't recommend olive of other vegetable oils as they have lower smoke points. Personally the steak that I buy are fatty enough that I use no oil at all. I usually let the steak sear for 2-3 minutes per side on the stove top, at these temperatures it is enough to put a dark crust on the steak.

I then transfer the skillet directly in to the broiler for another 2 minutes per side. Obviously if you like your steak cooked medium rare or medium you would leave it in a bit longer. If you are cooking a rib eye that is particularly fatty it may be necessary to drain some of the rendered fat before placing in the broiler. As for testing internal temperature I have been doing this long enough that I can poke the beef with my finger and know how done it is using this technique. You can of course use a meat thermometer, and probably should your first few times out, but I don't like poking my meat if I can help it. You are looking for an internal temperature of 115 - 125 degrees for rare , 125-130 for medium rare and 130 - 135 for medium. Another alternative is to just nick the meat and take a peek. Don't worry about this causing the steak to loose it juice, this is a myth.

Once the steak is done remove from the pan to stop further cooking and let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute evenly inside. A steak fresh off the heat will loose almost all of its juice if cut immediately. You can cover the steak with foil but this will cause the steak to continue cooking somewhat as the heat radiates back so I generally leave mine uncovered unless it is particularly thick. Here is the finished product:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Home Cooking: Sliders

Of all of the infinite varieties of hamburger I think that sliders are my favorite. There is just something about the little bombers that perfectly captures the happy confluence of beef, bun and cheese. The slider is the reduction of the burger to its ideal form, allowing one, in the words of Burger Guru George Motz, to hold a coffee and cigarette in one hand and the burger in the other. Living in the middle of NYC I have easy access to some wonderful burgers in almost limitless varieties but when it comes to sliders the options are few and far between, at least if you want the best of the breed. My personal favorite in NYC is Shopsin's sliders in the Essex Street market but they have a rather limited schedule, closing early. Of course there is always White Manna in Hackensack but this requires leaving the city.

So I have found the next best alternative is to make them myself. Using the above video as inspiration I have tried several methods but this is the technique that comes closest to the Holy Grail in my mind.

American cheese
Martin's Famous Potato Dinner Rolls (the perfect size for sliders)
Thinly sliced white or yellow onions
2-3 tablespoons of beef broth (water or white wine also work but the beef broth adds a little extra flavor)
Salt to taste

To begin with pre form your patties in to small 2-2.5 oz balls. I generally use a straight chuck with a 75/25% meat to fat ratio but obviously feel free to use your preferred mix. Let the beef come to room temperature before cooking. Season with salt.

I use a cast iron skillet that I heat up for a good ten minutes on a medium to high setting, this will assure that the pan retains its heat through out the cooking process. You want the beef to sizzle when it hits the pan but not char to the degree that a one world want on a steak.

Cover the burgers with the sliced onions

Next take your trusty spatula and mash down the onion/patty stack to flatten the burgers. I don't hit them as hard as they do in the White Manna video because it tends to be a bit messy.

Cover the skillet and let the burgers cook for 2-3 minutes or until a nice charred crust forms on the bottom and the rest of the patty looks light brown rather than pink in color.

Once there is a nice char on the bottom of the patties flip the stack so that the onions end up on the bottom.

Cover the sliders with American cheese

Top the burger with both halves of the potato roll. Pour into the pan 3 tablespoons of beef broth (you can use water but the broth adds a little extra flavor) and cover the pan. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted, and the buns are warmed through and are pillow soft. The liquid helps to not only soften the buns but also melt the cheese.

Once they are done slide the spatula under the burger and lift, place the bottom of the roll (which is on the top of the stack) and put it on the serving plate. Ease the remaining parts of the burger stack on to the bun. Voila! a close replica of the White Manna slider.

Yakiniku West

Despite the fact that NYC probably has more traditional steakhouses per capita than any other city there is still more than enough room for infinite variances on steak preparation. One such example is Yakiniku West in the East Village that bills itself as a "traditional rural Japanese steakhouse." If you have eaten at one of those Korean Barbecue restaurants that seem to be quite prolific these days you will feel right at home here, although as we shall see your wallet may feel a bit out of sorts, for while you may leave full it will probably feel quite empty, if you want the best beef on offer.

The basic formula is the same at Yakiniku West as it is at Korean barbecues, you cook your own food on a grill at the table, the raw beef is accompanied by soup, salad, rice, kimchi, desert and a selection of sauces. However what differentiates Yakiniku West from the pack is that they serve true Japanese Wagyu beef. And while they do offer steaks for all budgets, starting with what is probably a USDA Select and Prime selections it is the Wagyu that has kept me coming back.

As you enter Yakiniku West the Japanese Wagyu is proudly displayed in a case near the entrance way. It is an excellent marketing technique for the sight of all of that intensely marbled beef in numerous cuts is awfully tempting. The cuts on offer will be familiar to steak eaters - rib eye, strip, filet mignon and skirt steak are all available but so are two types of short rib, bone in and boneless. The latter is not usually served in steak form in the West and after trying it here I understand why, even the very marbled Wagyu variety lacked the melt in your mouth quality that the other cuts are capable achieving. The short rib tends to fair better with other cooking methods.

Japanese Wagyu Rib Eye

Japanese Wagyu Strip

Japanese Wagyu Skirt Steak

There are some cultural differences that a Western beef eater has to overcome to consume steak this way. While we generally like our steaks as thick as possible and only sliced after cooking the steaks here are served in thin half inch slivers and then further sliced in to strips before cooking. Where as steaks are served a la carte in most NY chophouses the beef here comes in "sets" which included salad, rice, kimchi, green tea and ice cream. So the price of each set really reflects a whole meal sans beverages. While the USDA Select sets run under $20 I recommend that you at least spring an extra $5 for the USDA Prime set, the marbling is far more pronounced. I of course could not help but try the numerous Wagyu offerings over the course of several visits, these generally run at $88 per set.

The tables at Yakiniku West are recessed into the floor and each one contains an electric grill. I was initially concerned that the relatively small grill would not be up to the task but it put out an acceptable amount of heat. You won't be able to achieve a black and blue temperature, especially with the steak being so thin, but you can get a decent seer on it.

Of course getting a decent seer can lead to over cooked steak. I tend to err on the side rareness so while I may not get the ideal char here I am at least assured rare enough beef. And I should note here that while I eat my USDA Prime and even American Wagyu steaks black and blue I find true Japanese Wagyu, especially higher grades, fairs better when cooked medium rare due to the extraordinary fat content. Incidentally the beef arrives at the table here so cold that it is almost frozen. This is obviously contrary to the method preferred in Western cooking where the steak is brought up to room temperature before cooking. I made the mistake of allowing some of my raw beef to sit too long and become quite temped, it caught fire almost immediately! The near zero temperature mitigates this completely.

Once you have cooked the beef to your liking you place it in a lettuce wrap with rice and a barbecue like sauce. Interestingly the combination of beef, starchy rice and lettuce evokes flavors quite similar to eating a hamburger, especially when the lettuce wilts slightly from the heat of the meat. I quite enjoy the lettuce wrap method but when it comes to the Japanese Wagyu I tend to eat it right off the grill, sans adornments.

USDA Prime Rib Eye

Despite turning many Western steak conventions on their head Yakiniku West delivers an enjoyable and hearty beef experience. While I would love to try some of the Wagyu beef here prepared as a thick steak over a ultra high heat there are plenty of other places that offer this in NYC. Certainly for the thriftier budgets the USDA Prime steak at only around $25 including salad, rice, kimchi and desert is a good bargain. Of course while hardly a bargain the Wagyu sets are delicious. The service is very polite, as is the case in most Japanese restaurants and the decor is tastefully understated. Recommended.

Yakiniku West
218 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003-7503
Phone: (212) 979-9238

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wildwood Barbecue Hiring, Opening Seems Imminent


I just received an email from Josh "Mr. Cutlets" Ozersky, apparently the rumour I heard about Robby Richter was just that. As Mr Cutlets notes "The pitmaster at Wildwood will be Matt Fisher, a very good barbecuer and also author of the bbq blog Hampton Smoker. Corporate pitmaster will be Big Lou Elrose, formerly of Hill Country. Robbie is doing his own project with Zak Pelaccio

Wildwood Barbecue, the latest venture from B R Guest Restaurants, seems set to open soon as they are actively seeking staff. The location, Park Ave between 18th and 19th street formally housed Tapas bar Barca 18. I have high hopes for Wildwood as rumour has it that Robby Richter of Hill Country NY fame will be manning the pit, at least initially. Apparently there are plans afoot to open numerous Wildwoods across America. They are certainly entering an increasingly crowded barbecue market, what with Blue Smoke, Righteous Urban Barbecue (RUB) and the aforementioned Hill Country NY all in fairly close proximity. But after the success of BR Guest' Primehouse I don't doubt that Wildwood will be competative.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Beef Aficionado's Top Ten Bone In Ribeye Steaks

Beef Aficionado reader Jay L. recently wrote in asking me to list my top ten bone in ribeyes steaks. I thought this would make for a good post so with out further ado, and in no particular order (all these steaks are outstanding and it would be hard to rank them) here they are:

Smith and Wollensky

One of my all time favorite steakhouses Smith and Wollensky serves up a massive hunk of dry aged steer called the Colorado ribeye. For many years it was not even listed on the menu but was always available. S&W excel at offering true black and blue steaks, the outside perfectly charred and the inside wonderfully cool and tender. They also offer, although I don't for the life of me understand why, a "Cajun" ribeye which apparently has a spicy, fiery seasoning. There is no reason for this, the USDA prime steer here has such amazing flavor that all that it requires is salt.

Smith and Wollensky
797 Third Ave.
Manhattan, NY |

Post House

A close cousin to the S&W rib eye, the Post House is owned, or at least was owned by the same restaurant group as Smith and Wollensky. And the steak is every bit as good.

Post House
28 E. 63rd St.
Manhattan, NY

Bobby VansAnother quintessential NYC chophouse Bobby Van's offers outstanding steaks that are quite similar to S&W and the Post House. Full review here.

Bobby Van's
Multiple Locations

Beef Aficionado visited:

230 Park Ave.
(46th St.)
Manhattan, NY

131 E. 54th St.
(bet. Lexington & Park Aves.)
Manhattan, NY


Former Peter Luger head waiter Wolfgang Zweiner opened Wolfgang's Steakhouse in Manhattan a few years back as a virtual clone of his former employer. The menu was almost exactly the same as Luger's except that they offered a bone in ribeye (which Luger's now offers) And what a ribeye it is, the musky dry age flavor is evident throughout the cut and the exterior char that they achieve is second to done.

4 Park Ave.
(33rd St.)
Manhattan, NY

BLT Prime

While I find the domestic steer offering at BLT Prime less than impressive the American and Japan Wagyu is outstanding. (Beef Aficionado reviews found here and here). The bone in American Wagyu ribeye pictured above had amazing flavor and unlike a lot of Kobe style beef this one was dry aged.

BLT Prime
111 E. 22nd St.
Manhattan, NY

Old Homestead

I have to be honest regarding the Old Homestead, for many years I found it to be a dismal steakhouse, offering lackluster food. However, a recent revamping and a renewed focus on the menu has resulted in a much improved enterprise. The "Gotham" ribeye steak is a massive hunk of USDA prime that literally dwarfs all the other steaks in this survey. But while one might expect that this would result in the old quantity/quality trade off the steak here is excellent, despite its size.

Old Homestead Steakhouse

56 Ninth Ave.
Manhattan, NY

Pacific Dining Car

While the other steakhouses in this survey all hale from NYC I assure you that this is more reflective of my limited travel than some geographical prejudice. While I am sure that we have more steakhouses, per capita, that serve dry aged USDA Prime steer than the rest of the country here in NYC I am not willing to discount the fact that there are lots of great steaks out there. Indeed Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles, CA offers top notch USDA dry aged Prime steak that are every bit as good as what you will find at NYC. Uniquely the steaks at PDC are grilled over mesquite. Full reviews here and here

Pacific Dining Car
1310 West 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 483-6000

Peter Luger

The venerable Peter Luger traditionally only served porterhouse and strip steaks. Last year however in the midst of the prime beef shortage they started serving a delicious bone in ribeye steak. It is every bit as good as their world renowned porterhouse, with a hearty beef flavor and a wonderful dry age. The only objection I have is that they slice it and drown it in butter, the same technique they apply to the porterhouse. Frankly I have never understood the need to do this to steak, especially dry aged prime. Never the less Peter Luger offers some of the best beef on the planet.

Peter Luger Steakhouse
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY

Primehouse NY

Relative and welcome newcomer to the NYC steakhouse scene Primehouse NY offers top steer that is sourced directly from the restaurants own bull named Prime. The beef is then hung in Primehouse's custom-built Himalayan rock salt-tiled aging room. While I found that the standard 28 day dry aged ribeye here fell short of the other offering in this survey Primehouse also offers a 40 and 65 day dry aged ribeyes , both of which are spectacular. Featured in Beef Aficionado here and here.

Primehouse New York
381 Park Ave. S.
Manhattan, NY

Dylan Prime

Dylan Prime falls into the category that I have dubbed the "Nouveau steakhouse." While the traditional steakhouse menu is present and accounted for at this institution it is used as a starting point. Dylan Prime offers some inventive and delicious interpretations of traditional steakhouse fare. To quote my original review:

"The ribeye from the boutique steer of Brandt farms was wonderful. Tender and flavorful with the mineral rich flavor that only dry aging can impart. The sliced steak is served with a delicious smoky barbequed vegetable salad, warm brown butter and fresh herb vinaigrette. This is exactly the sort of inventive reinterpretation of steakhouse fare that I have been clamoring for."

For the record although the steak is sliced it is served with the bone. Full review here.

Dylan Prime
62 Laight St.
(Greenwich St.)
212 334 4783