New or Classic, Steakhouse Stock Stays Strong

By Lacey Tisch-Sidney for TravelsinTaste

There is no shortage of beef here! Whether it's an old-school joint or upscale restaurant, steakhouses remain all the rage, as they have for more than 100 years. There is a substantial difference between the original houses that became popular in the late 1800s and the new-wave steak joints, though, including Michael Jordan's and Strip House, which have emerged and flourished during a time of revolutionary cuisine.

The establishment carnivore cathedrals are Peter Luger's, P.J. Clarke's, The Palm and Keens, where the menus -- prominently displaying at least four types of dry-aged beef -- might as well bear the slogan "Show off the beef." Lugers' advertises proudly that its USDA prime beef is dry-aged in its own aging box, and Keens' steaks are similarly hand-picked and dry-aged on the premises.

Strip House
The Strip House in Las Vegas, designed by David Rockwell, includes art noir photographs expertly shot by Studio Manasse in Vienna in the early 1900s.

Most of the entrees at these restaurants are steak, of course, but diners shouldn't skimp on the other courses. The iceberg wedges, bacon, creamed spinach, beefsteak tomato, oysters and shrimp cocktail, while sounding run-of-the-mill, are fresh and honed to perfection -- all part of an unforgettable repertoire.

The originals also have a flair for the past in decor, which tends to have a masculine swagger reminiscent of an exclusive saloon. The Palm features caricatures of the famous (and sometimes infamous) who have been regular patrons. Keens Steakhouse owns the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. (Members of the Keens Steakhouse Pipe Club include Albert Einstein, Babe Ruth and Teddy Roosevelt.) Even more charming is the pay phone and cigarette machine at P.J. Clarke's -- where Johnny Mercer penned the song "One for My Baby" -- which are out of order and will likely remain that way forever. New York Gov. David Paterson apparently secretly swore in Dick Ravitch as lieutenant governor at Peter Luger's.

So while there might not be such great variation among the menus of the classic steakhouses, they have created a delicious recipe for success.

The new generation -- Michael Jordan's, Strip House, Porter House and CUT -- adds innovative flavors and stylish decor.

Instead of the plain beefsteak tomato with onion, Strip House offers vine-ripened tomatoes and red onion with sliced cucumber, sweet basil and a tomato water vinaigrette. They also offer crisp goose-fat potatoes and black truffle creamed spinach. Instead of plain bacon strips, Michael Jordan's offers crisped pork belly with Swiss chard and a cola reduction. Porter House offers its taters six different ways: "smashed" sweet potatoes with bourbon, truffle mashed Yukon Golds, hash browns, kettle-cooked chili potato chips, baked jumbo Idaho Russerts and french fries.

"Classic side dishes such as hash browns are made with a modern style and technique. Our hash browns aren't burnt leftovers. Here at Michael Jordan's we poach them, then season, then roast," says Michael Vignola, executive chef of Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C. and recent Food Network ( SSP) Chopped winner.

But there is no shortage of beef at these restaurants. Wolfgang Puck's CUT offers eight different types of steak, five of which hail from different states. In this age of agricultural consciousness, menus at the new steakhouses detail which farms the beef come from and what the cows are fed and offer a wide variety of nonbeef entrees.

The decor is as important as the entrees at these restaurants -- sleek and stylish. Nude female silhouettes vamp up the wallpaper and napkins at Strip House and, combined with blood-red dimmed lighting, give the restaurant a seductive edge. Michael Jordan's is reminiscent of a movie set designed offsite and reassembled in the restaurant.

"The classic steakhouse has become, in many ways, a steak restaurant. The core is the same -- the steak itself has not much changed. An analogy is that the woman is the same, but her accessories are different. The appetizers, sides, decor has become modern. A modern steak restaurant has well-trained cooks and a higher quality of cuisine," explains John Schenk, executive chef of Strip House.

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