The Food and Wine Hedonist

leave your inhibitions at the door

Why Do People Love Steakhouses?

I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never made a big deal out of birthdays.   It was only a few years ago that I made it a point to go out for a really nice dinner, but that was mostly for having something to blog about.

This year we went out for what I think an overwhelming majority of people consider the ultimate special birthday meal – dinner at a steakhouse.   I think I get the attraction – fancy white tablecloths, rich mahogany woodwork, dimly lit, and eating what’s a total luxury item.

Here in Ann Arbor, that place is The Chop House.   If you ask people around here for where you can go for a great dinner, most people will direct you here because it’s a) a steakhouse and b) the person celebrating their birthday gets their meal for free.

 

What We Ate

We started with an order of their Spicy Moroccan Shrimp

CH shrimp

 

…and the Grilled Romaine Salad

CH salad

 

Boom Boom ordered the filet mignon (no pic, sorry)  and I went with the Cowboy Steak – a big bone-in ribeye, their signature dish.

 

CH cowboy

 

Potatoes au gratin

CH Gratin

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

CH Sprouts

 

All accompanied by a 2012 Frank Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

 

The Verdict

Overall, not that special.   The shrimp appetizer was very tasty, though it tasted suspiciously like hot wings. (Maybe Buffalo is in Morocco?!?)   The salad was good, but how hard was that?   The steaks were both prepared correctly and the cuts were of good quality.   Not sure they were aged that long, but mine was very juicy. The sprouts were lifeless, bolstered by a sauce whose saltiness could only be exceeded by that of the au gratin potatoes.    The wine was excellent and classic Napa cab – fruit forward, strong tannins, but very well balanced.

But……

 

Why Steakhouses?

During the meal and even up until now, I kept thinking, “I can make this.”   There are so many guys who don’t know the difference between cilantro and parsley that can fire up the grill and make a perfectly executed steak.  It’s not hard at all.   You can even make a perfect steak from a frozen cut of meat indoors.

When I go out to eat, I prefer to eat something I don’t have the ability or patience to make myself.  I don’t have the skill or equipment to make ultra delicate sauces and sous vide lamb chops.   Dishes with 143 exotic ingredients or curries that stink up the house fall in the “no patience”  category.   But farm-to-table and rustic Italian I can do with my eyes closed.   So why would I pay all that extra money to someone else who more than half the time doesn’t do as good a job as me?

Which brings me to the big, giant elephant in the room when it comes to steakhouses – the colossal bill.   Even with my birthday discount, dinner for two (including tip) came out to $270.   The wine we chose was $106, which was probably overpriced.  But even if we went with the cheapest one, our meal still would’ve been north of $200 with the discount.   My cowboy steak alone was $56 and I know I can easily get the same grass-fed, Prime quality, cut for half the price.

Some people like the idea of someone else doing the cooking and cleaning. But again, how much effort is there in steak? As for dishes, you can buy new ones and throw them away instead of cleaning them.

And still come out on top.

Is it a holdover from days gone by? Half a century ago a steakhouse was the gold standard for restaurants. But that was also the era that considered Italian cuisine as exotic or the food of swarthy immigrants.   I heard Jacques Pepin recently say that when he first came to America, the only way to get mushrooms was in a can.

Times have changed.   The produce sections of the crappiest grocery stores have pomegranates, ginger, and even lemongrass. So imagine what the restaurants can get.   As for cuisines, not only can we get dishes from around the world, we’re FUSING them and coming up with new styles and techniques.

Maybe it was because meat was harder to come by, therefore a steak dinner was reserved for the most special of occasions?   But the industrialization of beef and the interstate system has made it pretty easy to get.  And old school butchers will tell you that steaks back in the day were aged a long time and even the ones in restaurants these days aren’t aged as well.   So exactly how good is that $50 steak?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the last person you’d call a cheapskate.  I’m just trying to understand the allure.

What do you think?   Are steakhouses still the epitome of fine dining? What’s your “special” meal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chop House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

 

 

 

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About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

17 comments on “Why Do People Love Steakhouses?

  1. Michelle Williams
    December 16, 2015

    I’m pretty much with you on the whole steak house thing, and I live in Texas. We have some of the best steakhouses in the world but at the end of the day they are so crazy expensive its not worth it.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 16, 2015

      Isn’t that heresy down there? Speaking of… We live somewhat close to a major exit from the highway and they just opened a Texas Roadhouse. Expectations are pushing up daisies on that one. But at least it’s a major eyesore.. Uhh

      • Michelle Williams
        December 16, 2015

        Don’t get your hopes up I am pretty sure it is not even a Texas company. We have a few in Texas but not many. I have eaten there once; generic but ok.

  2. Yinzerella
    December 16, 2015

    I have been there! I was in Ann Arbor over the summer for a wedding. The food was good (although I can’t remember what I had). But I do remember that there was a whole spread of garnishes if you ordered a martini. That was rad.

    I understand what you’re saying about steakhouses (I think that Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s are a complete waste of time), but you haven’t been to the Prime Rib in Baltimore. It is the BEST. And, when I go, I get Prime Rib. Because, that is a pain in the ass to make.

    Crap. Now I want beef and freshly grated horseradish.

  3. Max D.
    December 16, 2015

    If you told me that I would never eat in a steakhouse ever again, I’d say, “I can live with that.” Fact is I’ve never eaten in one. There aren’t that many places where a couple can drop over $250 (with one meal free???) in Ann Arbor. We’ve been to Logan, where two of us dropped just over $200. That included two glasses of Champagne in addition to a full bottle of red ($72). And dessert. And Logan is no greasy spoon. So yeah, the price alone would keep me from a place like that.

    The other food you mention doesn’t look all that awe-inspiring. Call me a rube or a Philistine (and the good Lord know I am), but I can make a guest-worthy steak with a cast iron skillet, salt, and pepper (though the meat is not gonna be from a typical chain grocery store). With a little more effort, anyone can also make a nice Catalan romesco sauce or some basic Vietnamese marinade with the stuff already in a basic middle class pantry (maybe fish sauce for the Vietnamese marinade is not quite a regular middle class American pantry item). And if my brussels sprouts and potatoes au gratin are that salty, I’d just toss a green salad and put a potato in the freakin’ microwave.

    Having said all that, if you enjoyed the meal and the company, then it’s all good. And let me belatedly send the FWH a happy birthday. (And remember, never send “happy belated birthday wishes.” The birthday wasn’t belated; the wishes were.)

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 16, 2015

      Thanks, and you’re really showing off your English Prof muscles there. My favorite is still Whoopers, Jr NOT Whopper Juniors.

      • Max D.
        December 16, 2015

        Can you tell it’s Finals Week?

  4. thewineraconteur
    December 16, 2015

    John, I guess there is just the mystique of a “steakhouse.” We have made the trek to the Chophouse a couple of times, there is just so many other choices in Ann Arbor, and I may have to remember that the birthday boy gets a bonus. LOL. I think that I like going there when we are there for the Art Fair, because it is about the only restaurant that is not busting at the seams, probably because of the prices, and I like their venison, which is a dish that we do not make at home. And a belated Happy Birthday to you as well.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 16, 2015

      Thanks John! I agree there’s the mystique and maybe that’s more than enough. I could very well be overanalyzing things.

  5. elizabeth
    December 16, 2015

    I mean, a visit to Keen’s in New York is pretty amazing because the meat there is so perfectly done (and you don’t need sides because the meat is more than enough). And honestly, while I like a nice glass of wine, something brown and strong is way more appropriate in a steakhouse setting. (See: Ron Swanson.)

    That said, I agree with you that the steakhouse is one of the easiest concepts to completely fuck up, because it really does depend on simple food executed very well, and frankly I’d rather have a good burger at a low-key place rather than a ho-hum steak because the latter is SO disappointing because the prices are usually so inflated. So before you write off all steakhouses, hit up Keen’s on your next trip to New York and let us know what you think–I would be genuinely curious to get your reaction.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 20, 2015

      have not heard of Keen’s…Willing to try if I ever moved there, but if I’m only visiting there are so many others that I’d be pumped to visit. Unless Keen’s wants to comp me a dinner (Hear that Keen’s?) 😉

  6. a2sicilian
    December 17, 2015

    You know I’m in complete agreement. Once you know how to cook a steak right, few things are easier. (Once you get that sense of touch down you always know what a medium rare steak feels like. Fun tip when I “started out”–cup your palm slightly: medium rare steak to touch is what your flesh feels like to the touch below your thumb; rare is the flesh between your thumb and forefinger.)

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 20, 2015

      That’s similar to something I used to do – touch thumb to different fingers and feel that spot. Further away from forefinger, rarer the steak.

  7. Max D.
    February 24, 2016

    Sadly, in my household, four out of five people prefer their steak not just well done, but “extra crispy.” When I cook steak, I could probably season it with my tears as I see the meat go from deliciously rare to a second or two from “shoe sole.” But they clean their plates, so I guess I should be grateful.

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This entry was posted on December 16, 2015 by in Ann Arbor, Dining and tagged , , , , , , .
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