Jun 28, 2012|
Early last year, steak lovers rejoiced when they discovered that the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai had launched a no-nonsense steakhouse serving USDA Prime and top-quality Canadian and Japanese beef. This meant that established big shots like Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s and The Steak House at the InterContinental, plus popular digs like Bistecca and BLT Steak, now had another serious contender to deal with. A couple months later, Dining Concepts Group launched Manzo, its latest steak venture (after Bistecca, BLT Steak and Argentinian steakhouse Tango), re-invigorating the city’s love affair with beef and coolly sidestepping the parallel trend towards leaner and greener eats.
In April of this year, the beef train picked up steam again with Harlan Goldstein’s Strip House, which serves up unabashed vintage Americana with bold steaks to match. Shore in Sheung Wan, meanwhile, gradually transformed itself from its grand ambitions as an upscale surf ‘n’ turf joint into a hardcore, dedicated steakhouse. Finally, Maximal Concepts surprised the Hollywood Road masses last month with the opening of Blue Butcher, a multi-meat specialist with its own walk-in dry-aging room.
Despite the heightened competition, these restaurants have somehow managed to carve out their own niches, focusing on different aspects of steak-making and catering to distinct groups of diners. For now, there doesn’t seem to be much beef between these steak specialists (save for an increasingly intense tounge-in-cheek spat between Shore chef Jason Black and Strip House chef-owner Harlan Goldstein—check hk-magazine.com/usc for the background on this feud)—if only because each one is playing a slightly different card.
At Shore, you can get steak that’s cooked sous-vide, then seasoned and caramelized.
In a market where dry-aged steaks are seen by some steak enthusiasts as a superior process to wet-aging, one restaurant is bravely blazing a path where others seldom venture (at least conspicuously so). Strip House prefers to keep its steaks nice and wet—and only that way. This means that instead of hanging the body parts out to dry and having them interact with the bacteria in the air, the meat stays vacuum-packed and ages in its own juices. Water retention is much greater in a wet-aged scenario, obviously, which means the steak keeps its weight even as it matures. The flavor profile that results from these two processes is markedly different, however—the beef taste is more intense in a dry-aged steak, while wet-aged ones tend to have a more sanguine flavor from interacting with the blood of the meat.
“I think there’s a controversy with this. There are chefs that think dry-aged is better because it takes out 35 percent of the beef’s weight and they feel it’s nuttier and more rich in flavor,” says Goldstein. “However, when you cook it the meat turns a very gray color which isn’t appetizing, while wet-aging matures the beef to its fullness, and when you grill it the medium-rare steaks stay very red and juicy. This is the style I prefer and offer to my guests.”
But Blue Butcher head chef Danny Chaney disagrees: “Wet-aged meat is aged in its packaging. Dry-aged meat is meat hung on racks in controlled refrigerators at certain temperatures and humidity levels and is how you develop stronger, more intense flavors in your meat. You should always dry-age.”
Meanwhile, the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse’s chef de cuisine David Campbell remains impartial. “There is very little scientific proof to argue that either is better,” he explains. “There might be a slight increase in beef flavor from dry-aging. The actual tenderness of the beef will improve regardless of [the] aging method.” His restaurant, as a result, serves a selection of both dry-aged and wet-aged steaks.
“Manzo offers steaks that are sustainable and organically fed, right down to the seed. Only a very limited amount of cattle are slaughtered for Manzo because of the grazing and raising process,” says Tony Ferreira, head chef at Manzo. Which brings us to another topic—what should we feed the cattle?
“Grass-fed equals beefy,” Ferreira declares. “Grain-fed equals marbled and fatty. Essentially, all grass-fed cows are finished with 10 percent [grain-feeding], so I would have to say grass-fed all the way.”
“Grass-feeding is the natural way that a cow should eat. They are ruminants,” adds the Grand Hyatt’s Campbell. “But grain-feeding leads to better marbling in the steak and is therefore more popular.” Thankfully, Black from Shore notes that there is some middle ground. “Grass-fed cattle spend their time roaming pastures and take a lot longer to get to the desired weight,” he says. “Grain-fed beef, at its worst, is beef that comes from cattle in feed lots, kept there to fatten up in the shortest possible time. I do enjoy beef that is fed grain over a longer period, and with less grain. Rangers Valley [in Australia] has a great program that feeds small amounts of grain [to the cows] over a 300-day period.”
All the steak Manzo serves comes from cattle that is sustainably and organically fed.
Sometimes, a bit of seasoning goes a long way. “Once [the meat] arrives at our restaurant, it goes into our dry-age fridge for a minimum of three weeks. We’ve also sourced Himalayan pink salt bricks for this room to help [infuse] an even deeper flavor into the meat,” says Chaney of Blue Butcher. There’s Chaney’s special seasoning and the custom-made grill from Texas, too, but the bricks really do the trick in terms of setting Blue Butcher apart. Other chefs kick it up a notch just before it gets cooked. “We use a charcoal grill and a Montague broiler,” says Campbell of the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse. “When a steak is ordered, the steak is brought to room temperature and seasoned with Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper.”
Some cuts at the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse are seasoned with Maldon sea salt before they get marked on a charcoal grill.
Depending on the restaurant, customers tend to prefer different types of steaks. “In order of volume, we sell tenderloin, then rib, then strip. Tenderness plays a big part,” says Shore’s Black. For the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse, the rib-eye is the hands-down winner. “Since the day we opened, the USDA Prime rib-eye has been our most popular steak by a landslide,” Campbell says. “It’s a great steak because of its good flavor and ample marbling.” Meanwhile, at Strip House, Goldstein has noticed that the sirloin is the most popular of the lot.
With such a variety of diners out there, sometimes the easiest way to please is just to offer a little bit of everything. At least that’s Black’s approach at Shore. “We dry-age a large number of cuts, and our signature boards allow clients to experience a variety of types of beef—be it grass-fed, grain-fed, wet-aged, dry-aged—at the same time,” Black says, explaining his multi-faceted menu. The restaurant also recently hosted a “steak debate” and diners blind-tasted a whole range of different types of steaks and stated their preferences at the end.
At Blue Butcher, some of the steaks are exposed to Himalayan pink salt as they are dry-aged.
For all the different approaches to steak-making, at the end of the day it’s the whole dining experience, including the ambience of the restaurant, that makes or breaks a meal. “I honestly believe it is all about the experience,” says Black. “The room, the service, the food and the emotional connection.” Campbell agrees. “I’m a firm believer in the experience and the company being as important as the food,” he says.