Steak! For the carnivore a well prepared one is nirvana, an over-cooked or otherwise poorly prepared one is a sin.
In order for a steak to be worthy of worship it must be U.S.D.A. Prime (which leaves out lower level chains, such as Outback or Longhorn as those businesses serve U.S.D.A. Choice, the same quality you’ll get a local market).
Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle and has abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat). Most high-end steak restaurants also use aged meat. Choice beef is of high quality, but has less marbling than Prime and tends to come from slightly older animals.
While, theoretically, any good chef can cook a steak correctly, steakhouse restaurants are specifically designed to do so. Often a steakhouse kitchen will have a special super high-temp grill to get that initial sear so vital to a well-prepared steak. The cooks will also have more experience cooking steak properly.
Top steakhouse chefs are well compensated, an indication of the emphasis these restaurants place on their inventory. That’s just one of the reasons prices at steak houses are higher. You’ll also pay more because Prime beef is much more expensive than Choice. Finally, steakhouse operators, especially the large corporate chains, have realized that people expect to pay more, so they up the charges on everything. Why else would four asparagus spears be priced at $15?
So, are these up-scale chains worth the $100 plus per person you’re going to spend? That depends on a number of factors. How refined is your palate? How much of your budget are you willing to spend for a meal? How much does atmosphere mean to you? These are all factors to consider. While there are a number of independent steak houses in the Fort Lauderdale area, for this column we’re going to focus on the local outlets of the four major steakhouse chains and see what kind of bang you get for your buck.
501 Silks Run Suite (The Villages at Gulfstream), Hallandale Beach, 954-457-3920
The Dallas-based chain has been around for about a decade. It has the dark wood and lush upholstery one would expect. With a large selection of wines by the bottle, the by the glass list is surprisingly sparse. The seafood medley app featured two medium shrimp, a mini crab cake and one seared sea scallop. Not a bad selection (although the smallish size of the shrimp was a disappointment) and all well prepared, but at $19.95, ridiculously over-priced; especially when a large bowl of absolutely perfect lobster bisque goes for half that amount.
On a recent visit the Prime bone-in rib eye, (priced at $50 for the smaller 18 oz. cut) arrived completely unadorned on a room temp plate. While cooked to the ordered medium rare, it lacked seasoning and the hard sear one expects from a top-level steak house. The portion of salmon served to my dining companion was quite small considering the $31 price. Side dishes of bland six-cheese potatoes and overly salty (that’s where all the salt went) fried Brussels sprouts left us unimpressed. The three-course early bird dinner is a better buy at $35. Service is attentive and friendly, but was none too subtle in pushing higher priced menu options.
Ruth's Chris Steak House
2525 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-2338, www.ruthschris.com
After undergoing a major renovation about five years ago, Ruth’s still looks warm and clubby; the standard decor for a steakhouse. The chain’s claim to fame is that its steaks are broiled at 1,800°F and served on 500°F plates. I’ve been to quite a few locations and have never had a steak that was anything else than perfect. Start with the Crabtini, a crab cocktail made with large chunks of crabmeat or the crispy shrimp with ginger and jalapeno. My favorite entree is the bone-in rib eye or the porterhouse for two. As with most other steakhouses everything is a la carte. There’s a daily seafood special and a couple of shrimp dishes for non-meat eaters. Vegetarians could easily make a meal out of the side dishes. The sweet potato casserole is your best bet. For dessert, which I am seldom able to order, the banana cream pie is my husband’s favorite. Its bar, which offers a lower priced bistro menu, is dominated by a big screen TV, which makes it difficult to hold a conversation.
500 E. Broward Blvd., 954-467-9720, www.mortons.com
As one of the most established steak houses (founded in Chicago in 1978 by Arnie Morton and Klaus Fritsch) Morton’s is the blueprint for all steakhouse that have followed; the décor is all dark woods, dim lighting and tables covered in white tablecloths. The attentive waiters actually bring out a platter of raw steaks (wrapped in plastic) to explain the cuts. Of course, they lowered it right in front of my vegetarian husband. The shrimp cocktail and lobster cocktail are both good bets for apps.
The veal chop is my choice, it’s not something you find on every steakhouse menu and Morton’s prepares it beautifully-just the barest hint of pink in the center. The side dishes are not as varied as some places (mostly variations on potatoes) and overpriced at $12 and of course, all the portions are over the top. The dessert list is unimaginative. Morton's also offers “Power Hour” daily in its bar from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to closing with $6 apps and cocktail specials, although service in the bar area isn’t very friendly or good.
2430 E. Sunrise Blvd. (in The Galleria), 954-446-2000, www.thecapitalgrille.com
This steakhouse is known for dry-aged steaks, chops and fresh seafood. Start with the pan-fried calamari with cherry peppers, it’s unusual and has just the right kickoff heat. The asparagus soup is also delightful and something unique. The Delmonico with a porcini mushroom crust and an aged Balsamic glaze is Capital’s signature steak. Citrus glazed salmon, served over haricots verts, fresh asparagus and roasted cippolini onions is an alternative for the meat eater. Unlike many steakhouses, many of Capital’s entrees come with side dishes, but don’t pass on the grilled asparagus or lobster mac and cheese, which is as decadent as you might imagine. Desserts aren’t especially imaginative or memorable. Service is exceptional, especially if you alert them of a special event, such as a birthday or anniversary.
There’s a lively cocktail hour and the bar menu is quite nice, offering beef tenderloin sandwiches and miniature lobster and crab as well as the calamari mentioned previously. There’s an $18 lunch special for those wanting to experience the luxury on a budget.