Tag Archives: dry aged

Vaucluse

My wife picked up a nice Gilt City deal for this joint that gave us $200 to spend for something like $100. I had heard great things about the burger here, so I figured it was time to check it out now that there was a flash deal at play.

The cocktail menu is pricey at $18, but very nicely crafted.

We shared that burger (the “White Label Burger”) as an app. The patty is an aged beef blend; the cheese is fontina; and it’s topped with a tomato jam and dijonnaise.

They cook it nice and rare, so you don’t lose any of that aged funk to the heat. It’s a potent burger, and part of me still loves a classic roadside American burger better, but this is kinda like having a steak between a bun. Definitely nice.

And like any good French joint, it’s served with frites.

These were pretty good, but not quite on the level of Boucherie, which has now become my benchmark standard, to which all French fries must be compared.

We also tried the calamari stuffed with lobster and rice.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much lobster to this dish. In fact, I couldn’t really find any or taste any in the bites I had. In any case, the tomato sauce was nice, as was the cook on the squid.

My wife had some rabbit, truffle and cheese ravioli for her entree. This was a small portion size for $25, but they at least warned us ahead of time that it would be.

They were excellent. Each raviolo seemed to be partitioned, with one side having the rabbit, and the other side having the cheese.

Of course, I had steak.

This was served with some dressed watercress, but I quickly brushed that bullshit aside. I sliced it up so you could see the perfect cook temp on this prime NY strip steak.

This was actually a steak frites, so it came with more fries and a peppercorn au poivre on the side. Well, I asked for it on the side so I could get this intense shot of foodpourn.

Did you just bust? Because I did.

I ate every bite. It was a great little steak. I didn’t detect any aged flavor, and I assume they would have advertised that if it were the case. Not too bad at $44, but on par with the Jubilee rib eye steak frites that I had just the other day for $40. 8/10.

We shared a lemon tart with basil ice cream for dessert. This was really pretty, and tasted a bit like a key lime pie with the herbaceous basil ice cream on top. We liked this a lot.

Oh and I should mention that this place also brings out an amuse at the beginning, as well as petit fours at the end. I only snapped the amuse, which was a tiny popover style bread with a truffle cream filling. The dessert capper was a chocolate hazelnut bite.

VAUCLUSE
100 E 63rd St
New York, NY 10065

Tavern on the Green

I scored a limited run Groupon for Tavern on the Green that was just $89 (plus a coupon code discount on top of that) for a four course meal for two.

We started with salads. I had the iceberg wedge. While the blue cheese dressing was a little bit watery, the other components of the salad were great, especially the diced tomato and bacon.

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My wife went with the caesar salad. I’m not sure if you can see it, but it was plated with some little anchovies as well. Pretty good salad.

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She also had the sea bass with roasted leeks and mashed potatoes. The skin was crisp and the fish was cooked nicely on the whole, though I had a few bites that were slightly overcooked.

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My wife went with haricot verts for her side item. These were crisp and buttery, lots of flavor.

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I went with the sirloin steak, 12oz, dry-aged, with creamed spinach, roasted fingerlings and au poivre sauce.

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I was suprised at how tasty this shit was. I was half expecting some throw-away cut of steak with tons of gristle, but it was really nice. 8/10.

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Here’s the gravy getting poured on top:

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I mistakenly chose the roasted baby vegetables as my side. These were terrible. Bland. I should have gone with the creamy whipped potato option instead, but I thought it would be an overload of potato items since they were already in both entrees.

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The shared carrot cake for dessert was flavorful and moist, but it sort of had the texture of a fruit cake. I didn’t mind it because I love carrot cake, but my wife, who is a baker, wasn’t too impressed.

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Good deal. If it ever comes up again, grab it.

TAVERN ON THE GREEN
Central Park West & 67th Street
New York, NY 10023

Petrossian

Occasionally you come across a meal that changes the way you view particular food items. I’m a steak man. Clearly, this is known. I’ve eaten hundreds of cuts in my endeavor to find the best that NYC has to offer. I thought I’d pretty much seen it all in the world of steak. What else could there be, aside from some aged wagyu, or something completely ridiculous and rare? But just when I was starting to get a little bored and comfortable with my favorite food, Petrossian Chef Richard Farnabe came through with a completely unique and utterly genius steak offering.

Photo from www.therestaurantfairy.com
Photo from www.therestaurantfairy.com

The cut itself is something with which we steak aficionados are familiar; a 28-day, dry-aged strip loin (NY Strip). This lean cut hails from Four Story Hill Farm in PA. But Chef Richard’s preparation is what sets it apart from the panoply of great meats in the city of this cut’s namesake; it’s cooked to a perfect medium rare all the way through, and topped with bone marrow and caviar.

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Caviar? Why would someone do that, you ask? Well, having eaten it, I have a hypothesis: The natural brine and salt content in the caviar compliments the aged taste of the meat in a tremendous way. Aged beef has a certain flavor profile to it – earthy, funky, and highly concentrated. The caviar, being naturally salty and funky in its own right, is the perfect pairing with this kind of meat. It helps bring out those aged characteristics while also providing a juicy pop and briny burst to each bite.

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And, as you might expect, the marrow adds some nice fat flavor and texture back into the lean cut of beef. It really is a brilliant conception. In my opinion this is probably one of the best strip steaks you can find in town. 10/10.

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It’s accompanied by a semi-raw, ice cold asparagus salad. This adds some acidity and fresh green flavors to the meal, deftly balancing the punch you’re getting from the steak.

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And that’s not the only beef I tried. On the appetizer menu, they offer A4 wagyu topped with grilled sturgeon.

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This comes with a pickled quail egg and some caviar as well, along with a little crispy potato cube. When eaten together (beef and fish), you are experiencing that same beautiful pairing of earth and sea, one enhancing the other. The sturgeon had a flavor that was reminiscent of a good, Japanese style grilled eel. The slightly candied or caramelized, almost sweet top coating on the sturgeon pulled out a lot of those rich beef fat flavors from the steak. Another 10/10. For the record I believe this was sliced strip loin, but since it’s A4 wagyu, I will include it in my “other cuts” section for catalog purposes.

Now that I’ve gotten the most important things out of the way, let me briefly discuss the remainder of the meal. After all, the rest was just as impressive as the meats reviewed above. Even the table bread and drinks were nice.

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Petrossian explores elements of both classic French cuisine and Russian/Eastern European cuisine, and there is a healthy presence of caviar and smoked fish in the dishes, aside from having a robust stand-alone caviar menu. The starting amuse, for example, features both French technique and Russian cuisine, along with both caviar and smoked fish.

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What exactly are you looking at here? Three items.

(1) The lollipops are smoked salmon with cream cheese foam dipped in beet foam to make a shell;

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(2) The cubes are savory caviar marshmallows;

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(3) The spheres are chocolate foie gras truffles with gold leaf.

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These concise, decadent and dynamic bites set the tone for the entire meal. Petrossian is truly one of the few great places to indulge and splurge with a high quality meal where it’s actually worth the money, and where there is no pretense, no elitism and no unnecessary vegetable worship.

The next item that came out was a terrine-like foie gras brulee with smoked sturgeon and a pomegranate Guinness drop. It came with a little bread puff but I really enjoyed this by itself.

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The Guinness drop was spun sugar and candy-like in flavor and texture, and the foie brulee was rich, creamy and deeply flavorful.

My wife’s starter was the Petrossian sampler, which contained various smoked fish items and caviar. Everything I tasted on this plate was delicious in addition to being beautifully presented.

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Her entree was a special: baby pig, which consisted of an assortment of meats from the animal, including kidney, ear, rib, and crispy skin. There was also a croquette and crispy hash made from the meat as well. I tasted a bit of everything, thankfully, because I definitely would have ordered this if the steak wasn’t on the menu.

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In particular, I really liked the kidney, which was skewered on a sprig of rosemary. That little touch of presentation/technique added a great roasted herb flavor to the meat. Absolutely outstanding. It almost reminded us of Japanese yakitori.

Our sides were sumac pomme souffle, which were like little puffed potato chips, and a bowl of sauteed wild mushrooms with herbs.

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These items went perfectly with our meat courses.

Dessert was a lot of fun as well. We had beignets with a multitude of injectable sauce bulbs, and a smoked wood ice cream chocolate ball, which was covered in chocolate sauce at table side.

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The beignets were very light and crisp, and my favorite sauce was the pistachio. The chocolate ball was rich, creamy and decadent. Really smooth and tasty.

And then these little guys came out with the check: chocolate truffles and marshmallow cubes, both plated on a bed of dark chocolate morsels.

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With Chef Richard at the helm, Petrossian has skyrocketed back into NYC’s short list of high end restaurants that discerning diners simply must experience at least once. I was extremely impressed.

PETROSSIAN
182 West 58th St
New York, NY 10019

Le Rivage

My wife picked up a Gilt City deal for Le Rivage, with which we shared a 62-day dry aged, bone-in Creekstone Farms/Pat LaFrieda New York strip steak, two sides, a bottle of wine and a dessert for about $100. Pretty great deal, especially if you can use a discount when buying the flash deal.

Anyway, Le Rivage is a cozy French joint in the theater district on 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.

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They gave us some nice table bread with whipped butter to start:

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And the wine was an 80%  Merlot 20% Cabernet blend that was actually pretty good.

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Chef Paul Denamiel cooked our steak to a perfect medium rare.

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The long, 62-day dry aging process imparted a bit of nuttiness and funk to the flavor of the beef. This baby was masterfully prepared. It definitely can hang tough with some of the best steakhouse cuts in the city. Get your ass over here and try it, if it is still available on special. I give it a 9/10. Why not the full 10? I felt like it needed just a hint more salt, maybe just some finishing salt even, but not much.

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The steak came with two sauces, so dipping into these added some of that saltiness that I was looking for from the seasoning. The sauces were a wine reduction and a peppercorn:

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Our sides were actually very abundant. We ordered broccolini and fries, but they brought out two dishes of fries, one dish of broccolini and one dish of carrots. We had lots to bring home.

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I’m a big fan of broccolini, and I cook a mean broccolini at home quite often. I was impressed with it here. It was simply treated with seasoning, garlic and oil. The carrots were buttered and slightly sweet-glazed, and the fries were nice and crisp.

For dessert, we went with the chef’s recommendation, which was a Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie and a sweetened, spiked milk.

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So simple, yet so tasty. After chatting with the chef for a bit, we learned that he is best friends with Pat LaFrieda, and that Jaques Torres is his godfather! That’s a serious pedigree, and it shows in Chef Paul’s abilities. He did a great job on the steak, especially.

I definitely recommend giving this place a shot, especially if you like to take advantage of Gilt City deals (not sure if this one is still available), or even just their regular three course price fix specials, which are offered daily for between $25 and $40. Very reasonable.

UPDATE – 6/30/16

I went back to Le Rivage to try Chef Denamiel’s award winning French Onion Soup Burger today. Holy fuck, people. This thing is absolutely amazing. It’s not a surprise that he won the “Judge’s Choice” award in New York City Wine & Food Festival’s 2013 “Burger Bash” with this baby, beating out the likes of burger master Chef Capon in the process.

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His patty grind is usually between 60/40 and 70/30 lean/fat, and the beef also comes from Pat LaFrieda, just like the steak I reviewed up above. He seasons the patty with salt, pepper, drawn butter and brown sugar before it hits the grill. After the first flip, he puts on a slice of a Swiss gruyere type cheese called Emmenthal, which melts around the patty to seal in the medium rare juices. This then gets placed onto a butter-toasted sandwich-sized English muffin, and then topped with cognac-reduced confit onions, and then a bechamel cheese sauce for good measure. The top bun is placed on top, and then the French flag toothpick with roasted cocktail onion and gherkin gets popped on. Viola – perfection.

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This is definitely one of my new favorite burgers; it really is unique. I walked out with a full belly, but I was still craving another one. Pretty sure I will be back again very soon, especially because the place is close to both work and home.

UPDATE 12/8/16

Burger still on point:

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Even my maniac food photographer homies agree:

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Croque Madame is stellar!

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Quiche is the best I’ve ever had in my life:

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You can even buy it frozen, to go, to fire up at home!

And the escargot is executed with perfection:

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Garlic bacon frisee salad: amazing. Tangy and delicious.

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Beef Bourguignon: hearty and soul-warming.

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Grilled Salmon:

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Flan:

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Peach Melba:

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LE RIVAGE
340 W 46th St
New York, NY 10036

The SteakAger

I recently received an email from the gent who co-created The SteakAger. He offered to send me a unit to review here on the site. I had no idea what the product was until I clicked over to their website to check it out. It’s an in-fridge box for dry-aging steaks at home!!! Check out their video:

Okay so just what is aged beef and dry-aging? I have a nice article about all that HERE, but the quick and dirty summary is that aging is a way to concentrate and intensify beef flavor and create a more tender steak.

I have had some limited experience dry-aging steaks with dry aging bags in the past, and the results were, surprisingly, very good! Since then, I have been secretly trying to figure out a way to fit a dedicated dry-aging fridge in our small NYC apartment. Needless to say, I was not excited about using more cubic footage for food stuff. In addition to our fridge, we have a drop-freezer, a baking work bench, and extra shelving for all of our cooking dedications. So The SteakAger was perfect for us; it goes right into the fridge! Most days the fridge is pretty empty anyway. We eat out a lot, as you can imagine, since NYC is pretty abundant with awesome restaurants. I do, however, like to cook steaks at home on occasion, to save a little dough here and there.

Anyway, my package arrived and I rushed home to get it before the package room in our building closed for the night. Here are some unboxing photos:

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AC power and extension cable, along with other materials:

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Keys are in there so you can get an idea of the sizing:

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Charcoal pad slips into air passage:

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Salt goes into the burlap bag and then gets placed at the bottom of the SteakAger, inside the box:

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Sizing in my fridge:

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It also fits if I turn it sideways, and it even has a viewing window on the side as well. Awesome! This orientation leaves me with a bit more space in the fridge.

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So the way this works, is you connect an extension wire to the back of The SteakAger, which you can see above on the upper left portion of the unit. You then snake that through the door hinge of the fridge and plug it into a socket behind the fridge. I was apprehensive at first, wondering whether the wire coming out of the fridge would mess with my fridge’s efficiency, but it does not. The seal is still tight, and everything in the fridge is still nice and cold.

So after monitoring my local grocery stores and butchers, I found a good sale on beef. I picked up about 7lbs of top sirloin and popped it into The Steak Ager.

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I adjusted my fridge setting down a bit to keep the temperature slightly colder than usual, at about 37 degrees. Then came the hard part: waiting… I started this baby on April 11th, 2016. Here’s a peek at it after 34 days in the box:

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As you can see, a nice dark bark formed around the outside. I carved that off and portioned the meat into two top sirloin cap filets (aka Culotte), and two top sirloin steaks.

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Here’s a time-lapse video of me doing that:

Right away, I cooked up a culotte. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and seared it in a cast iron skillet with some butter.

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I’m really happy with this product. It costs less than $250 with shipping. That’s a great deal for the ability to access dry-aged beef any time you want from your own fridge. I highly recommend this product to all beef aficionados.

Aged Beef

Lots of people ask me about aged beef, and whether an aged steak is worth the upcharge at a restaurant or butcher shop. The simple answer is yes. But if you’re like me, you also want to know why it’s worth the money, and how beef aging happens. I’ve got you covered here. This page should serve as your guide to convincing yourself to seek out and eat aged beef more often.

Let’s first start with the fact that there are two major, most common types of aging techniques employed by most meat people: Dry Aging and Wet Aging.

Prime & Beyond, NYC

Dry Aging

After the animal is slaughtered and cleaned, large format cuts with high, evenly distributed fat content are placed in temperature- and humidity-controlled coolers. The reason I say “large format cuts” is to separate out in your minds the idea that you can just toss a grocery store cut of steak into an aging box and let it go. That would be wasteful, as your steak will shrink during the aging process. So instead, meat purveyors will use something big, like a full standing rib roast, or even an entire side of beef when they dry-age meat.

Dry-aging processes tend to cause the meat to desiccate to the point where you can lose almost a third of the original weight. So if you’re starting with many pounds of meat, typically untrimmed of any fat and still having the bones in, then it doesn’t hurt so much when your beef loses some weight and eventually gets trimmed. The reason I say “high fat content” is because fat equals flavor, and dry-aging increases and concentrates flavor. During the process, that fat content also becomes very tender, and acts like butter when it gets rendered out during cooking.

The coolers or “aging boxes” can vary greatly. They can be large aging rooms or just a mini-fridge sized unit that has been modified to stay at near-freezing temperatures with good air circulation and lowered humidity.

The aging room at Gallagher’s Steakhouse
The aging fridge at Prime & Beyond.

The beef must be stored at near-freezing temperatures, and with a somewhat lowered humidity. Right off the bat, these steps eliminate the prospect of having to combat certain harmful bacteria that can only survive above a certain temperature with certain levels of humidity. Air circulation, air ventilation and even UV lighting are also key in these cold-boxes, as they further help to prevent certain types of harmful bacteria from forming while promoting other, more helpful bacteria and fungi.

“Bacteria? Fungus? Eww!”

Nope. Don’t be an asshole. Here’s how it works: Dry-aging promotes growth of certain fungal mold species on the external surface of the meat. This doesn’t cause spoilage, but actually forms an external “crust” on the meat’s surface, which is trimmed off later, when the meat is prepared for cooking. These fungal species complement the natural enzymes in the beef by helping to tenderize the meat, and enhancing and increasing the flavor of the meat. The natural enzymes in the beef break down the proteins, making everything more soft and tender.

Once the aging is completed, the dark, thick and hardened bark on the outside is trimmed away from the underlying softened meat. This bark will form on any outer portions of the meat that are in contact with the air.

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Bark is good. Dry-agers WANT that bark all around the meat. For that reason, meat within the cooling box will almost always be placed on a metal rack – which allows for air flow underneath – rather than a solid, flat surface. This also prevents bad bacteria from forming underneath the meat where it rests on the surface.

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“So why even do all of this? I’m still kinda grossed out about the bacteria and fungus.”

Then you should eat a dick instead of a steak. But seriously: The beef’s natural enzymes will break down the fat and connective tissue within the muscle, which increases the meat’s tenderness. And since moisture is evaporated from the muscle as well, you get a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste in the end-product.

“But why would I want a dry steak? Isn’t a great steak supposed to be very juicy?”

Finally a good question. The steak doesn’t get THAT dry, and the majority of the real dryness is on that outside bark that you trim away. The meat still retains about 2/3 of its moisture, and that translates directly to “juiciness” while minimizing bleed-out after cooking. Once you start to cook the steak, tons of juices will begin to flow – trust me. So why do all of this? To sum up: the dry-aging process changes and improves beef in two ways: (1) it increases tenderness, and (2) it concentrates and enhances flavor.

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Length of Dry-Aging

Dry-aging is commonly done for 15–28 days, but it is sometimes purposely done for longer periods of time. More time results in more shrinking, but also more flavor. Sometimes aged beef can take on a nutty flavor quality, intense earthiness, or the funk smell of blue cheese. A good number that I frequently see in restaurants is 35-days. At that point you are getting some of those interesting flavors without it being too overwhelming to the average consumer. Then again I have had 62-day steak that had a much more funky flavor quality than other 85-day, 105-day and 120-day steaks that I’ve tried. So I guess it depends on cooking technique too.

Availability

One seldom sees dry-aged beef outside of steakhouses, restaurants and upscale butcher shops. It is rare to see it in grocery stores due to the significant loss of weight in the aging process. Grocery stores sell meat by the pound and most average folks won’t understand the appeal of a funky, crusty and rotten looking piece of reddish-brown meat at such a marked-up price point. Most people just want to grab their pre-packaged steaks for the grill, and that’s fine. Only a few of us would be looking for top notch stuff like this. Whole Foods does offer aged beef, and they even age it on-site at their butcher counters.  But dry-aged steaks are almost as expensive raw at a supermarket as they are fully cooked by experts in a steakhouse. So for this kind of stuff it makes sense to just go to the restaurant, or man-up and do it at home yourself.

An Important Tip

Home cooks beware: Dry-aged beef cooks very fast because it is more dry than a regular steak. I like to re-hydrate mine with olive oil. I let it soak for a while in an olive oil and garlic bath at room temperature before I cook it. Another option is to sous vide it in a butter-filled vacuum pack to about 120 degrees first, and then finish it off with a hard sear in an iron skillet for a nice crust on the outside.

Wet Aging

Wet-aged beef is beef that has typically been aged in a vacuum-sealed bag to retain its moisture. This is the dominant mode of aging beef in the United States today, and you’ve most likely eaten wet-aged beef without even being aware. Wet-aging is popular because it takes less time (typically only a few days to a couple of weeks) and none of the weight is lost in the process (because there is no desiccation). For that reason, one can age individual cuts of steak rather than large format chunks of beef.

With the advent of plastics and vacuum sealing technology, meats can be broken down at the slaughterhouse, packed up, vacuum sealed and shipped out to grocery stores, butcher shops or restaurants. Since the meats are vacuum sealed rather than hung up in a cold dry locker during transport, the wet-aging will happen during the length of time it takes for a truck to deliver the product.

In the wet-aging process, natural enzymes do all the work to break down and tenderize the beef; there is no mold, bacteria or fungal growth aiding in the process or altering flavors.

I’ve only eaten wet-aged beef a few times at steakhouses in all of my steaking days. I don’t notice that much of an improvement, and I generally tend to enjoy dry-aged steaks more because of the concentrated and funky flavors. However, like the choice between a porterhouse and a rib eye, this is largely a matter of personal preference. Some people don’t like the texture or flavors associated with dry-aged beef, so they will stick to the wet-aged stuff.

Alternative Aging Techniques

So that covers the two major methods for aging beef. But there are other ways to achieve the same if not similar flavor characteristics.

Aging Bags

Umai Dry and other companies offer special, large semi-vacuum seal-able bags that mimic the dry-aging process pretty closely. I’ve tried these out and really enjoyed the outcome. Simply put, you seal up the meat according to their instructions, and place on a metal rack in your fridge. Then you wait, and once the aging is complete, you carve off all the bark and portion everything out into individual steaks for cooking.

Koji Rice Method

I recently came across an article that lit up my brain synapses like wildfire. As you may know, the Japanese are masters at fermentation. They’ve been fermenting soy, miso and other delicious items for centuries with great success. In fact they’ve been credited for the 5th flavor sensation, “umami,” which I call earthiness or funk. Think aged hard cheese, dashi broth, soy sauce, mushrooms, truffles or fish sauce. These items have distinct and almost dank smells and flavors, but in a good way that invigorate your taste buds. Lots of the flavors in these items, specifically the soy and miso products, are created due to the presence of a live bacterial culture that breaks down proteins, similar to what happens during the beef aging process. The Japanese have harnessed this bacteria and introduced it into sacks of Koji rice grains for their fermentation purposes. This rice is available all over the place.

So basically a guy grabbed a cut of steak and dusted it with some powderized Koji rice, and in two or three days he had a steak with the flavor characteristics of dry-aged beef. Now, he did this on a pre-cut and pre-portioned steak, so he was limited with the time he could age it. If he went any longer, the steak would have started to desiccate too much and he wouldn’t have been left with much meat after having to carve off the outer bark. Rice will absorb moisture, after all, and leech out moisture. In fact, the end result might be more like a cured meat that was packed with salt (like prosciutto) rather than a dry-aged steak.

In any case, I will probably give this a whirl at some point soon, so keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Additional Useful Information

Because I am thorough and anticipating your thoughts and questions, here is some more shit:

Aging Other Types of Meats

Why, yes, you can age other kinds of meats like chicken, pork or lamb. However, since these are smaller animals, you tend to lose a lot of their weight during the dry-aging process. For that reason, anyone doing this with non-beef will likely age the meat for shorter amounts of time than beef counterparts. Furthermore, I would imagine you’d have to be even more careful and mindful of harmful bacteria, as chicken and pork could have a higher occurrence of bad bacteria in their flesh than beef (salmonella, trichinosis, etc) if certain conditions are not sanitary from the outset. As with beef, wet-aging is possible with vacuum sealing.

Difference Between Aging and Curing

Curing is the process of preserving meats with the addition of salt, sugars, nitrites or nitrates. These things are not added to beef in the aging process. The addition of these materials eventually creates a completely inhospitable environment for bacteria, and therefore the meat will not easily spoil, even at room temperatures. This is not the case with aging. Moisture is still retained, even with dry-aging. So if removed from an aging cooler a dry-aged steak will eventually spoil. Examples of cured products include various charcuterie meats that we all know and love, like salami, pepperoni and prosciutto.

A photo posted by Johnny Prime (@johnnyprimecc) on

Sometimes meats are cured and preserved by smoking as well. Jerky is also a form of meat preservation that involves both heat and drying, but not curing.

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Since cured and dried meats deserve their own write-up on this website, I will eventually be adding a page dedicated to them here in time. Keep your eyes out for that.

The Pines

Last month when I was at Meatopia I had the pleasure of meeting John Poiarkoff, the genius chef behind the wheels of steel at The Pines in Brooklyn.

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In our inevitable conversation about meat and steak, I discovered that his carnivorous endeavors at the restaurant were not only out of the ordinary and interesting, but exemplified that rare love of beef possessed only by a true connoisseur.

For example, he explained how the blade steak (aka Denver cut, part of the chuck) on the menu was prepared sous vide style. It bathes for several hours in a sealed bag, allowing the tentacle-like marbling to render down, making the steak super tender before it gets seared off in a pan for a nice outer crisp.

He also mentioned that he had some rib eyes in an outdoor walk-in that he converted into a dry-aging room. When he said how long they were in there, 106 days, I nearly lost my shit. I kindly asked him again. “How long did you say?” 106 days!

He went on to say that they would soon be breaking the rack down into portioned cuts and serving them as special menu items. Needless to say, I was all over it. I made sure to follow The Pines on Instagram and to keep my eye out for any news about that steak. Sure enough, just a few weeks later I saw the post announcing that they were going to be serving those rib eyes. The very next day my wife and I headed over.

To my excitement, the menu was chock full of delicious looking meat goodies. We sipped on a pair of nice cocktails while we wrestled with what to order.

On the left is The Pines, a rye drink with douglas fir (burnt/smoked pine needles for a really nice woodsy, aromatic nose) and yuzu; on the right is the Air & Sea, a gin drink with dulse, lemon and violet.

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We ended up going for three entrees instead of the traditional apps, sides and entrees routine. But before our first item came out, John sent over an order of duck rillettes. This is aged duck served terrine style with a pastrami sandwich theme: dill sauce (it tasted like pickles), a cabbage kraut, mustard and crunchy puffed rye grains.

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This inventive dish threw us for a tasty loop, and it set the tone for what was one of the most fun, innovative and delicious meals we’ve had in a long time.

John paired the duck with this really smooth, clean sake:

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Oh and there was this nice little amuse of carrot soup/puree with sage oil. It had a spicy and smoky kick to it.

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Our first entree was pork jowl. If you’ve never had this, it is essentially bacon from the face of a pig. It’s cured, smoked cheek meat. If you know anything about the cheek meat of an animal, you know that it is some of the most tender and sought after bits of goodness you can find. This tasted like really awesome smoked bacon. It was savory yet slightly sweet, and sat on a pumpkin and cabbage pancake that was somewhat reminiscent of corn bread.

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I could very happily eat that shit every morning for breakfast, though I may be tempted to throw a fried egg on top – you know – because breakfast is the perfect time to eat like a savage barbarian. Anyway this dish wasn’t heavy or greasy like you might expect from bacon. The curing and smoking helps in that respect.

Our first steak dish came out next. After hearing about that blade steak, I couldn’t pass it up.

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John mixed the normal blade steak plate up a bit and served it with some roasted broccoli, braised oxtail and cheesy potato puree.

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As you can see, there’s even a bit of shaved horseradish over the top to punch up the salt and tie the meat in with the potato. Really nice.

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This steak is incredibly good. John has taken a lesser known, less desirable and rarely featured cut and showcased it in a way that will have you searching for it in every restaurant. It’s easily 10/10 for flavor. It was so juicy and tender inside. Perfectly cooked, as you can see, and the sear on the outside locked in all that flavor. It was super crispy on the outside without any part of the inside getting cooked beyond medium rare. Just awesome!

John paired this with a unique and unexpected rose, which had some tartness to it. The cool thing about The Pines is that, if you’re interested, you can learn a lot about the food you’re eating and the stuff you’re drinking. John gets to know all the people who provide his source material. The vintner of this wine, for example, or the farmers and ranchers who provide the meat and produce. He gets to know their stories, and he shares it with diners for a more rich, engaging experience. I dig and appreciate that, and it’s exactly what I was talking about on here recently – that I want to see more of it.

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I should probably mention here that The Pines sources all of its beef from Happy Valley Meat Co., which is based out of Central PA. Both John and his sous chef Neel Patil (the creative force behind the duck rillettes dish, featured above) are extremely modest in that they attribute so much credit for the success of their menu to those farmers. While much credit is indeed deserved by the farmers, it is very easy to fuck up good meat if you don’t know what you’re doing. John and Neel clearly deserve as much credit as the farmers, because they knocked the beef dishes out of the park!

So now comes the big boy – the 106-day, dry-aged rib eye. John explained that the process for these is as follows: First it hits a hot grill for a little smoke and sear, and those lovely grill marks. Then it gets a nice warm sous vide bath. Last, it hits a hot pan to lock in all the juices and get a crispy sear. Thrice cooked rib eye! Here’s a shot of John holding our cut before it hits the pan:

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And here it is after the pan, resting, but before serving. Just look at that gorgeous sear!!!

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While we waited for it to be sliced and plated, John rolled out another pairing for us.

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This wine was truly incredible. He poured us a taste from two different bottles: one that was just opened 30 minutes prior, an another that was already opened for two days.

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The difference was astounding. The freshly opened wine was really nice and flavorful, full bodied and robust without being overpowering. It had a nice round, smooth finish. The wine that was opened for two days had all the same characteristics, but the after taste was of dry aged beef or truffled charcuterie. It was incredible! I kept going at it. It was like having a delicious meat snack with each sip, and it reminded me of the awesome Trufa Seca sausage I had with my latest Carnivore Club box. It paired perfectly with the steak.

Anyway then the masterpiece came out:

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It was plated with grilled Japanese mushrooms, bone marrow, potatoes that were pretty much confit style, and this awesome kimchi cabbage that was finished with rendered beef fat:

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This right here is the best steak I’ve ever eaten at a non-steakhouse, and I can tell you it seriously rivals the best steakhouses as well – it may even be better than all of them.

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I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how incredible this thing was, and I don’t know if it can really compare to anything I’ve had at a steakhouse other than the long bone wagyu rib eye at Del Frisco’s. This thing is really in that kind of league. And look at how perfectly executed this thing is:

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It was so tender and flavorful. Every bite was a “wow,” and the cap was fucking INSANE! I’ve never had anything like it before. I was expecting a lot of game and funk with this meat, but it was just the right subtle amount of “blue cheese” flavor. It came out most when I smeared some marrow onto the slices of eye meat. And the fat around the cap was even softer and more delicious than the marrow.

I don’t know how we did it, but we managed to fit dessert into our guts as well. Probably because what we saw on the menu was new and unique. We had to try something.

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We went back and forth between two and ultimately left it in John’s hands. He came out with both; the chocolate cake, and the miso butterscotch pudding.

The chocolate cake was mildly sweet because it was expertly cut by the cashew and sage ice cream. The pomegranate balanced the whole thing with a nice acidic and tart zing.

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The miso butterscotch pudding is definitely something for the more adventurous dessert person. I seemed to focus my attention more on the celery ice cream than the pudding at first, but that pudding was so freaking good. The ice cream was like a palette cleanser, and the pudding was creamy and velvety – almost like a liquified peanut butter in texture – extremely innovative.

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With dessert, we sipped on a trio of amaro selections, as well as a bitter lemon soda digestif that was made in house. Of these, our favorite was the Brovo #1 (center). It had a spicy cinnamon flavor that was easy to drink. And, as is true with the other stuff above, you can learn all about the people who make these spirits as you dine, because John and his staff are happy to share that information with you if you’re interested, like we were.

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Want to hear something really amazing? This is the kitchen:

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So small, yet so powerful. It is run like a well-oiled machine by incredibly skilled mechanics, pumping out what is absolutely some the finest food in NYC.

Please do yourselves a favor and go here. They may even give you a quick tour of the aging room out back if you ask nicely. Take a look at the ducks and steaks aging away! I think those ducks are at two weeks, and the steak is something like 86 days.

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I went back with a crew of food bloggers and instagrammers for a nice meal around the holidays.

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Here’s a photogasm of everything we ate, which included a duo of rib eyes – one aged for 35 days and another aged for over 80 days.

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Molasses gingerbread cookies stuffed with fois gras and pistachios:

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Kale salad with toasted barley:

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Grilled radicchio salad:

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Roasted broccoli with shaved horseradish:

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Fettuccine with mussels and chilies in a Parmesan cream sauce:

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Presentation of beef!!!

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Post slicing:

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Gnawing on the bone is always fun:

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Dessert 1: bread pudding.

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Dessert 2: herbaceous chocolate ganache.

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We even drank some Japanese whisky from a bone marrow slide!

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Chef John even got in on the action. Marrow luges rule!!!

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THE PINES
284 3rd Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

UMAi Dry

UMAi Dry contacted me a few weeks back about their dry aging bags. I was intrigued by some of their promotional materials and video demos, so I told them to send me some samples to try out at home. I already had the sealer for use with my DIY sous vide machine, with which I made some kickass steaks.

Usually when I think about the aging process for steaks, I get overwhelmed and think I could never do it. This is something I should leave to the professionals. I worry about mold, bacteria, rancid meat, wasting money on failed attempts, etc. But with UMAi Dry this otherwise daunting task is boiled down to a super simple procedure. Essentially you just pop a hunk of beef in their special vacuum seal bags, put it in your fridge, and wait 35 days.

So I received my sample bags and ran out to the store to buy a nice rib roast, which I would later parse out into rib eye steaks after the aging is completed. NYC grocery stores don’t really have massive slabs of rib roasts sitting in the fridge section, so I had to ask the butcher what he had. He went to work for me, giving me a section of rib eyes with about four or five bones intact.

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I was a bit freaked when I saw the price tag on this fucker. The butcher told me that the beef was prime, but that he only charged me for choice.

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I guess that’s a good deal (several dollars per pound cheaper). But still… at $225 it could turn out to be a really fucking expensive mistake if I fuck anything up.

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On the other hand, if this nearly 11lb hunk of prime rib eye ages nicely for 35 days, I could end up with several high quality rib eyes that would save me money on steakhouse dinners in the long run.

I took the gamble. I probably should have waited for a sale or something, but I was too excited to get started. About 30 minutes later I was starting the process of bagging and sealing.

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I put some wax paper across the bones so that any sharp bits wouldn’t puncture or slice open the bag.

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Meat condom:

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Once sealed properly, it just goes into the fridge on a cookie rack or drying rack, so that air flow goes all around the bag.

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Then we just wait 35 days, with an occasional flip here and there. Here’s a pair of shots after 5 days with a flip. As you can see, the meat is already starting to darken and dry where the bag is in contact with the flesh.

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Even darker after another week. It’s forming a “bark”-like layer of beneficial mold that helps to tenderize the meat as it develops.

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And another week or so. I notice it’s also shrinking. Dry-aging processes tend to cause the meat to desiccate to the point where you can lose almost a third of the original weight.

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After 35 days, here is the unwrapping!

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The outside bark, which has the texture of really hard beef jerky, needs to be sliced off of the underlying softened meat, and the tough skin membrane over the ribs needs to be peeled and picked off.

It’s an arduous task, but the end product is totally worth the effort. Here are some shots that my wife snapped of the slicing, trimming and portioning process.

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The inside is so gorgeous. This shot looks like angel wings:

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A great looking fat cap was still intact. I was worried that I would have to carve off too much of that, but we did pretty good.

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I’ve saved all the bark slices to use in making another beef stock or broth at a later date.

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I ended up with two thinner boneless cuts, so I seasoned them up right away and seared them off in a cast iron skillet with some butter, garlic and onions (I cut one to fit them in the pan better).

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The result was awesome. Perfectly cooked, super flavorful and really well worth the wait! The fat was entirely edible. Very soft and buttery, like beef jelly.

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Those were just a couple of small boneless cuts. This cowboy chop was pretty incredible:

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Now I’m wondering if I should try this again and just leave the shit in the fridge for several months. The flavor was great on this stuff. It had a nice earthy smell; a well-endowed scent of mushroom or truffle, with a slight hint of blue cheese. Like heaven.

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If you’re adventurous with home meal prep, I highly recommend this easy-to-use product. I think I still have a few extra bags, so the next time I have a little extra fat in my bank, I might go in for another dry-aging experiment: maybe strip loin next time.

Final note: if your fridge is generally full, but you still want to age beef at home, I suggest getting a mini fridge, or a smaller dedicated separate fridge, just for beef. Put your temperature setting to about 35 degrees, and get a fan in there somehow to circulate the air. Always keep the beef elevated off the surface on a baking rack or something, too.  No special aging bags necessary.

Momofuku Ssam Bar Large Format Rib Eye

After reading this Eater article, and adding to the comments, I decided I needed to go do this gigantic rib eye at Momofuku Ssam Bar. I went with my wife and two friends from Tabelog. We rocked it. Check out the pics and details below.

We started out with what we thought was a complimentary plate of sardines on toast with fermented chic peas and pickled hearts of palm. Why did we think it was complimentary, you ask? Because (1) we didn’t fucking order it, and (2) the fucking waiter told us that he brought it out to us because he wanted us to try his favorite item. I’m not gonna complain any more than dropping two F-bombs, but needless to say I was a little confused and pissed when I saw the bill and realized we were charged for it (after leaving and already paying, mind you). The app was great. Salty, juicy, earthy, “umami,” and all that good shit. But there was plenty of meat, potatoes and greens to go around with the rib eye special that we didn’t need an app. Now, the waiter was great and all, but a surprise charge like this, couched in “freebie” behavior, is kinda fucked up. Okay that’s three F-bombs now. Readers: make sure you check out the coolness of what Momofuku did in response to this review, which I updated at the very bottom. All is right and well.

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I’ll leave the meat for last… aside from dessert, of course. The art of anticipation…

Next was the bowl of perfectly fried french fries. Delicious. They came with a nice, smokey bacon ketchup too. Crispy outside, mashed potatoes inside. Mmmmm.

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Then a massive Caesar salad with brown butter croutons. Crisp and refreshing.

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Okay now for the blowout. This is a 107oz hunk of GODmeat. Dry aged for 50 days, originally hailing from the Niman farm in California, this cut of rib contains the outer fat slabs as well as what you normally get with a traditional cut of rib eye + fat cap.

Here are some before shots of a slightly smaller cut (not ours):

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It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, allowed to cool, and then sliced and plated on a thick cutting board. Some of the fat was the gristled kind, but much of it was the edible, meat bubblegum kind. Savory beef jelly. Awesome.

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It was served with four sauces: the bacon ketchup mentioned earlier, a bernaise sauce, a red wine + shallot marmalade, and rendered steak fat + brown butter and herbs.

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Also, four bundles of roasted garlic cloves, so soft that you could smear the garlic on your steak like creamy mashed potatoes or some shit.

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Was all this enough? Nope. Of course not. I’m a former fat guy. So we followed up with some dessert.

First was a popcorn cake. Instead of sifting flower in the pre-baking process, they sifted popcorn. It was really unique, and served with a little side bowl of strawberry jam to spread across each forkfull. All I can say is that you should get it if you go here.

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And finally we had the Thai tea pie. This cold dessert had the unique characteristic flavor of Thai tea with an added tangy tamarind sauce and some sort of chocolatey, tea-infused puffed rice kinda thing on top. Nice.

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So that’s all. Great fucking meal, aside from the fact that I was charged for something that we didn’t order. On the slightly brighter side of things, however, it looks as though they forgot to charge us for our third beer. So we were still overcharged, but only by $9 instead of $15.

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UPDATE!!! The management over at Ssam Bar saw this review and made good on their mishap. Good people as well as good food! An honest mistake that stemmed from a desire to provide top notch customer service. And 100% classy that they reached out to me. See below:

Ssam bar email

MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR
207 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10003