It's the exact antithesis of current ideas about restaurants. Cooking today is a branch of the fine arts. We expect chefs not only to please us, but also to surprise us with some as yet untried combination of the limited number of edible objects that exist in nature. It's a school of dining that offers great pleasure, as anyone who eats out in San Francisco can attest. But after years of watching San Francisco chefs work their magic on ever more exotic cuisines, conjuring ever bolder combinations of disparate flavors, there's something appealing about going to a steak house. You know before you arrive what will be on the menu. The choices you'll be faced with — New York, porterhouse, sirloin, filet; medium or medium rare — will be so similar as to barely constitute choices at all. You'll pay a lot of money, but there will be no gambling involved, no risk. The cooking of your steak will not afford the chef an opportunity for self-expression, but it isn't about the chef. It's about you and your hunger and your desire to eat a steak.
So it's hard to review a steak because the dish is predicated on familiarity and quality rather than on creativity. Unless something is badly wrong, a $40 filet is going to taste delicious, and the words that describe it are going to be words like tender and moist and juicy, and I can report those are exactly the adjectives brought to mind by the filet at Harris'. I had the filet mignon Rossini, with which, for just $2 more than a regular filet mignon, you get a slice of foie gras on top and black truffle sauce. This is the kind of thing that passes for variation at a steak house. The sauce was thick and rich and couldn't possibly dent the impact of a perfect piece of lean beef, charred and salty on the outside and basically raw on the inside. Plus, hey, foie gras. But I was a bit saddened by the presentation: three halved cherry tomatoes and six green beans arranged in a circle around the filet. San Francisco, it seems, has made its mark even here. The baked potato, on the other hand, was reassuringly identical to every other baked potato ever. *
An archive of Edible Complex columns can be found at gabrielroth.com.
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