We've got the beef! Besides a sizzling package of 10 local restaurants competing for your hard-earned dollars, we serve up the 411 on sides, sauces and more.
Ours is a meat-loving town. Back in the 1990s, the high-end steakhouse – defined by a la carte menus and pampering tag-team servers – took the city by a storm of 28-ounce Angus porterhouses. The trend eventually petered out, hit hard by the 2008 recession. Diners may have tightened their belts, but didn’t lose their palate for high-quality steaks. The 2016 arrival of Rare Steakhouse and the nearby, yet-to-be-built Westin Hotel’s steakhouse could signal a return to beef indulgence. We guarantee that our roundup will stir a craving sated only by red meat.
At every steakhouse I visited, my order always included a rib-eye. That helped me set a baseline for quality. “Rich and beefy” are characteristics of this well-marbled cut. Fat equates to flavor, and to me, that signifies the best piece of meat.
** Denotes A la Carte Menu
In January, SURG Restaurant Group’s big cha-ching moved a few doors down from its original digs on Milwaukee Street to the old Umami Moto. Texture-loving Flux Design took on the interior work, creating a look that suggests the modern home of Fred Flintstone. When the price range is as high as it is here, you expect a polished waitstaff, and this one delivered. With a steak menu all USDA* prime (wet- and dry-aged choices, Japanese Wagyu and a Wagyu-Angus cross), it’s clear SURG aims to impress. (In that way, its parallel is Rare in the 833 East building.) Despite the merits of dry-aging (see the glossary below), the wet-aged 16-ounce bone-in filet letwas juicy, the seasoned crust leading to more pronounced beef flavor inside. It was more flavorful than (but not as succulent as) the dry-aged 20-ounce rib-eye from SURG’s Hidden Creek Farm. Your wallet will take a beating, and trust me, it’s hard to stomach the thought of a $57 a la carte steak, but these are top tier. **
What the Chef Recommends
Mario Giuliani ● Carnevor
“45-day dry-aged NY strip, medium-rare, with a dry Italian red wine”
$39-$161. (718 N. Milwaukee St., 414-223-2200)
*United States Department of Agriculture
Steakhouse lingo includes terms like “prime,” “choice” and “wet-aged.” What they mean and why they matter:
Beef quality grades
The USDA has eight beef grades, based on marbling (fat), color and maturity. The No. 1 grade, prime, has ample marbling. Choice, at No. 2, is considered high-quality but has less marbling than prime.
Cuts of beef are hung in an open-air, temperature-controlled space and allowed to dry for several weeks. As the meat dehydrates, the flavor intensifies – some argue the flavor is better than wet-aged.
Vacuum-packing in plastic keeps the meat contained so it ages in contact with its blood. That gives it a slightly tangy or sour note. It’s such a common practice these days that it’s the flavor to which diners are most accustomed.
Refers (historically) to breeds of Japanese cattle, but most often the breeds are raised in the U.S. and cross-bred with domestic stock. Its calling card: highly marbled meat that carries a high price tag.
Mason Street Grill
Longtime head chef Mark Weber having taken on an expanded culinary overseer role this year with parent Marcus Corp., in late October the company hired Ramses Alvarez – who’s cooked everywhere from Juniper 61 to La Merenda – to be Mason Street’s executive chef. The Pfister Hotel restaurant brass keeps the menu from drastic changes, so Alvarez’s job will be to keep the ship on course. The servers are trained to know the differences between the steaks and why that matters to diners. Of the six options of cuts, two are dry-aged and bone-in – the 14-ounce Kansas City strip, dry-aged for 35 days; and the 20-ounce rib-eye, dry-aged for 75 days. None of those attributes ensure the perfect result. That’s up to the cook. And he did a terrific job grilling both steaks. The Kansas City, cut from the marbled loin, oozed juice from its fleshy middle, and the bone-in steak cut like butter and imparted a pronounced beefy flavor. Like its sister (Milwaukee ChopHouse), Mason Street is investing time and effort into its beef program. And it shows. **
What the Chef Recommends
Mark Weber ● Mason Street Grill
“Dry-aged, 32-ounce Tomahawk rib-eye, a perfect medium-rare, with Rodney Strong Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon”
$38-$56. (425 E. Mason St., 414-298-3131)