What Makes A Great Steakhouse

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1. It must be dark, like you’re underground. The consumption of red meat is such a primal, bodily act that darkness–like darkness in the bedroom–opens one up to experience pleasure with reckless abandon.

2. There must be a piano player with a bad toupee singing Neil Diamond songs or a cheesy duo of guitar player and female lounge singer doing their best cover of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Even Edmund White, in his classic “A Boy’s Own Story,” describes such a figure when his family takes him to a steakhouse, “a place where the overweight ate iceberg lettuce under a dressing of ketchup and mayonnaise, steaks under A.1. sauce, feed corn under butter, ice cream under chocolate, where a man wearing a black toupee and a madras sports jacket bounced merrily up and down an electric organ while a frisky couple lunged and dipped before him in cloudy recollections of ancient dance steps.”

3. There must a bountiful bread basket, such as the basket seen here:

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In this basket–delivered, as it was, on Saturday night at Chops Lobster Bar (which is definitely a steakhouse, not a lobster bar) In Boca Raton, Florida as my family celebrated my 30th birthday a week early–one will find delectable onion rolls, still hot from the oven, and raisin bread just begging to be slathered with butter.

4. Your waiter must not only write down your orders quickly and expertly, but if you’re a regular he should know your drink order by heart. He should have patience with your grandmother when she orders her iced tea with “very little ice, but cold–very cold,” and he should be able to recommend a favorite wine. Such is the case with Mo, who’s been waiting on my family at steakhouses in Boca for more than 10 years: here he is with mom and dad.

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Mo’s such a great guy, he brought me a glass of his favorite Merlot to go with my steak as a 30th birthday gift. It was terrific:

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Thanks, Mo.

5. There must be a wedge salad: essentially, a wedge of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and blue cheese dressing and, if possible, bacon:

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To eat this is an exercise in debauchery, but a good kind of debauchery. The kind of debauchery you don’t account for when trying to convince yourself you eat pretty healthy; the kind of debauchery that has to take place in a dark room, which is why they serve it, mostly, at a steakhouse.

6. There must be sides–outrageous sides–piles of fried potatoes and bowls full of creamed corn.

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There you see, at 9 o’clock, what looks like a hashbrown pancake: shredded potatoes bound together and fried into an enormous pancake, topped with Parmesan. At 6 o’clock the obligatory vegetable: buttery, buttery string beans. (Ignore the butter: it’s healthy, I promise.) Then another vegetable that’s so decadent and indulgent, it can’t really be a vegetable can it? No, it’s not: it’s creamed corn, a category unto itself. At 12 o’clock some more fried potatoes and dead center the fixings for my brother and his fiance’s baked potato, which they shared. Such behavior is rarely encouraged at a steakhouse.

7. And, of course, there must be steak–a juicy, sizzling, hunk of meat presented austerely on a white plate:

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That, there, is a petite filet migneon which, for me, was plenty. Notice the charred crust–it almost looks burned–but that’s partially the point: an ultra-high heat ensures maximum caramelization, which provides both texture and flavor. And it’s incredibly well seasoned: just the right amount of salty. When you cut in, it should ideally be pinkish red; anyone who loves steak orders it that way. If you order it well done, please don’t tell me. I won’t think of you the same way.

8. There must be, without exception, chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream for dessert:

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The chocolate cake should ooze a bit in the middle and be served hot. If it’s your birthday, they should put a candle in it. And if they really like you, they should also bring you a cheesecake:

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9. All this food will send you into a deeply contemplative state, as exhibited here by my brother:

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Therefore, the coffee must be very hot and very strong. It’s the last note of the evening and must be pitch perfect; great steakhouses don’t skimp on coffee.

10. Finally, you should leave full in a deep way, the way you might feel, for example, after reading a 1,000 page novel. A great steakhouse isn’t “Charlotte’s Web,” it’s “Anna Karenina.” If someone takes your picture at the end of the meal, you should radiate warmth and good cheer, as I demonstrate here:

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Perhaps I am contemplating the economic crisis or what I’ll accomplish in the final week of my 20s, but, regardless, I am deeply satisfied, deeply sated while Marilyn Monroe tries to eat my head.

Such is the power of a great steakhouse.

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