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I’ve had so many steak frites over the last few years that I’d forgotten the delirious hedonism of an American steak-house steak—dense, chewy, and laden with forbidden fat. My favorite purveyors of animal protein had gone AWOL in the nouvelle cuisine era. Their death knell had sounded when food gurus announced portions the size of one’s palm and placed red meat high on the hit list. Fast-forward 20 years. Now there are computers the size of one’s palm, and the heady excess of the American steak is back.
A thick slab of beef defines the culinary ethos of the country more than any other dish—those cowboys weren’t herding free-range chickens. In the past, all of this could be had for a pittance, and Tad’s did just fine. The new steak houses are temples to the glory of high living, with gusher prices to match their Texas-sized portions.
The recently opened Del Frisco’s is such a place. Located smack-dab in the Midtown caverns, this Lone Star import is built in the grand manner. Nothing small is used when something bigger is available. Huge windows, a monumental staircase, and seats designed to hold backsides that have disregarded calories for decades create a decor crying for the return of the three-martini lunch. Yet, this is a steak house for the new millennium: made for sealing that dotcom deal or putting the Mont Blanc to the megabuck hip-hop contract. Over the top, too much, tasteless. Then the food arrived and I was hooked.
Appetizers like fried oysters ($11.95), eight hefty bivalves lightly battered and done to crisp perfection, are there to allow you to finish your single malt before moving on to the Mouton Rothschild. Even those essaying the diet route with a salad will be undone by the thick chunks of summer-ripe tomato and bitey onion doused with an emulsion of blue cheese and mayo and topped with snippets of scallion or sauced with avocado goddess dressing ($9.95). Pass on the 26-ounce lobster unless your trust fund has just declared a dividend—it costs $117.95. Think instead of the 16-ounce rib eye steak ($29.95) or the two eight-ounce lamb chops ($31.95). The former defines well-prepared red meat—flavorful, slightly smoky with a bit of char, and a bit of chew as a treat for the teeth. The lamb comes with a ’50s-evoking ramekin of mint jelly and is fittingly gamy.
Steak without spuds is like Mutt without Jeff, so settle in for a sharing portion of the chateau potatoes ($5.95), a creamy mound of butter-and-scallion-infused “smashed.” I felt the need for green and ordered the daily vegetable special ($6.95)—tiny string beans that would have passed for haricots verts elsewhere, sautéed with slivered shiitakes and shallots. Dessert was out of the question, but mixed berries ($11.95) went well with the last of the bottle of Brouilly ($35) that I found scouring the Webster’s-sized wine list for something I could afford. I don’t have to be a cardiologist or a banker to know that this isn’t everyday fare. But for someone operating on the theory of half now and half for home, an occasional rib eye à la Del Frisco’s is the meat to beat.