Eating at a steak house used to be an exercise in masculinity. The quality of the experience was determined by how ancient the waiters were, how gruff the service was and how few choices were on the menu. The steak—invariably USDA prime or Black Angus—came second, more as prop for conversation and an excuse for male bonding. Like a set piece passed on one’s way into the dining room.
That’s all changed. Now the best steak houses are helmed by touchy-feely types who can—and will—tell you the life story of each cow that crosses your plate. In fact, the life of the cow has become just as important (if not more important) as the quality of the char. What the cow ate, where it ate, how it lived and how it died have become the indicators of quality.
A prime example is Brooklyn’s St. Anselm, which owner Joe Carroll insists it’s not a steak house, even though lines form for his red meat. Carroll, who sources his beef from Oregon’s Masami Ranch, can talk all about the relationships between steer and farmer, farmer and land and farm to table. Meanwhile, in Montreal, all ingredients in Joe Beef’s kitchen fall into the co-owners Fred Morin and David Macmillan’s philosophy of “if we can drive there in the afternoon.”
The ways in which steaks are being prepared has become more innovative, too. Take, for example, the a la carte steak menu at Portland’s Laurelhurt Market, which is also a butcher shop. The meat comes from local purveyors and is served in all kinds of fancy ways, from steak frites to grilled flat iron steak to grilled rib eye to 12-hour smoked wagyu brisket.
To get a taste for this new kind of beef, here are steaks to eat before you die—from eating too much steak.