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High steaks in Texas

Most New Yorkers would think twice before heading to Texas to open a steak house. After all, the state has been perfecting the art of grilled beef since the 1800s, when huge cattle drives thundered out of Texas to feed the nation. Nowadays every Lone Star city has an impressive number of thriving steak houses—many of them polished, expensive palaces that Texas Monthly calls über steak houses. Nevertheless, the team behind two of Manhattan's most acclaimed spots, Michael Jordan's steak house and Strip House, rose to the challenge. "We knew we couldn't just come down here and be another steak house," says Mathew Glazier, who opened Strip House in Houston last November. "In order to be successful, we had to do something special."

The first step was calling in David Rockwell, the designer of New York's Nobu and Los Angeles's Kodak Theatre. As his firm did for the original Strip House on 12th Street in Greenwich Village, it played with the double entendre of the restaurant's name, choosing red leather banquettes, scarlet lampshades, and red flocked wallpaper covered with sexy vintage photographs. The suggestiveness is everywhere, right down to the linen napkins embroidered with red and pink silhouettes of female nudes. The place is a sort of elegant Victorian bordello slipped into the heart of Houston's sparkling downtown.

The design cleverly sets the stage for the menu: One carnal pleasure leads to another. The perfect cuts include a 10-ounce filet mignon ($32), an 18-ounce New York strip steak ($37), and a 32-ounce prime rib ($40), each grilled and served with bordelaise, Stilton, sweet chili, or béarnaise sauce. Juicy slabs of beef are the focus here, but at the same time chef John Schenk has tweaked the idea of traditional steak house fare. Warm garlic bread comes sliced in strips and stacked three levels high on top of melted Gorgonzola. Black truffles flavor the creamed spinach, garlic kicks the french fries up a notch, and the salt-crusted baked potatoes are decked out with smoked bacon, sour cream, chives, and caviar. There's plenty of seafood, too, most notably the towering platters of shellfish that appear to have been airlifted straight from the Boulevard Montparnasse.

Locals, swallowing that Texas pride, have taken notice. Strip House is always packed—even during rodeo season—and critics have outdone themselves with praise. "As irksome as it may be to hand the local steak house crown to an East Coast interloper," wrote the restaurant critic for the Houston Chronicle, "this is the most interesting chophouse in town. It's a steak house for the thinking diner." Dinner, $130. At 1200 McKinney St.; 713-659-6000;

Four More Prime Cuts

HOUSTON PAPPAS BROS. STEAKHOUSE This low-slung stone building near The Galleria communicates two important ideas: "Texas" and "rich." The dry-aged beef is lightly seasoned and perfectly grilled. The creamed spinach topped by a layer of Parmesan is also justly famous. The 1,800-bottle wine cellar is among the best in the state. Dinner, $115. At 5839 Westheimer Rd.; 713-780-7352;

DALLAS BOB'S STEAK & CHOP HOUSE In an unremarkable stretch of town, Bob's clubby room is one of the great power spots in the city (catering to oilmen and Dallas Cowboys alike). The most memorable cuts include an outstanding 20-ounce côte de boeuf. Dinner, $100. At 4300 Lemmon Ave.; 214-528-9446;

FORT WORTH DEL FRISCO'S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAK HOUSE Occupying a 19th-century building downtown, this is a carnivore's cathedral, where the exceptional beef is all cut to order. Dinner, $100. At 812 Main St.; 817-877-3999;

BUFFALO GAP PERINI RANCH STEAKHOUSE Connoisseurs make pilgrimages to Buffalo Gap (population 499), south of Abilene. "We were a steak house before steak houses were cool," says Tom Perini, who opened his kitchen in 1983. He also overnights a two and a half-pound mesquite-smoked tenderloin ($88 plus shipping). Dinner, $50. At 3002 FM 89; 325-572-3339;

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