Classic fare at Steak
The steakhouse revival continues in the city with the conversion of yetanother downtown space into an American-style beef showcase, this timein what was once a busy but unsung hotel eatery.
Address: 96 Richmond St. W.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch); 3 p.m.-close (dinner) Sat. & Sun., 4 p.m.-close
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $90
*** 1/2 (out of five)
The steakhouse revival continues in the city with the conversion of yet another downtown space into an American-style beef showcase, this time in what was once a busy but unsung hotel eatery. Charles Shuchat was a partner in Bifteque, which occupied a vast space on the eastern end of the Sheraton Centre, but last year he bought out the lease and shuttered the room, renovating it into the dark, chocolatey, masculine space that screams steakhouse, and re-opened with Scott Saunderson, just returned from a stint in the UK, in the kitchen.
“You couldn't sit down for a nice, quiet elegant dinner and just enjoy,” Shuchat tells me, while his wife goes on another search of the cavernous kitchen to find Saunderson. The chef finally shows up, explaining that the kitchen is four times bigger than anything he’d worked at before, which included Arlequin and Goldfish.
“My background is French cuisine,” Saunderson tells me, “and in those kind of restaurants you aspire to get on the grill because that is where your principal items are coming from. When you're working the grill section, it's not like in a big restaurant where the grill guy is creating one specific thing for the plate, and the rest of it comes together. In a smaller restaurant the grill guy controls the line and everybody around him - he's the last step in the creation of what you're doing. The first time I did that was when I was left to run a restaurant on my own before I left for England. The chef where I did my apprenticeship said 'You know what you're doing' and let me do that and then you know what you're doing.”
“Every different cut of meat has different textures to it that you're trying to figure out, especially with the gamier meats like bison or ox or caribou, they'll have different feelings to them, so that's the advanced level, is getting used to the different product levels. Most people don't understand the chemistry that goes into food, and there's a lot of chemistry. Most cooks don't understand that you have to let the meat rest five to eight minutes."
He agrees that steakhouses have come a long way from their nadir in the ‘80s, when they were perceived as old school male bastions, and the last place you’d pay ten dollars for an iceberg lettuce salad with Catalina dressing. Steak, with its admirably straightforward name, features the classics, served in the customary manner – your meat on a plate, with sides ordered separately to share, which on the night I’m there featured garlic rapini that delivered redolently on the garlic.
Saunderson is serving the traditional cuts, as well as Wagyu, the American Kobe, a top-dollar benchmark on modern steakhouse menus these days. It’s as good as you’d expect – nearly fork tender even at medium well, though Saunderson admits that he thinks it’s probably a food trend.
“I saw Kobe bacon the other day,” he says, with a shake of his head and an incredulous look.
“I think the name is carrying a lot more weight than it should. If you ask somebody what a Wagyu is, they think it's the cut, but it's the cow ... A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but customers now are far more educated than they used to be. They know what they're buying.”