Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, January 6, 2017
Is it just me, or does it seem silly to pay extra for creamed spinach at a steakhouse?
Don’t get me wrong: I love a little rich, nutmeg-infused veg with my meat. But I don’t love the practice of serving and pricing sides separately from the cuts at many bastions of beef, a trend that has been going on for a long, long time yet should have been stanched at the source.
Here’s why: A plate of food should stand on its own, fully formed. It’s not the cost of individual sides that bothers me; it’s the fact that when you get your steak unadorned, you’re getting an unfinished dish. Without that spinach, jumbo shrimp or lump of crab slivers, the meat is incomplete. Truly great restaurants offer their beef with everything it needs within the context of the serving—sauces, sides and toppings. Why can’t more steakhouses do the same?
I often wonder whether that mix-and-match mode of ordering really makes sense from a philosophical standpoint, as well as one of taste. Does that lobster tail truly work as an “extra” when paired with one’s filet … especially if a slab of foie gras can be picked from the same menu of offerings to crown the cut instead? My feeling is that the onus of developing a dish should be on the chef, not the diner—the creations must be delivered ready-made, tested for flavor and compatibility, reviewed, proofed and verified. Nothing should be extraneous. Nothing should be irrelevant.
By featuring sides and toppings as separate options to pair with one’s steak, restaurants are suggesting that these dishes can be teamed with anything, and that’s just not true. Maybe a dollop of mint jelly can complement a leg of lamb. But a dollop of peanut butter?
I’d like to see the great steakhouses of New York City—and everywhere else, for that matter—provide their extras as companions to their meats, rather than as sidekicks. So they may have to charge a little more for the entrees … that’s the price we have to pay. It would certainly be more appropriate from a whole-idea standpoint, the perspective of looking at a meal overall. Synchronize food, and you’ve got harmony. Make it disjointed, and you’ve got dissonance. We need more culinary harmony in this world. Undoubtedly, more temples of T-bone should be able to supply it.
I’m not asking for much, am I? Can’t food just get along?
I guess I’ll know the answer next time I dig into a porterhouse. Oh, yeah: Change might not arrive in my lifetime. Yet I know, someday, it’ll come.
And when it does, sirloin supporters for sure will have their knives and forks ready.