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We're Paying Tons of Money for Big Steaks in New York

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The State of Steak in New York is expensive, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon. So to help monitor how much you'll spend on red meat in The Big Apple, we present the Eater Big Beef Indexes. These lists will track the price of the city's most expensive steaks, namely, the large format rib cuts, strips, and porterhouses, some of which can send your dinner for two into the $400 range.

First, a little common sense background. U.S. beef supplies are constrained while demand for steak is up. That means higher prices. Droughts in the American Southwest and high feed costs have shrunk the size of the domestic cattle herd to its lowest level in 60 years. At the same time, growing middle classes in Russia and China are developing a serious taste for this global commodity. Beef, in our vegetable-heavy era, is becoming less of a staple and more of a luxury.

More specifically, the price of USDA choice beef has risen 12 percent since last May, and 18 percent over the last two years. Some restaurants have responded by passing the increased costs along to consumers. The Wolfgang's porterhouse, $81.90 in 2010, then $89.90 two years later, is now $97.90. Others have held firm; The Dutch has kept its rib for two at $125 for over 24 months.

Larger format steak dinners have become so spendy at certain venues that they're easily more expensive than some well-regarded tasting menus for two. M. Wells, for example, charges $160 for its Tomahawk steak; add on appetizers and desserts and you'll likely spend more than on a duo of ten-course tastings at Torrisi ($100).

That all said, let's take a look at what restaurants are charging for large-format steaks in New York, starting with rib cuts, whose popularity took off in a serious way five years ago after Keith McNally put a cote de boeuf on the menu at Minetta Tavern. Carnivores around town sung praises about the $90 cut and so did Frank Bruni, who awarded three stars in his New York Times review. That steak, which comes with a salad and marrow bones, has gradually risen in price and now costs $145, a sturdy 61 percent increase over the past half-decade.

Minetta of course doesn't offer New York's most expensive cote de boeuf, not by a longshot. Momofuku Ssam Bar currently boasts the highest starting price for a rib cut; the $225 dish is designed for three to six people and comes with a Caesar salad and fries. The Niman Ranch rib-eye is aged for at least 50 days, which gives is nutty, blue-cheese like aromas, says Eater's Nick Solares. After tax and tip, you're at just under $300.

Coming in second place is the dry-aged Tomahawk for two at Marc Forgione. The cost is $165, a $17 hike from the restaurant's 2012 price of $148. The preparation comes with bone marrow, carrots, charred onions with chimmichuri, and what the telephone receptionist describes as a 24-inch potato chip.

Be sure to peruse the "longer list" on the interactive chart, which shows exactly how common big rib cuts are in contemporary New York restaurants; even ilili, a Lebanese restaurant, now offers a cote de boeuf for $110.

Porterhouses, with a filet on one side and a larger strip on the other, are the most common large-format offering at more traditional steakhouses like Peter Luger or Ben & Jack's. The most expensive version is now served at Carbone, the Michelin-starred red sauce joint by the Major Food Group. It's a 60-day dry-aged cut from Pat LaFrieda and it costs about $195. Now here's a tip: the kitchen offers to remove the filet and spin it into a tartare, occasionally with black truffles, and smart diners will accept that offer because it's one of the city's best raw beef preparations, and because who really wants that cooked filet? After tax and tip, the Carbone porterhouse will run $251.

One of the most interesting things about the New York steak market is how tightly grouped porterhouse pricing is. Among the nine popular steakhouses above, seven charge $98, and the price differential between the most expensive of the group, Peter Luger, and the least expensive, Keens, is just $3. The differential for creamed spinach and hash browns or German-style potatoes is just $4 among those same venues. The simplest explanation for all of this is that none of these restaurants want to get beat on pricing in the hyper-competitive steakhouse market. The logical corollary, of course, is that if one raises its prices, you can expect the others to follow.

The large format strip or sirloin isn't as widely offered as the other cuts, which is too bad because it's an excellent steak that's often less fatty than a rib and that lacks the mushy filet of a porterhouse. The most expensive of the bunch is offered by Roberta's; its price varies by weight but currently hovers around $210. The American Wagyu, sourced from Imperial Ranch, is portioned for two but can easily feed three or four. The deep aging gives the meat a slightly darker than normal color with a sweet, livery tang that continues throughout the chew. Expect a serious level of melt-in-the-mouth intramuscular fat as well. It is this critic's favorite cut of cow in New York. The Imperial Wagyu, after tax and tip, will cost around $271.

One of the likely byproducts of higher beef prices is that a slow but growing number of restaurants don't publish menus prices for steaks; rather they espouse lobster-style "market pricing" on blackboards or orally; we've long seen this at Roberta's, The Breslin, and Carbone. The downside of market pricing is that guests might not know how much a steak will cost when making a reservation a week or two in advance. The plus side is that it can help the consumer in that it encourages the waiter and the patron to have a conversation about specific pricing and sizing.

Sounds a bit like buying a diamond, doesn't it? Well that's the directions things are going in. During my years of reviewing steakhouses at Bloomberg News, I rarely spent less than $150 per person on any given visit. Enjoy your beef while you can afford it.

A few notes on methodology: This guide doesn't include prices-per-ounce; such calculations are of little use because very few steakhouses let patrons order by the ounce. It's also unlikely you'll choose one restaurant over another because of the price per ounce, and if you do, you've probably got bigger numbers to deal with, like your cholesterol.

Ever hear someone say, "Wow, that was a great ribeye, but what a lousy price per ounce?" Neither did we, at least not here in America, the land of monster portion sizes. So rest assured, all of these steaks are big enough; most of those portioned for two could easily feed three. Also keep in mind that our indexes focus on American beef, rather than exorbitant Japanese and Australian Wagyu, whose selections are not included here. Like any lists, ours don't claim to be 100 percent comprehensive; we'll update them accordingly as we deem prudent.

· All Suttonomics Coverage on Eater New York [~ENY~]
· All Suttonomics Coverage on Eater National [~ENA~}


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Minetta Tavern

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