Welcome to a new column called the Value Option, where I determine whether you’re setting yourself up for culinary bliss, horror, or mediocrity by ordering one of the lowest priced items at a buzzy new restaurant.
The focus, to be sure, is on one of the most affordable dishes at a given venue. This would be a reasonably boring affair if the column turned into a weekly assessment on olives and edamame. So in many cases, the cheapest dish won’t be the lowest-price item overall, but rather the lowest-cost pasta, dessert, pizza, lunch bowl, or toast.
If you’re looking to save money while checking out the vibe of a place, you’re probably not going to order a $2 ramekin of bearnaise and call it a night. But you might be curious about whether you can keep your spending under control at, say, Wayan, by ordering the Javanese beef cheek rawon ($32) over the Wagyu strip loin ($59).
On that note, it almost goes without saying that a high-cost food item like steak is rarely the cheapest (or quite frankly most exciting) preparation at a restaurant, though things get interesting when there’s an exception — like at Anton’s in the West Village.
The steak actually is the cheapest “meat or fish” main at Anton’s, the latest restaurant by Nick Anderer, the former chef at Maialino and Marta, and Natalie Johnson, the ex-wine director at Loring Place. It costs $26.
By comparison, the chicken is the most expensive main, at $35, or $65 for two. One could technically spend less on the pasta section of the menu ($18 to $26), but for those who believe that noodles work best as a mid-course, the smarter move is to split a plate of Anderer’s famed anchovy spaghetti, and then indulge in a modest portion of serious beef.
The steak is a fatty, tender, medium rare hanger cut. It is the only steak on the menu, meaning it doesn’t play second fiddle to a larger, more indulgent porterhouse. Anderer calls it steak Lorenz, after a great ancestor who worked as a butcher during the Great Depression.
The kitchen roasts the seven-ounce steak in heady garlic butter. The meat arrives sliced, bloody on the inside and charred on the outside. It sits atop a bed of golden onions that have been slowly cooked with thyme, bay leaves, amontillado sherry, chicken broth, and beef broth. The net effect is that every bite flaunts notes of crispness, beefiness, gaminess, and sweetness, with an overall flavor profile that suggests a deconstructed French onion soup. Anderer scatters fat sprigs of raw parsley around the plate; you pick them up by the stem and eat them to cleanse the palate with a shock of bitterness.
A steak, to a meat-eating American consumer, suggests affluence and culinary bliss and in a way that is no less meaningful than truffles or caviar. At Minetta Tavern or any other ambitious brasserie, a steak will often start at over $60 (usually a ribeye or strip), while a more comparable skirt steak will run $33 at P.J. Clarke’s in Midtown. And yet at Anton’s, Anderer manages to keep things at $26 in its opening months. It is easily one of the city’s best new beef dishes.