A fully-loaded steak dinner — replete with gut-busting sides, thick slabs of beef, and martinis large enough to induce hangovers before dessert — has long been a classic New York luxury, easily matching the cost of a chic tasting menu. But one of the tougher realities of our inflationary era is that some of the city’s affordable-ish beef experiences, such as Simon Kim’s Michelin-starred Cote and Laurent Tourondel’s Skirt Steak, are creeping up into splurge territory.
Surging grocery prices and painful rent increases — the type of costs most folks can’t avoid — are squeezing consumers in serious ways. That makes discretionary purchases like eating out even more challenging, especially as restaurant prices jump up at a steady clip. If you’ve recently spent $40 on a chicken entree, consider that poultry prices are up 17 percent over this time last year. If you’ve paid $5 or more for a cheese slice, that’s because flour prices are way up, as are staffing costs.
Beef prices have actually dropped in recent months, with droughts out west prompting ranchers to send cattle to slaughter early, resulting in a temporary glut. But the price of uncooked steaks is still up by nearly $2 per pound over the pre-pandemic price. And depleted herds combined with swelling feed costs will likely push up the price of beef even further. Translation: You could end up paying even more for that veal parm at Carbone or the gorgonzola wagyu strip loin at Carne Mare. That parm, incidentally, was $69 during the pandemic; now it’s $89. The wagyu strip, $72 just over a year ago, is now $115.
Cote by Simon Kim, which blends the sensibilities of a New York steakhouse with a Korean tabletop grill joint, has never been a cheap restaurant, but it’s long offered one of the city’s best beef deals: a butcher’s feast with four different cuts of meat, currently priced at $64.
Kim says will soon raise the cost of that set menu to $68 — a far cry from the opening price of $45 five years ago. Making things even more complicated is that the Flatiron hotspot now limits most reservations to parties of four or more, with parties of two or three generally limited to seatings before 6:00 p.m. or after 10:45 p.m.
When I spoke to Kim in late August about the potential for a price hike, he said his temporary plan was to “eat” rising costs until they become “completely unbearable.” His goal was to ensure that Cote remained “approachable to the people — people who are not necessarily the bankers and finance bros,” he said.
Last week, however, he admitted he’d have to raise the base price in the near future due to steep beef costs. The $4 hike is a reasonable one, though after tax and tip, it shakes out to $30 more per person than the price of dinner in the early days. A la carte prices will also jump, though the price of the more luxurious steak omakase will remain at $185.
Cote’s entry-level price, which includes four cuts of beef plus a variety of banchan, noodle soup or stew, egg souffle, salad, and soft serve dessert, is still a lot more affordable than what you’ll pay for a traditional steakhouse meal — technically speaking. Just keep in mind that simply getting a reservation at Cote typically requires at least four people, a policy that’s explicitly spelled out on the bookings site. That means you’ll need to find a few more people willing to spend $150 each — about what you’ll drop here after a few drinks per person — just to get in. Kim said he instituted the policy at least three years ago.
“It’s more financially viable,” Kim said of the four-person minimum. For the restaurant to keep the set menu price where it is, “we need to do a lot of volume because our margins are a lot smaller than other steakhouses,” he said. “We only have 24 grills inside…so maximizing the number of people per grill obviously gives us the ability to keep our costs down and our profitability up.”
Other small tasting menu venues like Noda and Aska have, in recent years, also restricted small party sizes, eliminating options for solo diners when booking online. But an additional factor at least partly explains the decision to limit smaller parties at Cote.
I’ll just let Kim take it from here;
“When there’s more than four people, you actually have a lot more fun…At Cote, people can get lit…For those reasons we like to minimize the two-tops, but we also do understand that not everyone is social; there are introverted people, and people who prefer to dine in small company, so we do allocate those slots in shoulder times very early and very late.”
Laurent Tourondel opened Skirt Steak earlier this year as a bistro-style antidote to the city’s more opulent steakhouses — and it was an instant hit. The low-ish cost of dinner — $28 for a set menu of salad, steak, and unlimited fries — and the millions of TikTok views generally meant a serious line to get in during prime-time hours. The owners assured me they had no plans to raise prices during the time of my review, and the price itself was displayed in the front window in a font size that one might expect for a declaration of war.
Inflation, alas, has a funny way of changing anyone’s plans. The prix-fixe has jumped up by $7 to $35, while sides and desserts have risen by $2 to $12. If that doesn’t seem like much, dinner for two, with two glasses of Zinfandel each, plus a shared cauliflower gratin and a slice of cake, will now run $188 after tax and tip, an increase of more than $23. The wagyu skirt steak dinner option has also increased in price, from $58 to $65.
A rep for the restaurant cited a “dramatic increase” for almost all of their ingredients, including greens and oils. Even potatoes, per Skirt Steak, have more than doubled in price, to over $90 per case. “This makes ‘unlimited fries’ challenging, but we stick to it,” said the spokesperson.
Steak historians everywhere of course know that Tourondel’s restaurant takes a strong cue from Le Relais de Venise, the small French chain that serves a short menu of l’entrecote beef with green peppercorn sauce. The New York outpost of that chain, which charged $31 for its own prix-fixe and which closed during the pandemic, remains shuttered.