-Cycle 1, Item 360-
31 December 2010
Grilled New York Strip Steak
* * *
at Isabella's Porterhouse
A growing trend on the foodie scene here is dry-aged steaks, small boutique steakhouses popping up around the city, mostly in affluent neighborhoods, that take already ridiculously overpriced Korean beef or hanwoo (한우) and then take great delight in finding another reason to jack up the prices even more. At Isabella's, the first place I've tried thus far, they charge 25,000 won per 100 grams for a dry-aged hanwoo ribeye. But, the smallest cut they offer is 400 grams. Plus 10% VAT. So that's 110,000 won. They also offer a bistecca fiorentina for 250,000 won. And a few other cuts at various prices in between. On the other half of the menu, wet-aged Australian beef steaks for about half the price. They also do that thing where they charge for sides separately, which range from 7,000 won for fries to 13,000 won for grilled asparagus. [Editorial note: I could be a bit off on these prices.]
Being New Year's Eve, and having loads to celebrate, the wife and I invited my parents out for some of these new-fangled dry-aged heartstoppers--but no, it wasn't to be. The recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease throughout the countryside has, apparently, left hanwoo in short supply, or so the manager informed us as she pointed us to the wet-aged Australian beef section of the menu. Strange, since the dry-aged steaks are supposedly aged for 21 days, and the major culling of cattle from the FMD outbreak has only been in past few week or so, which would mean that they should have some inventory from before the supply restrictions came down. And for a place that specializes in dry-aged steaks, I would think that they might consider that to be a relevant tidbit of information when taking reservations. Anyway, we got the wet-aged steaks: a smaller (400-gram) New York Strip for me and a larger (550-gram) ribeye to be shared by the wife and parents.
This division was based solely on the disparate preferences for doneness, bloody rare for me and overcooked for the rest. The over-sized ("for 2") portions offered by the establishment didn't allow us the freedom to order individual steaks.
Another problem was that it took 45 minutes for steaks to arrive, prompting my wife to say the first truly witty thing she's ever said during the 5.5 years of our marriage: "Are they aging the steaks now?" The delay was inexcusable given the fact that there were only 3 other parties in the place, 2 of which were couples.
When the steaks arrived, oddities in their methods of presentation/preparation. Mine came attached to the bone (see photo), which was weird on principle alone, being a "strip steak" after all, but also not very nice for a place that charges by the gram. The ribeye, on the other hand, was cut into slices. The slices were seared on the outside but completely raw on the inside. The server instructed us to cook them to the level of preferred doneness on the hot plate.
Seeing this, I had to ask the server why it had taken so long for the steaks if both came to us rare/raw, as cooking time obviously wasn't a factor. Her reply--and I swear I'm not making this up--was that the kitchen was backed up with orders. There was a slight pause, a silence, as we all looked around the restaurant at the other 2 parties, 1 couple had already left by this point, and then look back at the server in stunned disbelief, who tittered nervously and then walked away. Seriously, it was like watching one of those stupid sitcoms where the situation is so absurd that you're thinking, "That could never actually happen...."--only it was actually happening.
And on a final note, my steak had a trace of soy-sesame flavor, somewhat like galbi, another thing that they neglected to tell me.
5 meals left.