Prime Time for Beef
Steak houses of different styles
Jeffery Johnston Photograph
Sharpen your laguiole de table and make sure your MasterCard is paid up, because there are some exciting new developments in the world of swanky beef. Between Doris Metropolitan, La Boca and Desi Vega’s Steakhouse, the breadth of styles now offered around town showcase the diversity of what this genre can offer.
Nobody likes it when a flight gets cancelled, but in the case of Doris Metropolitan it turned out to be a good thing for New Orleans. Owner Doris Rebi Chia was passing through on his way to Miami to lock up a second location for his Costa Rica-based steakhouse when his flight got scratched. While overnighting in the French Quarter he noticed the former Alpine, and immediately recognized the site’s potential. He called his partner, Itai Ben Eli, right away and said, “Don’t sign the papers – we’re going to do this here instead.”Miami’s loss is New Orleans’ gain. Doris Metropolitan made an immediate impact when it opened last October, turning a shuttered property in the heart of tourist ground zero into a place locals would seek out rather than avoid.
The elaborate dry aging room is the first thing you see. Interior walls double as wine racks, and a mini retail counter offers steaks to go – fitting because the owners got their start with a string of high-end butcher shops in Israel.
“We like to describe it as a ‘New World Steakhouse,’” says manager Stavros King. “We take influences from all over and have just as much pride in our appetizers and entrées as much as we do in our steaks.”
The well-rounded menu would stand on its own at any à la carte destination. The influence is global, albeit skewed toward Israel with a minor in the Mediterranean. One recommended appetizer would be their Calamari Salad, where tender curlicues of squid share the plate with saffron-scented potato cubes, chickpeas and a smoked eggplant cream sauce. But while the influences are global, much of the preparation is modernist. For their Beetroot Supreme, a hollowed-out beet is stuffed with ricotta, pine nuts and mascarpone and then cooked “sous vide.”
Sous vide, that modernist trick by which portioned meats are cryovaced and held in a hot water bath, plays a fundamental role at Doris Metropolitan. Their steak prep process is three-fold: dry age, sous vide, then grill to order. This isn’t a gimmick – it gives chefs an edge on prep with the added bonus of having the low temp preserve the natural coloring of the meat.
Regarding the steaks, the ribeye gets a particularly pronounced nuttiness from the dry-aging process. But if you want to try something different, order the “Classified Cut” – a name that if it weren’t on a high-end steakhouse menu would make people otherwise cross the street to avoid. “The owners won’t tell anyone what it is – not the wait staff, nobody – which can make it hard to explain,” Stavros admits. A mystery like that invites guesses; mine is that it’s a flap steak portioned extra-thick and made especially tender through the aging process. It is accompanied by “Potato Surprise,” a cylinder of shaved, roasted potato cored and injected with a flavorful mashed potato filling, making for an osso bucco-esque presentation.
In the Warehouse District, Argentine outpost La Boca recently moved into the former a Mano location on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Julia streets. In the process it gained about 35 seats while claiming a prime position along a high-profile corridor of fine dining that counts Emeril’s and Cochon as neighbors. “The issue of limited space had come up several times over the years,” says chef Jared Ralls. “We got so busy we were having to turn away a lot of reservations, and we just hating having to do that.” Fans of the old location can be assuaged – the build-out took design cues from the original space and there are a lot of similarities in terms of feel and flow.
The menu remains the same, by and large. The hallmark of this steakhouse is that you can find grass-fed cuts offered nowhere else in town; such as the Entraña Fina con la Piel – an outside skirt steak slow cooked with the skin on, which makes for a surprisingly crispy exterior. The Bife La Boca, a cut of sirloin flap steak marinated in lime and garlic, is my personal go-to choice and is served with a light char on the outside and a simple garnish of coarse salt and fanned avocado slices. When Ralls gets a chance to actually sit down and eat, he likes the Centro de Entraña from Painted Hills Ranch in Oregon.
A unique characteristic of La Boca is its exclusively Argentine wine list. In the new space, the former charcuterie room has been refitted as a cedar-lined wine closet and the overall list has been increased by over 60 percent. Ralls is also enthusiastic about his Scotch menu, already at 45 choices and growing. For a steakhouse, price points are reasonable with many in the mid-$20s and valet parking is now offered for $5 – a real plus in a neighborhood where spaces are tough to come by.
The most traditional of the three, Desi Vega’s Steakhouse speaks to that emptiness we all felt inside when Ruth’s Chris abandoned New Orleans for Florida following Katrina. That is no coincidence – owner Desi Vega spent years with that organization, working with Miss Ruth personally and opening numerous franchises nationwide before leaving it to open Mr. John’s.
Essentially a sister restaurant to Mr. John’s, Desi Vega’s offers an identical menu with a few additions, such as the Bone-In Filet. The biggest distinction would be in atmosphere – Mr. John’s is more traditional with its wood wainscoting and tile floor, whereas Desi’s is more contemporary with soaring plate glass windows that look out over Lafayette Square. Desi’s has the added bonus of being open for lunch Monday through Friday.
Steak-wise, your meat is rushed from a 1,800-degree oven, then served sizzling on a plate of with molten butter. The USDA Prime beef comes from cattle that are finished on corn, giving it the classic unctuous flavor profile most familiar to American steakhouses. This makes the filet especially tender and the ribeye a study in marbled glory. The sides are classic as well – but be sure to try the Andouille and Crawfish Mac and Cheese, a side that’s more attenuated to New Orleans flavors.
Steak Your Claim
322 Magazine St.
Crescent City Steaks
1001 N. Broad St.
Desi Vega’s Steakhouse
628 St. Charles Ave.
Lunch Mondays-Fridays; dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays
620 Charters St.
870 Tchopitoulas St.
Charred Steaks and Crab Claws
For “Pittsburg-Style” Steaks (cooked quickly at super-high heat and distinguished by a charred exterior) try Chophouse on Magazine Street near Poydras street. This also may be the only place in the city to serve Florida stone crab claws when in season – hurry over as they disappear mid-May. Crescent City Steaks in Mid-City carries the flame with its timeless shuttered booths, checkerboard floors and no-nonsense menu that has satisfied generations of local meat lovers.