Steak is classic, though charcuterie boards give a guy plenty to choose from. Throw in some spicy grilled pork ribs with pickled watermelon rind and you’ve got a plateful of offerings few can resist. Nowadays locals have plenty of options. Here are a few of the greatest hits.
Until recently, Delmonico brought to my mind, unfairly, a picture of white tablecloth conservatism. Of Emeril’s three local restaurants, wasn’t this the stuffy one, with its old-world ambiance and tableside carts? This isn’t the case. Credit Chef de Cuisine Spencer Minch, who four years into his stewardship has shifted some of the focus away from the Café Brulot cart to include his Octopus in Purgatory, a harissa-spiked concoction of tiny cephalopods stewed in their own brine with a concentrated flavor, is both oceanic and exotic. Dad will still like Delmonico, but there’s plenty here for the forward-looking diner seeking a bit of an edge.
For his influences, Minch looks to the Mediterranean and the cuisines along its rim. “Basque, Spanish, Italian and North African – I love all of these because of the awesome spice blends,” he says.
Italy is represented in part by the house-made charcuterie, rounded out with a global selection of cheeses and a particularly fun assortment of accompaniments: Pork confit-stuffed peppadews and pickled fiddlehead ferns, for example. His lamb prosciutto and bresaola are notable, as are the indulgent fried, sausage-stuffed olives.
Off the medium plates, the Rabbit Crêpes impress. The delicate assemblage successfully hits a lot of notes, with sweetness from mascarpone and corn, licorice from fresh tarragon and bitterness from arugula. Salty cubes of pancetta keep it from getting too sweet. “The Rabbit Crêpe is maybe my favorite thing on the menu right now,” Minch says. “It’ll get adjusted later in the season to be more wintery. I think of tarragon as a summer herb, so we might go with thyme or rosemary.”
If you want to hew with the classics, go for the She Crab Soup. And for a classic main, the dry-aged New York Strip Steak is as old school as it gets. Served on a plank and topped with a mound of whipped compound butter featuring Plugra, white wine, lemon juice, garlic and anchovy paste, accompanying the meat is a trio of sauces including a standout homemade Worcestershire sauce.
Speaking of steaks, for football season, guys looking to source goods for their grills have a great resource in Rare Cuts, the paean to carnivores which recently opened its third location smack in the heart of Uptown on the corner of Nashville and Magazine streets. Rare Cuts sports a savvy business model, functioning essentially as a high-end restaurant grade meat purveyor aimed at the consumer market. Through an arrangement with a small number of specialty ranches and Natco, who cuts his meat to spec, owner Henry Albert directs the flow of top-notch slabs of Black Angus beef from Harris Ranch to your backyard.
“I started Rare Cuts out of a frustration of not being able to get a consistently good steak anywhere in the city,” Albert says. “That is not to say good steaks aren’t around – I’d go to one place and get one, but would go back the next week for the same thing and it was just different. I was like, look, there are so many great chefs in this city with high levels of expectations from their vendors, so why can’t we replicate this on the retail level?”
Through an arrangement with Natco, Albert’s beef is cut to Rare Cuts specs in terms of thickness and weight, so not only does the flavor profile remain consistent but cooking times remain the same as well. “Customers quickly realize that our six ounce filet cooks the same way every time, because our cuts never vary by more than a quarter inch.”
Aside from the dedicated sourcing, the beef from Rare Cuts gets a leg up from aging, either wet or dry. “That in and of itself is a huge difference from anything else in the retail market,” Albert says. Wet aging takes place inside a Cryovac bag for a specific number of days, making the meat far tenderer but not altering the flavor. Dry aging, on the other hand, is done by primal cuts on the bone in their Mandeville location. This process, in a carefully controlled environment, enhances the flavor of the beef, bringing out a pronounced nuttiness and terrific char when grilled. Delmonico’s dry aged New York strip, for example, is comparable in sourcing and dry aging technique as what Rare Cuts offers.
I’m hooked; my wet aged rib eye from Rare Cuts had a pronounced tenderness that will keep me coming back.
Albert also offers pork and lamb, and can order specialty cuts as requested. A private dining room is available for casual meat-centric dinner parties for up to 20 people. Albert’s prices are competitive with up-market meat counters such as Whole Foods, and his product is superior. If you have to choose, direct your grilling budget to Rare Cuts instead.
Finally, few restaurants can serve up pork ribs and moonshine while collecting James Beard nominations like so many stamps. Contemporary, grounded, fun and unpretentious, Cochon and its offshoot Butcher make upscale dining approachable and fun for a group of guys. The Wood Fired Oyster Roast might make my “Top 10 List” for dishes in the city, and the artfully butchered Grilled Pork Ribs with Watermelon Pickles make a statement on the plate and in the brain’s porcine pleasure center. Fried Rabbit Livers with Pepper Jelly are an addictive snack, and Link’s Eggplant and Shrimp Dressing will hopefully be available for Thanksgiving purchase in bulk, because this side will blow just about any other turkey day accompaniment out of the water.