Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Staking Out Steak Tartare

Staking Out Steak Tartare

Steak Tartare has been a long time NYC classic. After Gordon Gecko ordered it off the menu at the 21 club in Wall St, the dish will forever be associated with glamour and decadence. It takes a little nerve to order the dish—it’s raw egg and raw meat! So, if you’re going to take the risk, you might as well make it the best.

Balthazar has been a long time favorite of mine for steak tartare. It comes as either an entrée or an appetizer. Several toasted crostini and a mound of greens make for perfect sandwich accouchements. Balthazar’s version is certainly the most finely minced, making it the most spread-able rendition. As an appetizer, its great if you are getting a less virile entrée. As an entrée, it is perfect f you are starting with the Balthazar Salad or a few dozen oysters. Or, get is in entrée portion as an appetizer to share. Whatever you do, don’t miss out!

Felix's version of tartare
Blue Ribbon Bakery's tartare
At Felix, the dish is as beautiful to regard, as it is delicious to devour. Half an eggshell, filled with only the yolk rests a top a CD-sized disc of tartare. It’s up to the patron to do the mixing, deciding how much of a cholesterol kicker to mix in! On the menu, the dish denotes that patrons can choose spicy or not, but it’s best not to say anything, as the chefs know exactly how much Worcestershire, ketchup, and mustard to add for the perfect balance. Frites and a little salad accompany the plate, and mix up well with the tartare. Felix’s version of this classic is as characteristic French as the café.

The most dramatic tartare can be found at Employees Only (pictured at top of page) where the waiters roll out the traditional tartare cart and truly captivates as he prepares it. The waiter squeezes a lemon over the meat to start and then mixes in Worcestershire sauce plus the other usual suspects. The final step is mixing in a special EO spicy sauce. If you want it spicy, have the waiter douse your tartare, as the spiciness only comes through after a thorough pour of hot sauce. The tartare comes with the traditional vinegar and oil green leaf salad plus a few crusty cuts of bread. It comes as an appetizer and makes for a great late night snack.

Blue Ribbon Bakery’s tartare is the only version that arrives to your table accompanied by chips. One would imagine that a place known for its bread would pile it on mile high. However, the waffled potato chips are an even better partner to the tartare here. At BRB, the spiciness and tang of the steak is completely dependent on the one chowing down. The actual mound of tartare is sprinkled with capers, but all over accouchements come spread around the rim of the platter. Spicy mustard, chive-y aioli, cornichon, and a drizzle of olive oil make this one the most DIY dish. The salty chips make perfect scoops of the unadulterated tartare. My favorite thing to do it is to mash the capers into the mound, fork up a chunk, skewer a cornichon, skim the pickle across the aioli and mustard, take a bit of a chip, and then shovel the fork in right after! Perfection.

At Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s infamous restaurant after which he penned the book Kitchen Confidential, we can rest assured that the tartare is up to snuff because it’s prepared tableside. The tartare little table is rolled over with all the fixings and diners watch with delight as the tartare mixer expertly adds a dash of this and a spoonful of that.  He goes pretty fast, but there’s always time to make personal request—extra spicy, no ketchup, double the yolk! The frites that arrive next to the tartare are my favorite of the bunch. Always crispy and steaming hot, they are good enough to fork up with your meat.

Each of these spots has its own delicious edition of the dish. Depending on what else you are looking for, you should determine your tartare experience accordingly. Classic brasserie? Try Balthazar or les Halles. Outdoor seating? Felix will do the trick. A clandestine garden room for a late night tryst? Employees Only. And if you want tartare but also want a whole bunch of other things, Blue Ribbon Bakery’s appetizer format is a nibblers’ paradise.

Balthazar: Steak Tartare $15.00/24.00
Felix: Le Steak Tartare, Frites et Salade Verte Spicy or Not $20.00
Employees Only: Hand-cut Steak Tartare $15.00
Blue Ribbon Bakery: Steak Tartare $15.00
Les Halles: Steak Tartare, Frites $18.00

"When not scooping the latest for NYSD, Jill Donenfeld heads up The Dish's Dishes, a personal chef and catering company founded for those who crave delicious food without the hassle of making reservations, ordering in, or turning on the oven. For more information on how to get your first DISH, check out