Rank may have its privileges, but as I’ve learned more than once over the years, so does radio. Last night, as part of a taping for my show Delicious Mischief, we didn’t just get to spend some quality time with executive chef Bill Zucosky and learn about the company with only a handful of locations in New York City, suburban New Jersey, vacation Florida and downtown Houston. No, we got to taste a lot of the foods that make the whole success story possible.
Appetizers should be a favorite part of any meal, since they allow us to taste a bunch of interesting smaller things before committing to a big thing as an entree. I’m not talking silly “small plates,” mind you. Just the chance to enjoy new things, at least some of which are also delightfully old. Up top there’s Zucosky’s inspired Stonehenge of grilled sourdough bread with a dipping sauce of Italian Gorgonzola and English Stilton. And right here is what might be the best version of Italian-eatery standby clams casino I’ve ever tasted. I’m sure, somewhere out there, Sinatra is sorry he didn’t get any of these.
One of the niftiest things to happen to prime steakhouses over the past two or three decades is the explosion of terrific seafood options. As Ruth Fertel of Ruth’s Chris told me in New Orleans years ago, places like hers were losing too many parties of 6 or 8 because somebody didn’t eat meat. Even though I do eat meat, and in such large portions, I can certainly see myself ordering Strip House’s “angry lobster.” Eating it, I wasn’t angry at all.
Of all the transformations enjoyed by any type of seafood, that handed to tuna has been the most dramatic. After all, we all know what “tunafish” is like when it comes from a can. Yet at Strip House, and just about every other restaurant working above a certain pay grade, tuna is now impeccably fresh, billed as “sushi grade” and barely cooked at all. Here’s the sesame-crusted Strip House rendition. And while some may protest the veal demi glace added to the sauce, the thing sure does taste good.
While we kept our mouth full of Strip House’s lush truffled mac and cheese, we let Chef Bill tell us about his background: a childhood in the coal country of western Pennsylvania, followed by work around the restaurant business and culinary school in New York City – the latter, he boasts, a far cry from that demure, high-white-hat establishment up in Hyde Park. Work at several fine NYC restaurants pointed him toward the door of Strip House.
Needless to say, a place called Strip House does serve a mighty good steak – and that includes their signature cut in all kinds of ways, the New York strip. Chef Bill loves this cut of Prime beef, saying it’s the perfect middle ground between the tenderness of filet mignon and the marbled flavor machines of all those “lesser” cuts. The kitchen keeps things simple on this one, with only a bit of slow-roasted garlic as accessory to the crime.
Even though the original architectural notion (and the name itself) came east from Chicago, New Yorkers certainly know a thing or two about skyscrapers. Heck, at Strip House, they even apply the design to their chocolate cake. This one has 12 layers of cake, plus an equal number of icing – which makes it, by my reckoning, a 24-story skyscraper for your dessert. Chef Bill Zucosky lets on that there are few things better for the munchies at 3 a.m. than leftover cake with a tall glass of cold milk.