The Steakhouse Goes Virtual
"Restaurant at home” experiences, luxe steak boxes, and nationwide meat shipments are keeping the spirit of the steakhouse alive during the pandemic.
The Finishing Gourmet, a new virtual steakhouse in Los Angeles that plans to expand nationwide this year, offers an elegant alternative to lukewarm to-go food you end up microwaving, without the extensive prep that meal kits often require.
Their steaks, which include Snake River Farms wagyu (like a 12-ounce, $139 rib cap) and Idaho beef (like a 39-ounce, $139 cowboy rib eye) are perfectly cooked and calibrated so that you can finish them at home in five minutes or less. The result is a sear that adds an exclamation point to a blowout dinner. You get the sizzle and the steak.
Chefs and entrepreneurs around the country are finding new ways to satisfy steakhouse cravings while expanding the very idea of "takeout." Each Finishing Gourmet delivery, for example, comes with a branded knife, tongs, finishing salt, pepper, olive oil, and herbs, among other accoutrements. And unlike at an actual steakhouse, you get to keep the steak knife and everything else when you're done feasting.
The presentation of The Finishing Gourmet's meals, available for both pickup and delivery, evoke the experience of eating at a gourmet steakhouse. Chilled starters like an excellent shrimp cocktail and a wedge salad are served in ceramic bowls. Hot side dishes like an over-the-top and deeply delicious ricotta tortellini mac-and-cheese come in fancy glass jars. Order crème brûlée and you get a chef's torch.
Founder/CEO Paul Abramowitz (a serial entrepreneur who, fun fact, created the clear silicone baby-bottle nipple) ensured The Finishing Gourmet has a patent-pending "hot-cold delivery system," so everything arrives at the proper temperature. Without the fixed costs of a "legacy restaurant," like real estate and front-of-the-house staff, Abramowitz says he can focus his resources on creating a better takeout experience that doesn't involve packing expensive food into deli containers, plastic clamshells, or flimsy paper boxes.
"The biggest challenge I saw was that food arrived cold and didn't taste like it did in the restaurant," Abramowitz said of his pandemic takeout experience. "And that really created the thought that there must be a way to provide an incredible dining experience at home."
Abramowitz recruited executive chef/partner Robert Sulatycky, who came up with 82 recipes in 52 days and developed cooking and packing techniques for a proper "restaurant at home" experience. One goal was to create food that doesn't degrade after traveling for half an hour.
Sulatcky, a Bocuse d'Or competitor and coach who ran kitchens for the Four Seasons Hotel in both Toronto and Chicago, has been buying meat from local suppliers like L.A.'s Rocker Brothers and California Holstein specialist Flannery Beef.
"I'm a firm believer in using only the very best ingredients, and I will stop at nothing to find them and utilize them," said Sulatcky, who mentions Chino farm eggs, Eli's Bee honey, Straus butter, and The Chef's Garden vegetables as examples. "Our job is not to really fuss over them but just to prepare them perfectly and present them simply and artfully."
This isn't about being avant-garde. It's about playing the classics. But enjoying these steaks and sides at home feels like a new kind of experience, one that works well for special-occasion meals (with add-ons like caviar, truffles, and lobster) while also pleasing steak lovers who used to visit Cut or Mastro's once a week before the pandemic hit.
Other chefs around the country are replicating the spirit of the steakhouse for home diners. In Chicago, chef Josh Katt of Kitchfix recently unveiled The Stay-in Steakhouse, which aims to serve steakhouse-quality takeout at "an affordable price point." A grass-fed rib eye for two is $49.
In New York, scene-making restaurant Catch Steak has cook-at-home steak boxes for pickup, delivery, and nationwide shipping. The boxes, which feed four to six people and offer cuts that range from filets to deckle, come with a sea-salt blend, a pepper blend, blended oil, special sauce, and a meat thermometer.
Other cook-at-home steak options include New Zealand wagyu from the First Light Steak Club. Flannery Beef (which has supplied Michelin-starred restaurants run by David Kinch, Joshua Skenes, and Kevin Meehan) ships nationwide via Goldbelly. San Francisco chef Marc Zimmerman of Gozu has a beef-distribution business, A-Five Meats, that ships wagyu nationwide. In San Diego, chef Steve Brown's new Swagyu Chop Shop has wagyu bundles and dinner kits available for takeout and delivery.
If you're in L.A. and don't want to cook or finish a steak yourself, chef Travis Strickland's takeout/delivery menu at Brentwood steakhouse Baltaire has crowdpleasers like a dry-aged bone-in Flannery porterhouse. The city, in fact, is loaded with to-go steakhouse experiences that also include butcher boxes at Curtis Stone's Gwen and prix-fixe meals at Josiah Citrin's Charcoal. There's also the revival of former Frank Sinatra hangout Dear John's, where Citrin and Hans and Patti Rockenwagner turn back the clock with steak Diane, a classic Caesar salad, and creamed corn.
The Finishing Gourmet is entering a fairly crowded space, but it sees a massive opportunity. No matter how you slice it, upscale steakhouses are a multibillion-dollar industry in America.
"We're getting repeat customers already," said Sulatcky. "We're hoping to tap into that demographic that enjoys dining out at a steakhouse on a regular basis."