Inquirer critic Craig LaBan’s review of the $12 million steakhouse Union Trust comes out this Sunday and we’re wondering how many bells are going to toll for the massive project that has endured some dramatic chef shuffling since it officially opened back in February. LaBan’s recent record on steakhouses seems to swing between deep, unabashed love for the beefy goods and a deep loathing of anyone who messes with his meat. Let’s examine the evidence.
“It was some of the female guests who were really turning heads, with so many surgically enhanced, body-glittered bosoms on display, the only thing missing was a brass pole.”
“For $64.95, you can sample an unusual bone-in filet mignon that’s one of the restaurant’s signature cuts. But ours was underwhelming, a smallish, tapering piece of meat threaded with a sinewy ribbon of silverskin. It had better than average flavor, but not that much more.”
Butcher & Singer
Highlight: “The meat here was outstanding and perfectly cooked. This was especially true of the 28-day dry-aged porterhouse, which had a sublime tenderness and mineral complexity, even a faint sweetness, that wore just enough funk for a dry-aged connoisseur.”
Highlight: “But I wasn’t in a sharing mood, so I lowered my sights to the “tomahawk” chop. This 24-ounce, $68 mallet of prime rib steak is so Jurassically huge on its foot-long bone, it’s already become the city’s ultimate bombastic chop. And it is a genuine carnivore’s trophy. I sank my teeth deep into that thick pillow of steer and my eyes flickered as the peppery spark of its heat-charred crust gave way to a gush of juice. The savor of richly marbled beef rang in my head like a bell (bong, bong, bong …).”
Highlight: “Fleming’s prime meat, butchered in-house and simply seasoned, was incredibly tender and perfectly cooked. Each slice had the long, lingering savor of quality beef that rang true to the particular cut - the ribeye bursting with a swashbuckling, fat-basted gusto; the bone-in strip steak more refined and focused, but still flexing a peppery, beefy punch; the filet mignon a thick pillow of luxurious carnivore comfort. I tried a number of other meats - a gargantuan veal chop and a proper rack of lamb. Each was good, but lacked the magnetic zap of the beef.”
Highlight: “One bite of its heat-charred crust and tender juice-soaked meat, and I was magnetized to the plate. Each forkful stoked such a primal, savory glow that my inner carnivore howled until it was gone. This was steak with a swagger.”
The Capital Grille
Highlight: “No, this Providence, R.I.-based chain is not about reinventing the chophouse. But its success in refining the concept makes the Capital Grille stand out in a city with a broilerful of red-meat competitors. Almost everything is right. The dry-aged steaks are succulent and consistently cooked to perfect doneness — which, believe me, is a major challenge these days.”
Smith & Wollensky
Highlight: “But wait, you say, what about the steaks, those carefully tended cuts of dry-aged meat? And that is the problem. This steak house can’t seem to cook a steak. Medium-rare. That is all I ask. Moist. Rosy. Ruby even, in the very center, is OK. Just don’t give it to me raw and don’t give it to me gray and shriveled. But out of the six steaks we ordered over the course of three visits, only two even came close to the mark.”
Whenever LaBan and steakhouses cross paths, something entertaining happens. Let’s not forget that pesky Chops mini-review scandal, which resulted in LaBan getting sued and an eight-page article in Philadelphia magazine about the ensuing flap that ran with a recent photo of the privacy-obsessed LaBan peeking out of a window.