Brooklyn's $24 Strip Steak Is One of NYC’s Best New Meat Dishes
Plus, super fancy oxtail tacos at Aldama and steep price hikes at Skirt Steak and Corner Bar
Anyone who has stared in disbelief at the cost of a steak will find solace in this week’s Pete Wells review. The NYT critic, in his column on fancy Peruvian spot Artesano, paints an ornate picture of a modestly priced filet mignon starter, decked out in chimichurri, scallions, and edible flowers. But then Wells goes on to say this about the $30 dish:
“It is essentially steak with sauces and potatoes, though, and together with a pisco sour or two, it would make an ideal small dinner some hot August night.”
The smart line (and fair price) reminded me of an argument I like to make every now and then. In the face of giant ribeyes that literally cost more than the (Banana Republic) shirt off your back, New York’s great Latin restaurants remain an underappreciated choice for amazing steaks that aren’t too big or too expensive.
This is what brings us to Aldama in Williamsburg, one of the city’s most ambitious Modern Mexican spots. It’s a rollicking venue where South American tunes pipe though the speakers, where bartenders chat (in Spanish) about the mezcales, where vegan moles pack the incendiary power of a small brush fire, and where patrons slice though a stunner of a strip steak huarache. Cost: $24.
Chef Gerardo Alcaraz constructs the (new) steak dish simply. He paints an oblong heirloom corn cake with a smear of ayocote beans, sneaks in a bit of salsa de martajada, and then layers on slices of medium-rare strip. A canopy of cilantro and onions goes on top.
How does it taste? The masa is sweet, with a whisper of sunbaked musk. The steak is tender and packs that type of beefy char you get from a nicely griddled hamburger. And the salsa creeps on in like Norah and Dolly to zap your palate with notes of heat and acidity. Yet amid all these disparate flavors, the steak (a proper four-and-a-half ounces) never disappears into the background.
Strip steak, like a porterhouse, doesn’t typically invite other players onto the stage while performing. You don’t see it chopped up into stews too often or folded into Shepherd’s pies. But at Aldama, the lone true steak is this salsa-laced strip on fried corn dough. Sage diners have known for a while that the best steaks are rarely found in steakhouses, yet the huarache reminds me of how some of the best steaks don’t even fall within the realm of what certain New Yorkers would recognize as a proper steak (“it’s really more of an open-faced sandwich”). Their loss!
And it’s not a bad deal for $24. But let’s think about that price for a minute.
Latin American restaurants still run into trouble from patrons who are more accustomed to shelling out top dollar for fancy Gallic sauces — as opposed to laborious moles — a pernicious reality that can make life difficult for chefs trying to show off Mexico’s stupendously diverse culinary traditions. So on that note, I’d be downright uncomfortable recommending this steak simply because it costs less than its European-American counterparts.
But Aldama, along with Ensenada, Cosme, Claro, and others, has done a lot of great work convincing diners that modern Mexican fare can command the prices of a chic French small plates place. And let’s be honest this steak huarache has a lot more technique, creativity, and complexity of flavor than a plain ribeye on a white plate.