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dagordon

High end meat and fish: where to buy?

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This thread is getting very odd. It seems that some people are somehow offended by the suggestion that there might exist beef in particular (has it simply been conceded that the fish offerings around here are pretty lousy?) of a level substantially better than what is available around here. The suggestion is that anyone who might from time to time prefer something better, and, yes, more expensive (even significantly) than what is available here must be simply be deluding himself into believing that it's better, or buying merely for status... (The last suggestion being particularly amusing; after all, when you're eating a steak for dinner in the privacy of your home, so many people are watching you, observing the brand steak that you purchased with jealousy. Sorry, the buying for "status" explanation isn't even remotely psychologically plausible when it comes to purchasing beef to be consumed at home for dinner.)

Agreed.

Welcome to Philadelphia, did you not know that when you find anything better outside the city, the wagons start circling and dont even dare mention the words New York.

The "are you secure enough to spend less" is ridiculous.

Most people debating the issue havent even tasted the product.

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I'm not saying Lobel's steak isn't necessarily better -- a lot better -- than what I could buy at the RTM or anyplace else in Philadelphia. But whether it is worth the premium is going to be in the perception of the one who both pays for and consumes it. It's obviously worth it to some people. And just as obviously it's not worth it to others. For dagordon's New Year's Eve dinner, it was worth it.

As for why an establishment such as Lobels exists in NYC and not in Philadelphia, just take a look at the bonus checks passed out by Wall Street a few weeks ago. Even the NY Times felt obliged to run multiple articles (only some tongue-in-check) lamenting the difficulty the pin-stripers have in spending those bonuses ("So Much Money, Too Few Ferraris" was the headline on one story). The density and intensity of free cash flow in Manhattan in the vicinity of Madison & 82nd geometrically surpasses that of 18th & Rittenhouse.

And I still contend the phrase "high end" is used at least as often as a descriptor of class and/or status as it is of quality. I found this use of the phrase in a recent novel, depicting a bar, amusing:

...The place smelled of vomit and Lysol, something one got used to after a while, and the sweat of the old men who drank up their social security checks there in the afternoon. It was nighttime now, late night, the high-end crowd. Soon the place would be crowded with bartenders and waiters and cooks, come over after last call had been announced at more legitimate establishments.

Back to Lobel's.

Lobel's in particular consistently comes out on top in various blind tastings, Cooks Illustrated did one, for example.

Lobel's did do relatively well in that Cooks Illustrated tasting, but its $34 strip loin placed behind those of Niman Ranch ($22), Coleman ($14) and Peter Luger ($29) in the blind test. Lobel's wagyu strip (from an Austrailian producer) far outpaced the non-wagyu beef, but Lobel's non-wagyu beef was placed in a lower category than the others. The Niman, Coleman and Luger boneless strips were categorized as "highly recommended" along with the Lobel's wagyu. Lobel's non-wagyu strip was categorized by the blind tasters as "recommended", along with Stop 'N Shop's choice boneless at $10 a pound. What I found even more interesting in that blind test is that the second most expensive steak (after the $68 Lobel's wagyu) was the $45 Omaha Private Reserve strip, which finished dead last and "not recommended" in the blind tasting.

So price, at least when it comes to the mail order steaks sampled in this blind tasting, is not an indicator of quality.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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And I still contend the phrase "high end" is used at least as often as a descriptor of class and/or status as it is of quality. I found this use of the phrase in a recent novel, depicting a bar, amusing:

QUOTE

...The place smelled of vomit and Lysol, something one got used to after a while, and the sweat of the old men who drank up their social security checks there in the afternoon. It was nighttime now, late night, the high-end crowd. Soon the place would be crowded with bartenders and waiters and cooks, come over after last call had been announced at more legitimate establishments.

Quoting bad authors who incorrectly use language still doesnt make your point.

Any bar that smells like vomit clearly isnt catering to a high end clientele or offering a high end experience. "A place where old men drink up thier social security checks in the afternoon"

It describes to a tee the "Pen and pencil" in Philadelphia and not the "Pegu Club" in Soho.

Just because it's in a "novel" is irrelevant and meaningless.

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For the very special ultra occasion (maybe 3-4 times per year), you may need to buy from Loebel's, if that represents the ne plus ultra for you. You can also buy from Niman Ranch (just like the guys downtown do, only at a different price) ... or from the organic farmers in Lancaster County (doesn't get fresher).

For Christmas I ordered the dry aged prime rib from Niman Ranch. Cost $279. Being it was a holiday, I didn't mind. It was fabulous, the best roast I've ever had. I argued that in a grocery store, you may get a flavorful roast, maybe not. Escoffier could cook it himself but if it wasn't beefy, it would be lacking. The Niman Ranch roast could have taken a lot of abuse (not that it did) and still would have been wonderful.

I'll also add that when I want high end steak like dagordon is looking for, I leave it to the steakhouse. I am a well trained chef (working in a renowned restuarant on the Upper West side gives your resume eternal stamp of approval - thanks NY!) but home equipment simply does not allow for enough heat to sear meat like that. Restaurant broilers typically get near 1500 degrees at least and this is illegal although not impossible in a residential home. The only time I've attained ample heat was when I threw large quantities of hardwood charcoal on top of briquettes on the grill which ironically, almost led to burning down the fire escape. I, too have been unhappy with fish. I've resorted to making friends with the local guy who will order anything I want, but it all comes from the same place everyone else is buying it from. The general seafood selection in Bridgeport is salmon, flounder, clams & crabmeat. Frozen lobster for the 'special' occasions.

BTW, I'm trying to track down frozen crawfish meat for Valentine's day and my guy is stumped. Any leads? I want to recreate crawfish pies from NOLA, our wedding locale a few months ago.


Lisa K

Lavender Sky

"No one wants black olives, sliced 2 years ago, on a sandwich, you savages!" - Jim Norton, referring to the Subway chain.

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And I still contend the phrase "high end" is used at least as often as a descriptor of class and/or status as it is of quality. I found this use of the phrase in a recent novel, depicting a bar, amusing:

...The place smelled of vomit and Lysol, something one got used to after a while, and the sweat of the old men who drank up their social security checks there in the afternoon. It was nighttime now, late night, the high-end crowd. Soon the place would be crowded with bartenders and waiters and cooks, come over after last call had been announced at more legitimate establishments.

Quoting bad authors who incorrectly use language still doesnt make your point.

Any bar that smells like vomit clearly isnt catering to a high end clientele or offering a high end experience. "A place where old men drink up thier social security checks in the afternoon"

I don't think that this is incorrect usage. Rather, it's ironic. The "high-end crowd" isn't actually high-class, nor are they looking for quality; they're just a slightly higher class of wino. (That said, an ironic usage of the term isn't particularly useful in the context of this discussion.)

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I'm not saying Lobel's steak isn't necessarily better -- a lot better -- than what I could buy at the RTM or anyplace else in Philadelphia. But whether it is worth the premium is going to be in the perception of the one who both pays for and consumes it. It's obviously worth it to some people. And just as obviously it's not worth it to others.

My beef (sorry, I really couldn't resist) is that some of those for whom it's apparently not worth it haven't tried it. Now, it may be that, for these people, there is a certain dollar amount after which no steak costing that much could possibly be worth it. But even if it's reasonable for such a dollar amount to exist for most people, it doesn't seem reasonable, as I see it, for it to be below what Lobel's charges. And that's because the amount of money that one would spend on a Lobel's steak is comparable that the amount of money that, I suspect, may people on this board occasionally spend going out to dinner.

It's not out of the question, it seems to me, to spend $50/person going out for dinner from time to time. For this amount of money two people can split a 36 oz Lobel's porterhouse. And the reason why we do this from time to time is that the meal that results is often better and more enjoyable than what we would have had if we had decided to spend $50/person going out to dinner in Philly.

And I still contend the phrase "high end" is used at least as often as a descriptor of class and/or status as it is of quality.

That's fine. I really don't care how some people use the term. It should have been fairly obvious from the circumstances that this was not how I was using the term, however. I was not asking where I can purchase beef that will make me feel high-class. In fact, I listed specific properties relating to taste that the beef I'm looking for should have.

So price, at least when it comes to the mail order steaks sampled in this blind tasting, is not an indicator of quality.

Omaha steaks are notoriously overpriced/mediocre. Listen, no one is claiming that expensive steak is always better, or that expensive mail-order steak is always better, or whatever. I am claiming merely that some particular expensive steaks

are phenomenally good, much better than what most of us are used to.

The purpose of mentioning the Cook's Illustrated survey was not to convince people that everyone everywhere agrees that a particular Lobel's steak is the best ever, but rather to refute the claim that there will be "no appreciable difference", to use one poster's phrase, between a "high-end" steak and an ordinary one. Blind tasters have confirmed that, in certain cases, there are such differences.

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All semantic issues aside for a second, has anyone used preferredmeats.com? I was looking up Snake River Farms beef and pork, and their website linked me to this one. It's not cheap, but it might offer the type of product several of you are looking for. Not dry-aged beef, but other nice stuff. Oh yeah, and like I said when we tackled this topic last summer, I find Chinatown to have the best quality fish in town. Not that you could tell by the smells emanating from the shops. Mind you it's not "gourmet" species, but I routinely find very fresh spanish mackerels, pompano, flukes, squids and these little flatfish that look like turbots. Shellfish are often as good or better than I'd get at work from Sammy's, especially razor clams at $3.99/lb. Plus they have live tanks for shrimp, crab, lobster ($6.99/lb), and some bass-like fish that they ship in every day. One time I found red porgies that were basically as good as dorade royales from Sammy's at $3/lb. They made a pretty f***ing good dinner for two for $7. You just have to get in there and look.


Edited by bigboss (log)

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I'll also add that when I want high end steak like dagordon is looking for, I leave it to the steakhouse. I am a well trained chef (working in a renowned restuarant on the Upper West side gives your resume eternal stamp of approval - thanks NY!) but home equipment simply does not allow for enough heat to sear meat like that. Restaurant broilers typically get near 1500 degrees at least and this is illegal although not impossible in a residential home.

Agreed, the ultimate is clearly a steakhouse broiler. But that searing a Lobel's steak in an extremely hot cast iron pan and then throwing it in the oven at home can be so phenomenally good is a testament to the quality of the product.

Let me put it another way. That $50/person that I was mentioning will get you a Lobel's porterhouse for 2 will result in, I think, a better steak -- even cooked at home -- than can be had at any steakhouse in Philadelphia, regardless of the price.

Part of what inspired my original post is that there isn't a truly fantastic steakhouse around here, as I see it. So I've got to do it at home.

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This thread began as a serious inquiry into why there is not truly high-end fish and meat available around here, and to a certain extent I suppose I've found an answer: not enough people around here have actually had the truly high-end stuff that there's enough demand for it.

that's what i was saying -- i don't think it exists here. i'm not sure there's enough of an everyday market to support a really high-end shop like lobel's here in town. i mean, i'd shop there, but i couldn't afford to that often. get a bunch of people like me, and you have a place going out of business; i'm just not sure that philadelphia has the concentration of wealth to support it yet.

i'm just theorizing here, but i have another question: does lobel's have a trade supply business?

if a place opened up in town that could supply the best stuff to restaurants and had a consumer front and did mail order then i could see it working...

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All semantic issues aside for a second, has anyone used preferredmeats.com?  I was looking up Snake River Farms beef and pork, and their website linked me to this one.  It's not cheap, but it might offer the type of product several of you are looking for.  Not dry-aged beef, but other nice stuff. 

I'm not familiar with the site... Beware, though, (bigboss, you may already know this) that Snake River Farms beef comes in several different grades. There's Platinum, which is actually available only through Snake River Ranch in Australia, a sister company of Snake River Farms, then there's Gold, Black, and Silver.

My understanding is that only the Silver is available retail to consumers. I got some strips, Silver grade, from Uptown Prime probably a year and a half ago. IMHO, very much not worth it. But just my opinion.


Edited by dagordon (log)

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...The place smelled of vomit and Lysol, something one got used to after a while, and the sweat of the old men who drank up their social security checks there in the afternoon. It was nighttime now, late night, the high-end crowd. Soon the place would be crowded with bartenders and waiters and cooks, come over after last call had been announced at more legitimate establishments.

Quoting bad authors who incorrectly use language still doesnt make your point.

Any bar that smells like vomit clearly isnt catering to a high end clientele or offering a high end experience....

It describes to a tee the "Pen and pencil" in Philadelphia and not the "Pegu Club" in Soho.

Just because it's in a "novel" is irrelevant and meaningless.

I didn't put this forth as an example of fine literature to be emulated. I just found it amusing and, more to the point, demonstrative of common usage of "high-end". As Il Professore pointed out, it's an ironic usage, but in my experience the term "high-end" is frequently used ironically, particularly in regard to class/status distinctions.. As for using the term "high-end" as a class/status descriptor, that's just what you did, V, in saying "any bar that smells like vomit clearly isnt catering to a high end clientele..."

btw, I stumbled across the quote last night while reading "The Bobby Gold Stories" by "bad author" bourdain. It's a quick, funny, entertaining read, though certainly not to be confused with great literature.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I'm not saying Lobel's steak isn't necessarily better -- a lot better -- than what I could buy at the RTM or anyplace else in Philadelphia. But whether it is worth the premium is going to be in the perception of the one who both pays for and consumes it. It's obviously worth it to some people. And just as obviously it's not worth it to others.

My beef (sorry, I really couldn't resist) is that some of those for whom it's apparently not worth it haven't tried it. Now, it may be that, for these people, there is a certain dollar amount after which no steak costing that much could possibly be worth it. But even if it's reasonable for such a dollar amount to exist for most people, it doesn't seem reasonable, as I see it, for it to be below what Lobel's charges. And that's because the amount of money that one would spend on a Lobel's steak is comparable that the amount of money that, I suspect, may people on this board occasionally spend going out to dinner.

You may note that in my last post on this subject, I allowed that the only way I would be able to satisfactorily settle the issue to my own satisfaction would be to try one. Ultimately, you are correct in making this point. As the old Latin phrase goes, de gustibus non disputandum est, and what might be a justifiable price differential to you given the quality difference may not be worth it to me, and vice versa in some other area. (For instance, you may not consider Pennsylvania Noble so much better than other Cheddar-style cheeses to justify spending $20 per pound on it. I do.)

However, even the taste test you cited ends up backing up my argument about the relationship between price and quality being non-linear. To repeat what Bob posted:

Lobel's did do relatively well in that Cooks Illustrated tasting, but its $34 strip loin placed behind those of Niman Ranch ($22), Coleman ($14) and Peter Luger ($29) in the blind test. Lobel's wagyu strip (from an Austrailian producer) far outpaced the non-wagyu beef, but Lobel's non-wagyu beef was placed in a lower category than the others. The Niman, Coleman and Luger boneless strips were categorized as "highly recommended" along with the Lobel's wagyu. Lobel's non-wagyu strip was categorized by the blind tasters as "recommended", along with Stop 'N Shop's choice boneless at $10 a pound. What I found even more interesting in that blind test is that the second most expensive steak (after the $68 Lobel's wagyu) was the $45 Omaha Private Reserve strip, which finished dead last and "not recommended" in the blind tasting.

(emphasis added)

The ranking I emphasized is conceptually identical to a "CR Best Buy" rating in Consumer Reports, which the Stop & Shop steak would doubtless have earned were it Consumers Union conducting this test.

Thanks, Bob and dagordon, for answering my question about Omaha Steaks in the course of addressing other subjects.

BTW, Vadouvan, "are you secure enough to spend less?" is a marketing slogan, true, but if there weren't some truth behind the assertion, off-price retail and outlet stores wouldn't exist. I may know the hidden flaw that caused me to be able to buy a pair of Italian dress shoes by a well-known designer for $80 instead of the $240 they would normally sell for, but most people who see them won't see it. I'd call that a form of "security," for the insecure probably wouldn't be caught dead in an off-price store looking for finds like this.

But that's fashion, which isn't the same thing as food, I'll grant. Nonetheless, there are even restaurants where people flock because they are trendy or statusy, not because they serve outstanding food (although if they didn't serve good food they wouldn't survive, or at least I hope they wouldn't).

It's not out of the question, it seems to me, to spend $50/person going out for dinner from time to time. For this amount of money two people can split a 36 oz Lobel's porterhouse. And the reason why we do this from time to time is that the meal that results is often better and more enjoyable than what we would have had if we had decided to spend $50/person going out to dinner in Philly.

I agree--I've done that myself on more than one occasion. And in that context, splitting a 36-ounce porterhouse for the same price is entirely justified, especially if the experience is equivalent or better to that of the $50 dinner out. (BTW, how do you go about splitting the steak?)

The purpose of mentioning the Cook's Illustrated survey was not to convince people that everyone everywhere agrees that a particular Lobel's steak is the best ever, but rather to refute the claim that there will be "no appreciable difference", to use one poster's phrase, between a "high-end" steak and an ordinary one. Blind tasters have confirmed that, in certain cases, there are such differences.

And in others (see above), there may not be. That my larger point holds doesn't mean that spending much more is never worth it. Edited to add: It's just that in my case, I generally think the burden of proof lies with whoever's charging so much to demonstrate that it is indeed worth it. "I'm from Missouri, and you've got to show me."

Now as for why you could get something that's worth spending so much more in New York City but not in Philly, which was the original subject of your post: I refer you to my prior comments about the relative pickiness of home cooks compared to professional chefs at high-end restaurants. Add to that the presence of a much greater concentration of fabulous wealth looking for stuff to buy in Manhattan compared to anywhere else in the country, including LA and Palm Beach. And I might even allow for that "not from here" sentiment someone alluded to uptopic, though I think that may not be as significant here as that someone thought.


Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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" (BTW, how do you go about splitting the steak?)"

the porterhouse has the strip on one side and the filet on the other. simply, remove both from the bone and slice. voila........

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However, even the taste test you cited ends up backing up my argument about the relationship between price and quality being non-linear. To repeat what Bob posted:
Lobel's did do relatively well in that Cooks Illustrated tasting, but its $34 strip loin placed behind those of Niman Ranch ($22), Coleman ($14) and Peter Luger ($29) in the blind test. Lobel's wagyu strip (from an Austrailian producer) far outpaced the non-wagyu beef, but Lobel's non-wagyu beef was placed in a lower category than the others. The Niman, Coleman and Luger boneless strips were categorized as "highly recommended" along with the Lobel's wagyu. Lobel's non-wagyu strip was categorized by the blind tasters as "recommended", along with Stop 'N Shop's choice boneless at $10 a pound. What I found even more interesting in that blind test is that the second most expensive steak (after the $68 Lobel's wagyu) was the $45 Omaha Private Reserve strip, which finished dead last and "not recommended" in the blind tasting.

(emphasis added)

The ranking I emphasized is conceptually identical to a "CR Best Buy" rating in Consumer Reports, which the Stop & Shop steak would doubtless have earned were it Consumers Union conducting this test.

If all it takes for the relationsihp between price and quality to be nonlinear for a particular type of product is that some expensive product of that type is not any better than one costing much less, then yes, the relationship between price and quality is nonlinear. But then the thesis has lost any interest. You can always find something expensive and mediocre.

The more interesting construal of the question whether price vs. quality is linear within a certain range is: does there exist any product at the top of the price range that is as much better as it is more expensive than something at the low end of the range?

The Cook's Illustrated test does not at all suggest that price vs. quality is nonlinear in this sense. It is perfectly consistent with it being linear.

As far as how the lobel's non-wagyu strip did in particular, I obviously don't agree with the results. (It wouldn't be the first time I've strongly disagreed with the reults of a Cook's Illustrated test. They rated Chicken of the Sea canned tuna the top canned tuna recently, and I think it tastes like cat throw up.)

What something like a Cook's Illustrated tasting can establish is that a difference exists. If in a blind tasting environment tasters determine that item A is substantially different from item B, that seems to be really good evidence that there's a substantial difference. On the other hand, if they can't find a difference, it doesn't establish much. Perhaps they simply couldn't tell the difference, and others could.

The quality rankings are of course less meaningful. Tastes obviously differ hugely.

To repeat, I was citing the Cook's Illustrated tasting not because I think that the quality rankings are completely accurate, but simply because they proved a difference. A super expensive, "high-end" steak was noticeably different than the others.


Edited by dagordon (log)

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" (BTW, how do you go about splitting the steak?)"

the porterhouse has the strip on one side and the filet on the other. simply, remove both from the bone and slice. voila........

I like to do it Luger's style. Make a series of cuts perpendicular to the (longer) bone, keeping the slices thick. Cutting it all (after letting the steak rest) at once also ensures that it doesn't continue to cook.

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I really don't have much quarrel with what you said in this post, but I would be careful about generalizing from this:

What something like a Cook's Illustrated tasting can establish is that a difference exists. If in a blind tasting environment tasters determine that item A is substantially different from item B, that seems to be really good evidence that there's a substantial difference. On the other hand, if they can't find a difference, it doesn't establish much. Perhaps they simply couldn't tell the difference, and others could.

because if you reverse the argument here, the statement is still plausible--some people might also discern differences where none exist, though that's much less likely.

What is more likely is that if someone finds no difference in a blind tasting, there really is no difference or the difference is so small as to be trivial or undetectable. I'm sure you've heard about the activist group that has gone around staging blind comparisons of various bottled waters and the local municipal supply, and most of the time, people either can't discern a notable difference in taste or even prefer the taste of the municipal tap water.

Now, we do know that waters do vary in taste depending on the dissolved minerals or other matter they contain. But most spring water not sold explicitly as mineral water (as, say, Gerolsteiner is) probably doesn't have that different a composition from filtered municipal water, and often enough, where municipal water tastes worse, the taste is imparted by the aged pipes through which it flows from treatment plant to your tap. And to make matters worse (particularly from the standpoint of the activist group), some bottled waters are bottled at least partly from municipal supplies! (I'm not including the ones that are bottled entirely from municipal supplies, for those are usually identified as such, like the company that bottled New York City tap water for sale outside the city, or the Chester Water Authority, which bottles its own product under the name "Octoraro Mist" but AFAIK does not sell it at retail but rather donates it to community groups to make a point.)

In cases such as these, I often cast a gimlet eye at those who claim there are significant differences.

However, we are discussing taste here, and you may be sensitive to tastes and flavors that I am not.

As for the mags, both Cook's Illustrated and Consumer Reports share the same goal: to provide neutral, unbiased guidance about products based on replicable tests. Neither publication accepts advertising for that reason. I've heard audiophiles take issue with Consumer Reports' rankings of stereo equipment, and obviously, despite its influence, not everyone swears by its Annual Auto Issue. So why shouldn't someone who is passionate about food not necessarily share Cook's Illustrated's opinion on a matter that is ultimately highly individual, that of taste?


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I really don't have much quarrel with what you said in this post, but I would be careful about generalizing from this:
What something like a Cook's Illustrated tasting can establish is that a difference exists. If in a blind tasting environment tasters determine that item A is substantially different from item B, that seems to be really good evidence that there's a substantial difference. On the other hand, if they can't find a difference, it doesn't establish much. Perhaps they simply couldn't tell the difference, and others could.

because if you reverse the argument here, the statement is still plausible--some people might also discern differences where none exist, though that's much less likely.

Yes, some individuals may detect a difference where none exists. But I was talking about the overall results of a tasting. If the methodology of a Cook's test is any good, then the fact that A is put in a different quality category than B should mean that there were statistically significant differences in the taster's respones to A and B.

My point was precisely that it's not plausible that there's a statistically significant difference in people's respones to A and B despite there being no relevant difference between A and B.

Incidentally, I picked up two prime dry aged strips from Wegman's last night that look pretty darn good. $30/pound. Though I had to do some digging to find ones worthy of purchase.

Maybe it's true that a place w/ Lobel's prices needs nyc to survive. But as I've said, there still seems to be an area b/w what's available in Philly and Lobel's that should be represented. I'm pretty sure I know how the Wegmans steaks are going to taste. I think it would be great if stuff like that were more widely available.

To connect this w/ larger issues that have been surfacing on this board lately about the quality of Philly restaurants: it seems to me that one thing that will push restaurants toward putting out better food is if very high quality ingredients become more widely available to consumers. Consumers will demand more from restaurants if the stuff that they can easily make at home for the same price is as good as, or, as is often the case, better than what many restaurants are serving.

I repeat that I am not very talented in the kitchen. My girlfriend has potential, but, with due respect to her, we really don't know what we are doing. Yet more and more we find ourselves searching out really top quality ingredients (often travelling a bit to get them, or buying online) and coming to the conclusion that what we've made is better than what we could get at a restaurant around here for the same price. So it's harder and harder to motivate ourselves to dine out.

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Let me put it another way. That $50/person that I was mentioning will get you a Lobel's porterhouse for 2 will result in, I think, a better steak -- even cooked at home -- than can be had at any steakhouse in Philadelphia, regardless of the price.

Part of what inspired my original post is that there isn't a truly fantastic steakhouse around here, as I see it. So I've got to do it at home.

True. I'd rather spend $50 on a raw steak than $50 for a steak served to me in a restaurant. I do spend money in Ruth's Chris at KOP mall. Mostly because the service at the bar is better than most restaurants. The best meat I've been served was at Morton's but will not return due to snooty wine service. I do love Sullivan's but it's popularity means you can't even get near the bar even on a Monday night. Interestingly, there's an article by Coleman Andrews in February's Gourmet about the rise of the steakhouse in the last few years. Time for a CraftSteak Philly branch?


Lisa K

Lavender Sky

"No one wants black olives, sliced 2 years ago, on a sandwich, you savages!" - Jim Norton, referring to the Subway chain.

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I repeat that I am not very talented in the kitchen. My girlfriend has potential, but, with due respect to her, we really don't know what we are doing. Yet more and more we find ourselves searching out really top quality ingredients (often travelling a bit to get them, or buying online) and coming to the conclusion that what we've made is better than what we could get at a restaurant around here for the same price. So it's harder and harder to motivate ourselves to dine out.

Pardon me for quoting one of the legends of off-price retailing in response to this post, but Sy Syms' words seem oddly appropriate here:

"An educated consumer is our best customer."

This may indeed be a chicken-or-egg question. If people around here aren't aware that better quality ingredients are available, then the answer is to make folks aware of what's out there.

I'd still like to suggest, though, that the concentration of fabulous wealth that can sustain stores that supply such products -- assuming that they have similar price differentials to the beef we've been discussing -- isn't as great here as it is in Manhattan. For all our lawyers and doctors, this city is at heart still blue-collar in so many respects (not least among them being the relatively low percentage of residents possessing baccalaureate or higher degrees). We may have gotten turned on to the pleasures of good food, but we're not rich enough (or motivated enough?) to demand the super-premium stuff on a consistent basis. That DiBruno Bros. successfully turned itself from a bargain hunter's cheese emporium in the Italian Market to a respected purveyor of fine cheeses from around the world, and then built on that to expand into better-than-average meats, fish and charcuterie off Rittenhouse Square, however, does shoot a big hole in this argument. Maybe you might want to consider approaching one of the Reading Terminal Market vendors about carrying better grades of meat.

Speaking of better grades of meat: I recall Vadouvan remarking that there are three levels of USDA Prime. Yet I can't figure out from looking at the materials pertaining to grading on usda.gov what the distinguishing features of each level are, or even that they officially exist in the eyes of the USDA. (There's stuff about "yield grades" within each classification, but I don't think that's what Vadouvan had in mind.) Is there any guide out there that explains what the distinguishing features are?

A couple of other items, one related to my visit to usda.gov and the other related to this discussion:

--The renaming of the third grade in the USDA hierarchy is a triumph of marketing. However, it probably would never have happened if it were not for the nutritionists' campaign against fat. It did allow beef producers to sell the leaner stuff to consumers who would not have otherwise considered it, and I note that USDA Select (formerly USDA Good) has taken the place of USDA Choice in a good portion of supermarket meat cases.

--I still find the more interesting search to be for the bargain -- the relatively inexpensive product that delivers superior results or performance. Sometimes, such a product does not exist. But when it does, you latch on to it.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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As far as how the lobel's non-wagyu strip did in particular, I obviously don't agree with the results. (It wouldn't be the first time I've strongly disagreed with the reults of a Cook's Illustrated test. They rated Chicken of the Sea canned tuna the top canned tuna recently, and I think it tastes like cat throw up.)

Can you really make this case? Have you ever tasted cat's throw up? :biggrin:

IMHO, this thread is getting a tad much!


Edited by Jeff L (log)

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Speaking of better grades of meat:  I recall Vadouvan remarking that there are three levels of USDA Prime.  Yet I can't figure out from looking at the materials pertaining to grading on usda.gov what the distinguishing features of each level are, or even that they officially exist in the eyes of the USDA.  (There's stuff about "yield grades" within each classification, but I don't think that's what Vadouvan had in mind.)  Is there any guide out there that explains what the distinguishing features are?

By sheer coincidence, I was recently reading Jeffrey Steingarten's essay "High Steaks" (reprinted in It Must've Been Something I Ate, and worth checking out). Steingarten goes through the history of the USDA's relabling of grades of beef (with special mention of 1950, "a year that will live in infamy", when the categories of Prime and Choice were lumped together). He makes a couple of points that are relevant to your question:

- there is an objective grading system for beef, based on marbling. (He doesn't mention it, but there are of course also objective gradings based on color, firmness and so on. Here is a PDF link to a brief description of the Japanese grading system, with pictures.) Marbling has twelve grades, running from "extremely abundant" to "devoid".

- there has been pretty serious grade inflation, even for the category of Prime, which has led to the creation of unofficial sub-categories:

The few excellent butchers and beef buyers remaining in this country (Stanley Lobel on Madison Avenue, for example, and the three presiding women at Peter Luger) not only insist on buying only Prime beef.  They also talk of low, medium and high Prime-- the unofficial grades of the cognoscenti.  Perhaps the ratings correspond to "very abundant" and "extremely abundant."

***

This thread has me thinking-- I've never much cared for steak. Not that it's awful, but I find it boring. I'd much rather have a good piece of brisket or short ribs than a steak any day. The follow-up question is of course, is that because I don't like steak, or because I've never had a good enough steak? I've been to some pretty decent steakhouses, and have always been underwhelmed. I suppose it might be worthwhile to shell out the $$$ on dinner at Peter Luger's or a comparable place, to see if I've just been missing the point. But I suspect I'd be better off spending the same amount of money on a flight to Texas for some BBQ brisket...


Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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This thread has me thinking-- I've never much cared for steak.  Not that it's awful, but I find it boring.  I'd much rather have a good piece of brisket or short ribs than a steak any day.  The follow-up question is of course, is that because I don't like steak, or because I've never had a good enough steak?  I've been to some pretty decent steakhouses, and have always been underwhelmed.  I suppose it might be worthwhile to shell out the $$$ on dinner at Peter Luger's or a comparable place, to see if I've just been missing the point.  But I suspect I'd be better off spending the same amount of money on a flight to Texas for some BBQ brisket...

I'm not a big steak eater either -- as dagordon is saying, if you can find the right cut of meat it's something you can make almost as well just at home -- but have you tried (a) the porterhouse at melograno or (b) the ribeye (entrecote, but I think that translates roughly to ribeye) at pif? Mmmm... beefy...


Edited by Diann (log)

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By sheer coincidence, I was recently reading Jeffrey Steingarten's essay "High Steaks" (reprinted in It Must've Been Something I Ate, and worth checking out).  Steingarten goes through the history of the USDA's relabling of grades of beef (with special mention of 1950, "a year that will live in infamy", when the categories of Prime and Choice were lumped together).  He makes a couple of points that are relevant to your question:

- there is an objective grading system for beef, based on marbling.  (He doesn't mention it, but there are of course also objective gradings based on color, firmness and so on.  Here is a PDF link to a brief description of the Japanese grading system, with pictures.)  Marbling has twelve grades, running from "extremely abundant" to "devoid". 

- there has been pretty serious grade inflation, even for the category of Prime, which has led to the creation of unofficial sub-categories:

The few excellent butchers and beef buyers remaining in this country (Stanley Lobel on Madison Avenue, for example, and the three presiding women at Peter Luger) not only insist on buying only Prime beef.  They also talk of low, medium and high Prime-- the unofficial grades of the cognoscenti.  Perhaps the ratings correspond to "very abundant" and "extremely abundant."

Thanks for explaining why Kobe beef is what it is, even though that wasn't your goal. I note in the paper you linked that the degrees of abundance listed by the authors are not official USDA terms; all they recognize is "abundant" marbling -- and if I understand the translation table correctly, the threshold for "abundant" isn't even halfway up the Japanese marbling scale and is hardly what I'd call abundant if the top three places on the Japanese scale are any guide. I assume that this unfortunate state of affairs can be traced to the 1950 folding of the old USDA Choice grade into what was then a stricter standard for USDA Prime. (Done, I presume, at the behest of the meatpackers.)

I notice that the top Japanese quality grade for marbling -- 5 -- encompasses the top five degrees on a scale of 1 (devoid) to 12 (well over 50% fat marbling and maybe as high as 75%). In the US, beef with a marbling level of 5 on this scale (a Japanese quality grade of 3) is eligible for a Prime grade. From the pictures, it looks like level 5 has around 25% fat marbling. That's a HUGE quality range, and it pretty much renders the designation USDA Prime meaningless as a reliable standard of high quality. No wonder the restaurateurs speak of low, medium and high Prime. The USDA Select grade has more integrity: You're sure to get a cut of meat with almost no fat, and thus almost no flavor.

This thread has me thinking-- I've never much cared for steak.  Not that it's awful, but I find it boring.  I'd much rather have a good piece of brisket or short ribs than a steak any day.  The follow-up question is of course, is that because I don't like steak, or because I've never had a good enough steak?  I've been to some pretty decent steakhouses, and have always been underwhelmed.  I suppose it might be worthwhile to shell out the $$$ on dinner at Peter Luger's or a comparable place, to see if I've just been missing the point.  But I suspect I'd be better off spending the same amount of money on a flight to Texas for some BBQ brisket...

If this paper is any guide, it would be worthwhile to shell out the bucks for Peter Luger or Lobel's just to test your hypothesis, for you're not guaranteed the highest quality possible (or close to it) otherwise. (I'll wager that the "prime" steaks Omaha Steaks offers are at the bottom of the scale, if indeed they're USDA Prime; I don't recall Omaha Steaks stating specifically that their steaks are graded such.)

However, if you're following my standard of value, the brisket is probably the better buy.

But as far as beef steaks are concerned, the link you provided convinced me that I'm not at all likely to find "bargains" in this category. Stop & Shop strip steak is an obvious rare exception.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I'm not a big steak eater either -- as dagordon is saying, if you can find the right cut of meat it's something you can make almost as well just at home -- but have you tried (a) the porterhouse at melograno or (b) the ribeye (entrecote, but I think that translates roughly to ribeye) at pif? Mmmm... beefy...

I've had the entrecote at Pif. It's perfectly good. I think that the time I had it, I was really in the mood for something meaty, and it fit the bill. But to my taste, it's not as good as some of their other dishes.

Melograno... no. But it would be interesting to try. The steaks I've enjoyed the most have been fiorentinas. But not having done any sort of rigorous testing, I don't know whether my enjoyment of them was because of the chianina beef, the Tuscan style of grilling, or other, less tangible factors (dinner under an arbor in the Roman springtime, etc.)

But I haven't been to Melograno in ages, so I'd be up for giving their steak a go. If you're interested in a taste-test, let's do it one of these days...

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I'm not a big steak eater either -- as dagordon is saying, if you can find the right cut of meat it's something you can make almost as well just at home -- but have you tried (a) the porterhouse at melograno or (b) the ribeye (entrecote, but I think that translates roughly to ribeye) at pif? Mmmm... beefy...

I've had the entrecote at Pif. It's perfectly good. I think that the time I had it, I was really in the mood for something meaty, and it fit the bill. But to my taste, it's not as good as some of their other dishes.

Melograno... no. But it would be interesting to try. The steaks I've enjoyed the most have been fiorentinas. But not having done any sort of rigorous testing, I don't know whether my enjoyment of them was because of the chianina beef, the Tuscan style of grilling, or other, less tangible factors (dinner under an arbor in the Roman springtime, etc.)

But I haven't been to Melograno in ages, so I'd be up for giving their steak a go. If you're interested in a taste-test, let's do it one of these days...

I haven't had the steak at Melograno, I have several times had the one at Pif, with truffle coulis or anchovy butter. I like it a whole lot. But it falls into a certain category of steak. The raw product is perfectly good, I think. But what makes the dish successful is the additional stuff they do to it.

It's completely different from what you might call the steakhouse steak category, where it's all about (or should be about!) doing as little as possible to the finest possible piece of meat.

I'm thinking more and more that I should order a giant Lobel's porterhouse, a bunch of us should get together, each person chips in $10 or something, and everyone gets a bite of perfection. If you don't like it, or don't like it enough that you'd buy a whole steak, you won't have wasted much.

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