Vail Valley restaurants are keeping it classic with steak frites
Special to the Daily
Steak frites is French for steak and fries, and although the dish’s roots are European, Americans know meat and potatoes. It’s basic, yes, but when a restaurant can do simple right, it stands out.
Splendido at the Chateau in Beaver Creek has had steak frites on its bar menu for years. And while several restaurants around the valley are adding their own variations of this classic to their menus, Splendido chef-owner Brian Ackerman believes the dish will never be a trend but consistently a classic and always a comfort food.
“We like to have an option for people who don’t want complicated dishes for dinner,” he said.
After seeing it on more menus, I had the thought that steak frites might start emerging as the new and more refined “burger and fries” at some bars and bistros, but Ackerman explained how burgers are as popular as ever and becoming more gourmet, while steak frites is still the familiar combination of a cut of beef with sliced and fried potatoes.
“Back in the day, you would just throw in anything with burgers, and now we do specific grinds and try to bring the burger up to a new level,” he said.
And so it remains that steaks and burgers are more cousins than rivals when it comes to writing a restaurant menu, and steak frites won’t be bumping the burger and fries from any eateries. But like the recent care that’s been taken in sourcing particular beef to create the best possible burger, steak frites is no longer a “lesser cut” of meat served on a bed of fries.
Splendido serves a prime strip steak for its steak frites. The dish is available on its bar menu and kids’ menu.
“We use a Kennebec potato, sliced to order and then twice fried, and then put maitre d’hotel butter (herb butter) on the top of the steak and a little bordelaise, and there you go,” Ackerman said.
‘Meat and potatoes’
Laurence “Brodie” Broderick, owner of Vintage restaurant in Vail, said the “simple and quick” dish is indeed inspired by the belief that meat and potatoes are a great match.
“We butter baste our steak in the French tradition,” he said, “and our fresh, house-cut fries have several stages of soaking, blanching and frying to achieve the perfect color and crunch.”
Vintage’s steak frites highlights a cut of Wagyu beef, alongside russet potatoes — both from Idaho.
“We’re taking a French classic dish and improving on it by sourcing the highest quality ingredients,” he said.
The general manager at Dusty Boot Roadhouse goes by “Wally,” his last name Walling, and believes that this “back-to-the-basics” dish has remained popular because of its texture and flavor combinations.
“The crunch of the fries and tenderness of the steak go really, really well together,” he said.
Dusty Boot has options of two different cuts for its steak frites — a 12-ounce New York strip or an 8-ounce sirloin. The steak is covered in a peppercorn cream sauce, with a honey-chipotle molasses, all on top of a pile of homemade shoestring fries.
“We lay the steak over a bed of frites,” Walling said, “so all the flavors get smothered together. It’s back to the basics, with a little extra kick. The homemade sauce makes everything.”
While some will always say to keep it simple, other chefs will continue to try their own twist with steak frites. Thomas Keller’s famous Bouchon restaurants serve theirs as a 9-ounce flatiron steak, pain-seared and basted with butter, then topped with caramelized shallots and finished with a thick slice of maitre d’hotel butter that melts it all together.
A well-known Paris rendition adds a little bit of liver and mustard. But while chefs like Ackerman could play with the dish to make it more unique, that’s actually not what steak frites fans really want, generally speaking.
“There’s no need to try to improve the dish or make it more complex,” Ackerman said. “Those who come here and know and love steak frites, that’s what they’re looking for — steak and fries.”
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