The rituals of a steak dinner are as exhilarating as they are gratifying: the portentous “clunk” of the serrated knife, the inimitable shape of the martini glass, the crunch of the iceberg wedge, the ginormous baked potato. And as with every beloved tradition, there is quibbling. What’s the tastiest cut of beef? Should it be dry-aged or wet-aged? Grass-fed or corn-fed? Char-grilled or broiled? Hollandaise or butter? The choice is yours. We compared three popular cuts—the filet mignon, the rib eye, and the strip loin—and discovered many permutations therein. Here’s the beef.
Filet mignon is the most ubiquitous and perhaps the most popular cut. It comes from the loin of the beast, which sits just behind the rib section. It’s the most expensive, the most tender and some insist—present company included—that it’s also the least flavorful. The filet mignon is suited to the dainty carnivore that prefers a scant portion and mild flavor.
Redstone’s hand-trimmed, 10 oz. USDA Prime filet mignon was to die for—or, to kill for. Twice as large as the usual 5 oz. filet mignon, this plump steak sizzled with a handsome crosshatch of grill marks and a flavorful rub of salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and thyme. A jaunty wooden flag decreed that it was indeed “rare,” and a side of rosemary-roasted wild mushrooms made it palate-perfect. $36. 12501 Ridgedale Dr., Minnetonka; 952.591.0000
Jimmy’s 5 oz. petite filet was defiantly unadorned, as if to declare: I am perfect as is. We couldn’t argue. The finely grained loin was as tall as it was round, uniformly rosy, evenly crusted. An object lesson illustrating the benefits dry-aging over wet, this petite filet demonstrated a concentration of flavor that can only come from the proper cocktail of enzymes and mold. The affable owner Mike Jennings told us he’d named the restaurant after his father, Jimmy. Awww. We’d come back here for that reason alone, and count the stellar steak as a bonus. $26.95. 11000 Red Circle Dr., Minnetonka; 952.224.5858
Gianni’s bone-in filet is a thing of beauty. Order it “Oscar Style”—with snowy flakes of crabmeat, asparagus and a silver boat brimming with hollandaise sauce—and it will blow your mind. The contrast of earth and sea is pure genius and pure decadence. The “bone-in” filet is a special find. Only two per steer, this cut has all the tenderness of a traditional filet mignon with a nifty handle for gnawing. Get the tableside spun salad to start, since Julia Child said the only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook. With add-ins like blue cheese, bay shrimp, hard-cooked eggs and bacon, you’re bound to veer ecstatically off the diet course. $45. 635 E. Lake St., Wayzata; 952.404.1100
The strip loin—a rectangular strip of steak separated from one side of a T-bone—is our favorite cut. It has a rich beefy taste, edges of crispy fat, and a dense, satisfying chew. Sometimes it’s called New York Strip, sometimes it’s called Kansas Strip. Regardless, we call it divine.
Restaurants get the best grade of meats—that’s Prime—while we sorry supermarket shoppers are stuck with mere “Choice” or the even lowlier “Select” grades. So you’re already one step ahead when you eat steak at a restaurant. The 14 oz. New York Strip at BLVD Kitchen was a shining example of its ilk—branded by the grill, slicked with garlicky butter, oozing juice—and was complimented by an inspired mix of Yukon gold potato wedges and artichoke hearts. The meat came from Certified Black Angus breed from Iowa, which is local enough for us. $32. 11544 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka; 763.398.3200
If you crave a superlative slab of beef with perfectly appointed accouterments but aren’t up for the pomp and fuss of a steakhouse, hie thee to Hazellewood Grill and Tap! Aged a minimum of 28 days, seasoned with garlic and herbs, this 14 oz. prime strip is a charred marvel of bovine deliciousness. Do as the menu suggests and “add some love”—seared jumbo scallops, grilled shrimp, sautéed mushrooms or onions—but don’t ignore the unctuous smoked Gouda gratin potatoes. This is upscale fare in an endearingly comfy locale: All of the quality with none of the ‘tude. $29. 5635 Manitou Rd., Tonka Bay; 952.401.0066
“Irish pub” and “steakhouse” aesthetics seamlessly intersect here—dark wood, leather banquettes, etched glass—for an overall effect that is cozy, elegant and confidently old school. Their handsome specimen of a New York strip was sourced locally, dry-aged for 21 days, broiled at 1500 degrees, and according to the menu, “the very reason the Irish came to America.” My favorite side dish materialized in the form of caramelized Brussels sprouts. At 16 oz., this strip loin is not for the peckish. Eat as much as you can, then ask for a doggy bag and make a doggy’s day. $38. 200 Water St., Excelsior; 952.908.9650
The rib section of a steer yields awesome beef flavor—that’s “awesome” in the original sense of the word. It may not be as pretty or as prestigious as the loin cuts, but the rib eye is the most thoroughly marbled and all those veins of fat guarantee the lip-smacking succulence and a brawny beef flavor universally cherished by hardcore carnivores.
Biella may be an Italian restaurant, but it embraces the same sense of tradition, quality and service that you’d expect from an upscale steak house. The “bistecca” rib eye was marinated in garlic, lemon, olive oil and herbs and grilled to our liking (rare, of course). The free-range beef came from Hereford stock, a breed that is typically eaten in its first or second year. The older guys are spared for, ahem, procreation purposes. $27. 227 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.8881
It was labeled “Sterling Silver Prime.” It came in two sizes and included two “Signature Sides.” We chose the more modest 10 oz. rib eye and sweet little crocks of dreamy creamed spinach and creamed-style corn. Lord Fletcher’s also presented the best iteration of au gratin potatoes we’d experienced—heavy on the garlic and lightly kissed by nutmeg. As we savored every meltingly rich bite, we gazed out the lake and were overcome with a profound sense of well-being. Ah, the good life. $30. 3746 Sunset Dr., Spring Park; 952.471.8513
A successful steak dinner relies on the strength of its ingredients. Start with a high-quality grade of meat in your cut of choice, cook it to order, and it’s hard to go wrong. Sunsets’ hand-trimmed, well-marbled 13 oz. beauty of a rib eye is a case in point. Topped with a simple knob of garlic-parsley maitre-d’ butter, the straightforward preparation allowed the meat to sing. The rustic rib eye may not impress with the elegance of a filet or the height of a strip, but it was a TKO of primal, earthy flavor. More celebratory than solemn, Sunsets boasted the most potato choices (French fries, hash browns, garlic mashed, au gratin and baked) and a deliciously colorful and crunchy veggie mélange: bell peppers, onion and squashes. $20.95. 700 Lake St. E., Wayzata; 952.473.5253