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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Kevin Rathbun Steak

photo-14Fine dining may be on life support in Atlanta, but steak houses are thriving like never before. Why, during this recession, are people choosing to spend their money on high-end steaks but not other kinds of equally expensive dining?

To explore this question, I’ve decided to visit three influential steak houses and look at what they serve and what this says about the state of dining in Atlanta today.

Today, I’ll look at the first one: Kevin Rathbun Steak — a local eatery that seems to redefine what people look for in a cow palace. Tomorrow I’ll visit BLT Steak, a local branch of a high-end New York chain that has been peddling an interesting mash-up of French bistro cookery with great  American grain-fed beef and other ingredients. I’ll end this mini-series with a trip to Bone’s — the Atlanta classic that has tinkered little with its formula during three decades on the scene.

As I’ve been an abiding fan of chef Kevin Rathbun’s first namesake restaurant, Rathbun’s, I always figured that Kevin Rathbun Steak would be just the chophouse for me. The long, eclectic menu here lists all kinds of hot and cold appetizers, non-steak options and creative side dishes. One could, for instance, start with oysters on the half shell and a chopped salad, and then go on a porterhouse steak and an elbow macaroni and cheese tart for a slightly updated steak house menu.

Then again, one could totally ignore convention and make a meal of lobster fritters, tuna sashimi, a bowl of butternut squash soup and a plate of seared diver scallops with farro stew.

Barbecued pork shoulder, a shellfish tamale, a bowl of groovy grits, a beet salad with goat cheese and candied pecans. It’s all there. You can eat small plate, big plates, huge plates, massive hunks of cow for two — yours for the taking.

And this all should be like crack for me, not being a meat-and-potatoes guy. Seriously. Real meat-and-potatoes guys could mop me up with their french fries. While they’re pounding down their New York strips and martinis, I’d be the one sniffing a shellfish tamale and scouring the wine list for an appropriate chardonnay.

But no. I assume the title of honorary steak-and-potatoes guy in a steak house, and I’m not sure Kevin Rathbun Steak quite delivers that experience I’m looking for. This restaurant offers myriad pleasures, but is it a steak house?

I take the most carnivorous of my three daughters one evening, and we are shown to a table in the quiet downstairs “library” (i.e., a cozy room with some bookshelves along one wall). We sit under this portrait of Rathbun wearing latex gloves and a sniffing a chunk of meat. I guess it’s nice to know the chef has personally smelled your food.

First we look over the long menu, then we hear all about the daily specials, which include  a whole fish, a scallop sashimi with persimmon vinaigrette and a roasted red pepper soup.

After much discussion of options, we decide what we really came for was a steak, pure and simple, and we want to save both our appetite and attention for it. So we make a first course of the bread and butter — a strange assortment of dried fruit and nut bread, onion rolls and lavender butter.

Our steak is a beauty — a 22-ounce dry-aged ribeye ($54) that’s a perfect example of form. It has a large and well-defined “eye,” a thin layer of fat opposite the bone and a thick, well defined cap beyond the fat.

I ask to have the steak whole so I can give my daughter a yummy anatomy lesson. I carve off the ribeye cap — a distinct muscle that’s properly called the spinalis dorsi — the flavor is funkier and the texture juicy with broad, stripey grains. It it a piece of meat to stop you in your tracks, to make you pause and appreciate the sensation of eating.

But it’s just a bite. Next comes the ribeye proper, which I carve into fat ribbons. To me, the most noticeable benefit of dry aging is that the meat absorbs its juices during its lockdown, so the texture is both firmer and more tender than wet aged beef, and the steak doesn’t bleed when cut. The beefy flavor seems to stay in the meat.

We really like our steak, though it comes out a little too rare for our taste (we order medium rare, but find the center too red, cool and floppy). So after carving off half, we send it back for another spin on the broiler. Excellent: fresh, hot steak for round two.

We’re a little less thrilled with our sides. There’s no basic baked potato (Chorizo-stuffed twice baked potatoes? No thanks.). So we order herbed steak fries with blue cheese fondue — thick, house-fried sticks that turn soft and floppy after a few minutes. But a special side dish –  brussels sprouts with chestnuts, bacon and parmesan cheese — is very nice.

It is also typical of Kevin Rathbun Steak. American steak houses first came of age by offering simplicity. They served as a rejoinder to the fussiness of Continental cuisine by bringing the attention squarely to fine American ingredients. This place, like other modern steak houses, is all about indulgence.

79 comments Add your comment

DinnerGood

November 11th, 2009
8:41 am

So when did BLT take the place of Chop’s in Atlanta?

AJ

November 11th, 2009
8:52 am

DinnerGood – I think, and obviously John will correct if I’m wrong, John is trying to go to 3 steak places that have some differences. I would put Chops in the same category as Bones – classic steak house. BLT Steak is not your typical old school steak house. Just a guess…

phar71

November 11th, 2009
9:42 am

I have been 3 times, first time was a couple of years ago and was fantasitc, ever since I have been dissappointed, went with my entire family for my Birthday last year, Steaks came out cold, and half way through the meal, a smell of rotten fish permeated the entire place.

Kris 10

November 11th, 2009
10:21 am

Went to Rathbun steak a year or so ago – will never go back after such a disappointing experience. Horrendous, actually, considering the chef and the prices. I had the surf-and-turf, which included a grilled lobster that smelled horrible on its arrival and was predictably inedible. Can’t wait to hear about Bone’s – have yet to find a steakhouse here that can come close.

Beebee

November 11th, 2009
10:48 am

I think what sets Kevin’s steakhouse apart is that anyone can go there and find a great meal. Even a vegetarian. They source most of their produce from local organic farmers and it’s always used creatively. The seafood is always fresh and prepared thoughtfully. Also they have a new Chef de Cuisine that has been there for a little less than a year who was previously Chef de Cuisine at Woodfire Grill under Micheal Touhy. So if you have not been there lately, try it again. You can get a great piece of dry aged prime beef there but, there is also something for everyone. It’s a foodies’ steakhouse really.

NativeAtlantan

November 11th, 2009
11:04 am

Been to Rathbun’s Steak twice — the first time, several years ago was fantastic. The second time last year was absolutely horrible. Even after complaining to the wait staff about the meal, nothing was done to correct any of the problems. A lot of money for a terrible, terrible meal. Will certainly not be back.

A.S.

November 11th, 2009
11:08 am

BLT over Chops? From what I’ve heard BLT is not nearly as good as the joint in NY; and how do you pass on Chops? One of the oldest steakhouses in the city…Also one of the top 100 grossing restaurants in the COUNTRY!

http://www.rimag.com/article/CA6554059.html

Rob Vinson

November 11th, 2009
11:18 am

I’ve been to Rathbuns Steak and Chops and Bones, several times each, and I think as far as steak houses go, Bones wins hands down. They keep it simple and sometimes simple is better. They’ve stood the test of time since the 70’s in this town, so they must be doing something right. Hals is a good place for a steak too.

Captain

November 11th, 2009
11:19 am

Very hard to beat Hal’s on old Ivy for a great steak, fish or lamb. Very fine bar area with live piano and appetizers with a Cajun flair. I prefer it over Chops, Bone’s or Rathbun.

Reba

November 11th, 2009
11:40 am

I have been to Rathbuns Steak twice, but will never go again. I have never understood all the “hype” about this place. Okay, so it was the “in” place to be and be seen, but if you are looking for steak, go directly to Bones, or a second choice, Chops. Both meals I had at Rathbuns left me tasting butter in my mouth, even to the next day. I cannot imagine how much butter they use for each dish. A steak should not leave an aftertaste of butter. Period.

Laverne

November 11th, 2009
11:46 am

Bones is it, no “bones” about it – My Man eats bones and all !!!

Dead Dog

November 11th, 2009
11:50 am

Rathbuns is a B-. Its overpriced. Jalapeno Cream corn as a side was awesome though

samwise

November 11th, 2009
11:51 am

Every time I have been to Rathbun Steak it has been excellent. Ask for George, get the Porterhouse for two, and indulge. I don’t go there for the regular Sizzler experience, I go for lobster stuff baked potatoes and monster steaks an boutique wines. I certainly would not bring children or those who only like what they can get at Longhorn. Love it!

Ramona Clef

November 11th, 2009
11:52 am

That picture is creepy.

Harold

November 11th, 2009
11:56 am

Any one have an opinion on Morton’s Steakhouse, particularly the one by Lennox mall?

Thanx in advance.

John Kessler

November 11th, 2009
12:02 pm

I did spend a lot of time debating Chops or Bone’s but went with Bone’s since I had been to Chops more recently for another story. I am certainly not saying these are three best, but rather they are three of the most influential. Samwise seems the ideal target customer: he goes to indulge. Beebee also points out that KRS joins in the local farm-totable conversation, which is admirable in a steak house.

NativeAtlantan

November 11th, 2009
12:02 pm

Sam — shouldn’t have to ask for a specific waiter and I’m not part of the Sizzler or Longhorn crowd. I went specifically to indulge….unfortunately….I’m afraid Kevin is indulging on the massive amount of money I spent for a 2-person dinner.

Linda B

November 11th, 2009
12:11 pm

Hal’s is fine if you like smoke instead of steak. I will never return to inhale all that smoke again.

mmm...meat

November 11th, 2009
12:28 pm

I go to Steak every few weeks and enjoy it each time. I thoroughly enjoy the steaks but do consider them no better than chops, bones, mckendrick’s. The appetizers and sides are what I think separate Steak from the others, different and fantastic.

Mary Lynn

November 11th, 2009
12:41 pm

I am surprised that no one mentioned New York Prime! Never had a bad steak there..

DawgPhan

November 11th, 2009
12:44 pm

Going tomorrow night for my birthday…but you I can’t get down with reviewers that turn their nose up at chorizo twice baked potatoes…looking forward to it since I love Rathbun’s.

CW

November 11th, 2009
1:04 pm

dead dog I agree. That jalepeno cream corn may be the best side I’ve ever put in my mouth. Been to RS twice and would certainly go back. Sounds like some of you folks should just go eat at Longhorn

Footballandsteaks

November 11th, 2009
1:08 pm

If you have a choice of paying your mortgage or go out to eat and you choose to eat go to Bone’s. If you want to eat and pay the mortgage, choose Stoney River in Duluth. Great service and food. Get the Cowboy. Its killer. Oscar the steak is a great idea too, its just lump crab and bernaise.

Foode

November 11th, 2009
1:13 pm

Rathbun’s was one of the worst, most overpriced experiences I have ever had. We waited over 45′ to be seated for our 8:00 reservation. Once seated, It was another 20′ before anyone even said “Hello” to us. The first round drink order took another 10′ to get to the table. If I hadn’t physically stopped the indifferent waiter has he walked by, I think I’d still be sitting there waiting to order! So, just to be clear: With an 8:00 reservation, we didn’t get our first drink until 9:15, couldn’t place our dinner order until 9:45, and finally got our entree at 10:15! By then I was so ticked off that I found it difficult to enjoy the average tasting piece of beef that was in front of me. You couldn’t pay me to go back there.

If I want to be ignored, I can do that for free at home ;-)

Next time I want a great steak, I’m going to Bone’s.

Mike

November 11th, 2009
1:19 pm

Absolutely LOVED it the first two times that I went. Last time, it was a big disapointment. The food was just so-so and everything was way over salted. Perhaps the sea salt got the best of the chef working the kitchen that night?

Yankee Fan

November 11th, 2009
1:19 pm

I have been going to Rathbun’s and Kevin Rathbun’s Steak since they have opened and have never been disappointed. Food is always wonderful, atmosphere is inviting, wait staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and wine selection is great. If you are looking for an affordable and delicious meal, Rathbun’s and Kevin Rathbun’s Steak is the place to go.

Rathbun Fan

November 11th, 2009
1:23 pm

I have been to Kevin Rathbun’s Steak many times and think it is an excellent restaurant. Somedays the service can be a bit lacking but, the food has never been disappointing. I would go back there in a heartbeat. Rathbun’s Steak and Hals are my favorites for Atlanta. Give KRS another try and get the Bone-In Filet with the jalapeno cream corn…deeelicious!

NativeAtlantan

November 11th, 2009
1:46 pm

Sounds like Rathbun’s staff is now commenting on this blog…

Kris 10

November 11th, 2009
2:57 pm

I most definitely agree, Native Atlantan @1:46. If one of you Rathbun’s lovers is willing to spot me $200, I’ll gladly try the place again. Even though the restaurant has “Steak” in its name, perhaps diners fare better with just the farm-to-table sides. I’m not a member of the Sizzler/Longhorn crowd and I have no problem dropping some cash on a great meal, but I refuse to go back to a place helmed by a chef with a pedigree like his, who was in the kitchen the night I dined (hard to miss), and had no problem sending me a lobster that had been “grilled” to resemble a peice of charcoal in a shell and tasted like it looked.

Pat

November 11th, 2009
3:18 pm

Stoney River all the way. Service, food, and atmosphere is the best. Never disappointed, and if you are, they’ll correct it in a moment’s notice. Best one is on States Bridge Road in Duluth.

Phillyfan

November 11th, 2009
3:49 pm

I have to agree…Stoney River in Duluth has incredible , juicy steaks…good service, and excellent food.

JW

November 11th, 2009
4:01 pm

To me the true test of a steakhouse these days is the Porterhouse. Some of the most famous steakhouses such as Berns in Tampa and Peter Luger in NY consider the porterhouse the flagship steak (Peter Luger’s didn’t even offer us a menu at first assuming we’d get the porterhouse for 2).

In my opinion Rathbun Steak serves one of the best porterhouses in the country, and I’ve eaten there several times. In other categories I give best filet to Hal’s on Old Ivy and best Ribeye to NY Prime. Bone’s and Chops are classic Atlanta restaurants and obviously have great steaks, but to me they are more about the prestige, overall experience, history, and atmosphere.

Mike

November 11th, 2009
4:21 pm

To follow-up on my comment above — for me, the service has always been top notch at Rathbun Steak. My wife won’t let me go back to Bones, on the other hand, because, the last time we were there, the Maître d’ asked her if she was expecting twins (she was expecting, but only one). After years of frequenting Bones (and loving it), that comment moved Bones over to the blacklist. I’m still searching for my new favorite Atlanta steakhouse.

DDDAWG

November 11th, 2009
4:21 pm

Stoney River in Duluth is the best. conversation closed.

An Observer

November 11th, 2009
4:43 pm

Something isn’t right here……too many people having absolutely horrible experiences, then the next few say it is the greatest place on earth. Perhaps friends and employees doing a little posting?
I probably won’t go anyway, so it is a moot point to me. Call me simple, I’ll take the filet at Petite Auberge any time. Yes, I’ve been to Bones, as well as Smith & Wallenski (sp), & Ben Benson’s in NYC, so I’m not exactly a Western Sizzler kinda guy. The worst I ever had was Ruth’s Chris in Buckhead…tasted like burned butter.

Wine Diva

November 11th, 2009
4:50 pm

Bones #1, Chops, BLT then Stoney River. Love’em all.

An Observer

November 11th, 2009
4:51 pm

Mike @ 4:21 I had a similar experience at Bones……two mature couples on the way to a Governor’s Innaugrial Ball, dressed for the black tie event, and the snooty waiter asked if we were going to our Junior Senior Prom.
Never went back, as there are too many places to spend my money and not get attitude.

Sr.Atlanta

November 11th, 2009
5:02 pm

Rathbun’s Steak leaves much to be desired. Too expensive for what it serves. Bones is my first choice for steak. I am a huge fan of Rathbun’s restaurant however. Great menu and fantasic desserts.

Scott

November 11th, 2009
5:08 pm

Go to the Capital Grille. You won’t be disappointed. It is great in all aspects.

Diego

November 11th, 2009
5:32 pm

Been to Rathbun’s Steak at least 3 times. Definitely recommend the Porterhouse for 2. Last time a year or so ago our Porterhouse was overcooked and we mentioned this to waiter who replaced it with a new one, no problem. Service attentativeness was fine; overcooked steak was surprising, but I think result of it cooking on plate prior to our not real timely delivery–but nonetheless should not have happened. So I too am concerned that Rathbun’s has dipped. Sides are sides, steak lovers basically are mainly concerned with steak. My comment re. Rathbun’s sides is that they are small compared to the other steakhouses.

I like Rathbun’s ambiance; a bit disappointed at Chop’s ambiance and service the last time there.

I don’t think Rathbun’s Steak is more expensive than Chop’s, Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s, BLT, Pacci, Bones or NY Prime.

Went to NY Prime recently and loved it. Pacci is nice too.

Morton’s downtown waiter seemed snooty–and I don’t need that. Bones a dozen years ago gave me serious food poisoning on a nice steak dinner, which experience didn’t win me over–although the service was great.

Diego

November 11th, 2009
5:33 pm

Actually, in my comment I meant Capital Grille, not NY Prime.

McSteak

November 11th, 2009
5:35 pm

I have been to many of them for years. The best are
#1 Bones
#2 Hals
#3 Chops
Mortons
Firewater Chophouse in Cumming is about a year old and is pretty good.

McSteak

November 11th, 2009
5:40 pm

JK – as much as you wine and dine it is your fault it was too rare as you know they are going to cook steaks to the rarer side of your desire. Quit complaining so much. I don’t think you are capable of being please too often.

Jack G.

November 11th, 2009
6:16 pm

I miss Dale’s Cellar

Muddy River

November 11th, 2009
6:37 pm

Stoney River is terrible. Everything tastes like boullion cubes.

J-Bird

November 11th, 2009
6:39 pm

Hal’s, Chops Lobster Bar, Bones, McKendricks, BLT Steak, and NY Prime. In that order.

Business Man

November 11th, 2009
6:51 pm

The bottom line: There is no great steak place in Atlanta. If you are going, Bone’s and Hal’s are by far the best. If you take someone
to Rathbun’s for a business dinner, don’t expect to keep their business and don’t take your wife there unless you want a divorce. Clear enough?

RGW

November 11th, 2009
7:09 pm

interesting to hear that John experienced the same thing we did the last time we went to KRS – we ordered med-rare and it was too rare. Unfortunately we didn’t send it back but should have. Been there 2 x – appx 1 year apart. First time rocked; second time left us wanting more…will go back to Rathbun’s before KRS. As for Bone’s or Chops, no thanks, neither cut the mustard for me. Would much prefer to hit Whole Foods and have a nice steak from my home grill that drop the $.

DH

November 11th, 2009
7:30 pm

There’s Bone’s and then there’s everyone else!!!

Business Man

November 11th, 2009
7:50 pm

@RGW: If you are going to do it yourself, it is worth a trip to Fergeson’s Market on GA. HWY. 369. They have one of the best meat selections in the state. Take 400 to 369 and go west about 3 miles.
It’s a long way to go but well worth it.