Despite the Atkins-inspired spike in steakhouses across the country, aging steaks is almost a lost art. Unlike fish, just-killed beef isn't a real treat. Aging the meat makes its proteins begin to break down and mellows its flavor. But most steakhouses in America these days -- and we're not talking Outback or Sizzler, either -- take the easy road and wet-age their beef by sealing it in a cryovac for three to four weeks. We do enjoy a wet-aged steak, as long as it's a month old, but it just can't compare to the nutty, earthy flavor of one that has been dry-aged. (In dry-aging, whole cuts of meat are stored unwrapped in a refrigerated, well-ventilated chamber, which makes them lose much of their size and moisture and drives the price way up.) At Cafe Rouge's tiny meat market in back of the restaurant, the butchers sell a boneless Niman Ranch ribeye that has been dry-aged for five to seven weeks.
Comparing a steak you'd find at Safeway against a seven-week-old, dry-aged steak like that is like tasting a chilled wedge of cheap Brie next to a runny, perfectly ripe raw-milk one. Price is the only drawback: Cafe Rouge's steak sells for $25 a pound.
Ruth's Chris Steak House
1553 Olympic Blvd., Bldg. E, Walnut Creek, 925-977-3477