Bones have a bad rep. These days, everyone wants their meat skinless, boneless ”“ and I might add, tasteless as well. Bones add flavor to the meat that surrounds them and when that’s done, I’m left with the bones to gnaw on. What could be better?
So when Elbert Cuenca of Elbert’s Steak Room tells me that he’s now serving bone-in porterhouse and bone-in tenderloin at his restaurant, I show up the next day. Frankly, I’m not even aware that tenderloin can be served with its bone, such is the way I’ve been programmed to expect this revered piece of meat.
Bone-in steaks disappeared from dining tables globally when mad cow disease (BSE) hit a few years ago. The ban was lifted earlier this year and that’s why ads of a certain high-end establishment noted for its prime rib began announcing that their bone-in meats were back. The core difference between bone-in beef versus boneless beef is much more than simply one having a bone while the other doesn’t. Bone-in beef trumps its boneless counterpart in flavor and texture because the natural muscle and fat bones are undisturbed. The bone also helps the meat retain its shape and aids in cooking the meat more evenly because it absorbs heat. Meat juices are also most concentrated near the bone making for a juicier, more succulent steak.
Much has changed since my last visit to Elbert’s Steak Room. The restaurant is now ten months old and has graduated from three to seven tables, still spaced far enough apart so that conversations don’t become exercises in eavesdropping. There are more servers now too, all pros at the dance of serving and retreating, no doubt buoyed by the confidence of a restaurant that has settled into its groove and is fulfilling its goal of serving premium steaks.
A sparkling steak trolley holds court in a corner, boasting a treasure of Prime Rib (P1,600), slow-roasted and bone-in. It’s another new feature that’s available only on Fridays and Saturdays. But tonight, my Bin and I are here for the Prime Grade Porterhouse (P3,600) and the Bone-in Tenderloin (P2,000). All meals at Elbert’s Steak Room begin with a “diversion” of salad and a choice of soup. I say “diversion” because if it were up to me, I’d do away with the niceties and have at my steak right away. But these lead-ups to an exceptional meal are essential: excitement is stoked, anticipation smolders.
When the steaks finally arrive, Elbert ambles over to our table and says almost apologetically, “Please don’t feel obliged to finish all this meat.” I laugh out loud without warning. “Ha! You’re talking to the wrong people, Elbert.” I reply. I’m sure it’s possible to behave with dignity with nearly a kilo of beef nearby. But for me, it’s an impossibility. As I gaze at the meat, I hear Elbert’s voice coming from seemingly faraway, telling me and my Bin that “…here you’ve got the best of both worlds. The bone separates the tenderloin from the larger top loin… different textures, different flavors. This is a proper porterhouse.”
We lunge at the flesh. Rip into it. The steak knife slices through it as if it’s silk. Words between me and my Bin are rendered moot, replaced only by silences pierced by grunts and groans. The full-throated flavor of the meat is a beef bouquet of varying levels of tenderness and juice culminating in this lust-soaking, chin-dripping, primal beef-fest. As I vaguely remember Elbert mentioning, the two sides of the porterhouse are indeed representative of two cuts, the (smaller) tenderloin and the top loin. The former is like eating pure butter, chewing is almost unnecessary. The top loin has a bit more bite with a more defined “grain” but it’s also painfully soft and mercilessly flavorful.
This obscene temptation of 600 grams of beef meets with our prompt surrender. Sitting here in its scintillating state, the meat is reduced to bare bone in less than 20 minutes, our side dishes of porcini mushroom risotto and baked potato (P150 each) not spared from our unalloyed greed. The bones seem to stare at me with begrudging reverence, affirmation to a champion beef lover and eater. I’m itching to pick up the bones and gnaw at them like a dog gone mad but my Bin stops me from such a “barbaric” act. Aw, hell.
Elbert sees the remains of our dinner, proud vestiges of meat that’s been done proud. He smiles broadly. “Oh, god, that was almost a kilo of beef you two ate,” he remarks almost in awe. “I guess it’s safe to say you guys liked it.” So blissed out am I right now that I want to prostrate myself at this steak man’s feet and weep with greedy gratitude for making such deliciousness available for beef worshippers like me.
Elbert’s Steak Room
3/F Sagittarius Building III
111 H. V. de la Costa Street
Salcedo Village, Makati City
Lunch available Mondays-Fridays. (I hear the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich is mind-blowing!)
Dinner available Mondays-Saturdays.
A Commitment To Steak