I like steak.
I like steak a lot.
Steak makes me happy.
Steak is my friend.
A perfectly-cooked steak, along with a full slate of well-made sides and an ice-cold beer or three, can be the perfect end to a good day or can cause a pretty awful day to do a last-minute 180-degree turnaround.
I like restaurants that not only serve a great steak but that understand steak…the concept of marbling…the notion of cooking a steak quickly over a blazing hot charcoal or wood fire. I like restaurants that display a bit of attitude about their steaks…restaurants that have no patience for anyone who would dare ask for a steak well-done (or even medium-well) but is surprised when the steak ends up tough and dry. (Of course it’s tough and dry, Einstein. That’s the way you ordered it.)
I take my steak one stage less than rare, known in the business as “barely dead.” If the EMTs show up and use the paddles on my steak, I’d like it to moo, please.
Whenever I travel, I love to eat where the locals eat. I was in San Antonio, Texas, on a business trip recently when I had that familiar hankering for a good steak. You know the kind of craving: Your taste buds zero-in on a specific target, and nothing else will quite fill the bill. And since I hear that they know a thing or two about beef in Texas, my dinner selection was a no-brainer.
I found a couple of candidates on San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk, and called my lovely, nothing-she-can’t-find-on-the-internet girlfriend in Cincinnati to do some culinary research for me. She reported back on her findings, and I settled on the Little Rhein Steak House, family owned and operated since 1967.
I arrived on time for my reservation and thought about requesting a seat on the restaurant’s lovely patio overlooking the Riverwalk. But I decided that it was a tad cool and breezy for open-air dining, so I opted for a seat in the dining room.
The building itself was constructed around 1847 and is a protected historical site. It has served many functions through the years, including a stint as home of the San Antonio Press Club. It is believed to be the first two-story building in San Antonio and sits less than a quarter-mile from the Alamo. For the past forty-one years, the building has been home of the Little Rhein. The decor is warm and welcoming. The walls are of rustic stone and mortar, the stones no doubt from the local quarries that are plainly visible as one approaches San Antonio by air. The ceiling sags just ever so slightly. The walls are covered with paintings and vintage photographs from San Antonio’s storied past, along with a smattering of orignals and reproductions of ads for everything from snuff to chewing gum.
As soon as the maitre d seated me and I took my first look at the menu, I was encouraged. I ignored the “Other Entrees” section of the menu and honed in on the steaks. Two things caught my eye immediately: (1) “Not responsible for well-done steaks” and (2) “The ribeye is a flavorful cut of beef. It is well marbled with fat. Please do not order it if you want a lean cut of beef.”
My server, Rosa, is a seasoned waitress of many years standing. She is unfailingly polite, but no-nonsense in the way she does her job. She is attentive, but doesn’t hover.
Rosa asked for my drink order. As always, I asked about beers on tap. All beers are bottled, she said, and she quickly ran through the list of available brews. I opted for a Lone Star. (Aside: I’ve always wanted to sidle up to a bar and order a longneck Lone Star beer, or at least ever since I first saw John Travolta and Debra Winger propped against the bar at Gilley’s and taking long pulls on Lone Stars in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy. Were they cool, or what? But I digress.)
While Rosa fetched my beer, I made my dinner selections: the ribeye, Caesar salad, and French fries.
“Your order, sir?”
“I’ll have the ribeye. Rare.”
“Medium rare, you say?”
Rosa stopped writing, a slight smile curling her lips. She gave me an approving nod.
“Very good, sir.”
The complimentary house appetizer is a small bowl of “Texas Caviar”: black-eyed peas. Having grown up in the South, I know black-eyed peas. These, of course, had a Southwestern flair. They were seasoned with beef, and I think, a touch of cumin and another spice or two that gave the dish just a bit of heat. Very tasty.
By the time I had finished the peas and had eaten a couple of bites of bread, my meal arrived.
The steak was fantastic. It was a great cut of meat, well marbled, about an inch and a half thick, flame-broiled to perfection and almost fork-tender. It was seasoned very simply, just a bit of salt and probably a quick basting with garlic butter. It was the best steak i’ve eaten in several months.
The sides were disappointing, certainly not up to the level of the steak. The Caesar salad was adequate, but nothing more. The dressing was slightly watery, and the salad lacked that stiff one-two punch of garlic and parmesan that I look for in a Caesar. The fries were frozen; as with the salad, they were OK, but only one notch above fast-food fries. I should have tried the creamed spinach.
With a total bill of more than sixty dollars for one person, the meal was pricey, but not extravagantly so for a one-time splurge on a business trip. All in all, a pleasant evening. I’m glad I dined there and would probably do so again.