Meat and potatoes
Though the PC police may have many people cowed into thinking steak is both unhealthy and uncouth, the existence and success of longstanding steakhouses such as The Broiler give the lie to the idea that steaks and other types of big hunks of meat are anything other than essential components of our deepest culinary memories as a species. Consider the pure anticipation with which prehistoric man rotated savory mastodon loin over an open fire. Or consider Neolithic man with his domesticated cattle—slicing off that first huge slab of fresh, wholesome beef loin and placing it on a grate over glowing coals.
In more recent times, think of the other noble steak-based dishes we still see today: from France there is steak au poivre, tournedos Rossini, entrecôte Bordelaise; from Italy there is bistecca alla Fiorentina. And from America, the menu we’ve come to expect from a steakhouse: filet, sirloin, New York, rib eye, prime rib and other fine cuts.
This pleasure in big chunks of meat has been around for as long as we, as a species, have been eating, and has insinuated itself into the souls of (at least part of) humanity.
By eating a 16-ounce T-bone at The Broiler, we are not merely enjoying a delicious and well-prepared piece of aged beef; we also are subconsciously communing with the essence of human culinary experience from the beginning of our life on the planet.
Or maybe not. Either way, if you like a good steak, you can’t get much better than The Broiler. The place has been around since 1950. Recently, it moved to 12th and K; I never visited it at its J Street location, but I imagine the current incarnation is more upscale. The décor places it in a different category than your typical roadside-wagon-wheel, steer-horn-fat-guy-in-a-Cadillac steakhouse. The deep green carpet, redwood paneling and black-vest-and-tie-clad wait staff make you feel noble, rather than guilty, at the impending feast of large quantities of red meat.
Essentially, The Broiler comes out of the ’50s tradition of American cuisine with the addition of a few nods to the contemporary scene, such as seared rare Ahi tuna. But when at a place like The Broiler, the tendency—for me, at least—is to want to embrace that old tradition out of which much of the menu stems.
I started with some oysters on the half shell ($8.95), which were deliciously fresh and supple, filling my reeling cranium with the overwhelming essence of the sea. I quickly left off use of the spicy cocktail sauce, though, as it seemed to mute the oysters’ natural flavor. My buddies started with a Caesar salad ($5.50) and a baby spinach salad ($6.95), which they seemed to like (I forgot to ask). Had I known about the abused vegetables that were to come with my dinner, I would have ordered a salad as well.
As meat slabs, the prime rib ($21.95) and New York ($23.95) were excellent—cooked perfectly, highly flavorful and tender. We couldn’t have asked for better steaks. And what can you demand from a baked potato? Ours were large and cooked, which is all we ask, and the waiter filled them with sour cream and chives on the table. So, steak and potato—flying colors.
But why, in this otherwise grand tradition, are vegetables treated with such merciless disdain? My snap peas hadn’t even been de-strung; they appeared to have been sitting in a steam table for hours. I don’t even necessarily blame The Broiler for this, as it seems to be common practice in a lot of these types of restaurants, but I do wish more chefs would be more attentive to their veggies.
Despite this minor quibble, our evening at The Broiler was a thoroughly cozy and pleasant social and gustatory experience, leaving us with a deep sense of communion with the culinary traditions of our ancestors.