Eat This Now: Piemontese Boneless Ribeye at Eataly's La Carne
I just can't quit steak. Earlier today I related what it was like to eat at so many steakhouses (hint: they are truly strange places), but what I didn't delve into was whether I had forgotten to include any worthy contenders in my list of the best dry-aged steaks. I had prepared myself for disgruntled commenters to have loads of opinions about places I forgot to include. To my surprise, that really wasn't the case. (For what it's worth, I'm sure there are still prime, dry-aged options out there just waiting to be devoured.) I did, however, run into one genuinely incredible option since then that would have easily made the top ten—perhaps the top three.
I never had exceptionally high hopes for Eataly's La Carne. Of all the options in the new Italian market wonderland, this restaurant definitely has suffered the worst reviews, and from my own personal observation—around nine visits in the past three weeks—it's by far the least popular. Regardless, I intended to try it before publishing my best steak feature, but was told by one of the hosts that none of the steaks served were dry-aged. That sounded odd to me, especially since enormous slabs of beef were literally dry-aging 20 feet away from the entrance to the restaurant.
Well, I don't know if things have changed, or if that host had no idea what was going on, because on Friday I feasted on a 28-day dry-aged ribeye ($42), and there is no question that it deserves to be included on any list of the best steaks in Chicago, even if it doesn't look or taste like any other steak in town.
It's easy to notice the difference before you even take a bite: there is noticeably less fat, a trait that most steak aficionados would consider a huge negative. But it's also astonishingly tender and very juicy, all without coming close to the dreaded mushy texture of wet-aged beef. While some of that tenderization comes from the aging process, it's not like the meat is being aged for 90 days. As I mentioned earlier, the beef only ages for 28 days, which also means that there isn't much blue cheese funk. What's going on here?
The answer is on the wall. The ribeye comes from Piemontese cattle, a breed originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, though this one comes from Toro Ranch in Broken Bow, Nebraska. (It's most often referred to as Piedmontese in English, but Eataly goes with the Italian spelling, Piemontese.) According to Eataly's website, the breed is known for its "unparalleled tenderness," while also being "lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than conventional beef." If you believe Wikipedia, this happens because the breed has "1 or 2 copies of the inactive myostatin gene," which provides "a higher lean-to-fat ratio as well as a less marbled with less connective tissue cut of red meat than from cattle having the 'active' version of the gene."
Whether or not that's exactly the case, I did find it true that the beef was both tender and less fatty. The result is a steak with an appealingly clean and distinct beefy flavor, which has absolutely nothing to hide. La Carne knows this, seasoning it simply with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar, and garnishing it with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest. It's an astonishing piece of meat, one of the best you can find in Chicago, which also happens to be 10 to 15 dollars cheaper than similar ribeyes in the area.
There is one catch: this ribeye was one of the daily specials on Friday, so you won't find it on the regular menu. Fortunately, they have a different steak special everyday and there always seem to be available seats.