Years ago, a wise steakhouse restaurateur explained his business to me in a way that I’ve never forgotten.
His steakhouses, he said, were not successful because it was hard to cook a steak. Almost everybody knows how to cook a steak, he said.
They were successful because, when people have a craving, the kind of desire that moves a person to step out of the house and plunk down hard-earned cash on the table, they tend to crave something familiar and comforting. They want to be taken care of.
Most people don’t crave the newest, most fashionable dish of the moment, because they haven’t tasted it. But, anyone can crave a steak, a cut of tender, fatty beef. It is, in other words, a safe bet, a crowd-pleaser, an old standard.
Other restaurants come and go, but steakhouses stay the same. The only trick, he explained, was to make the restaurant as comforting as the meat: flawless service, plush seating, buttery sides, a place where it was impossible to worry about getting your money’s worth.
The latest restaurant from 101 Concepts, the local restaurant group that includes Food 101, Meehan’s Public House, Cibo e Beve, and others, appears to follow that familiar design. 101 Steak is a large, comfortable space with a clubby bar in the front and a back room full of expansive, tufted leather booths. Just as the name suggests, 101 Steak covers the basics. The menu, aside from a few twists, follows the architecture of raw bar and salads, big steaks and rich sides.
Did I say rich? Because that reminds me about the money. The steaks served at 101 Steak are about twice as expensive as anything served at other 101 Concepts restaurants, though they’re roughly average for an Atlanta steakhouse. That means you’ll be paying about $3 per ounce of USDA prime beef, a little more for filet mignon. You may opt for the menu’s one budget steak, a lean, 10-ounce hanger steak for $26. It’s not a bad choice, though you may look longingly at your neighbor’s more indulgent plate. Beef is expensive these days and the price of comfort is only going up.
Check out the cool way they chill their glasses at 101 Steak
So, what do you get for all that cash? The prime meat here is as decadently marbled as one could want, largely sourced from the Illinois distributor Meats by Linz (who happens to supply a number of other steakhouses in Atlanta, not to mention the rest of the country).
Once delivered from the kitchen, the 101 Steak Delmonico (you might know it better as a rib-eye with a pat of maître d’ butter) will arrive with a nice, but not overwhelming, touch of char. It will be cooked just shy of medium, as requested. This is quite a cut of meat. The excellent, peppery au poivre is too rich a pairing. Save it for the filet. If you’re willing to pony up for the 24-ounce, bone-in rib-eye, you will be rewarded with the distinct tang of dry aging.
For almost $25 less, though, you won’t go wrong with the New York strip, ordered medium rare with a side of chimichurri. It is a thick, beefy cut that stands up on the plate and lands a bit cleaner on the palate. Aside from a plate of lamb chop lollipops that arrived well done on the ends and blue in the center, the kitchen here consistently delivers precisely cooked meat.
As for everything else, well, it’s fine. The roasted bone marrow has a lovely rub of fresh sage, though the accompanying onion marmalade is much too sweet. The Caribbean seafood cocktail is a fine Latin-styled coctel de mariscos, though I don’t have the faintest clue what it is doing on this menu. The traditional shrimp cocktail boasts some giant Gulf shrimp, though I found them tough the night I ordered them.
I found myself talking to these troubled plates. Why would you put the wedge of an iceberg salad atop the dressing, when the primary pleasure of a wedge salad is the way that a creamy dressing drips in between the crunchy layers of lettuce? Why put a classic cocktail as obscure and interesting as the Brooklyn on your menu if your bartender is going to pour it over ice as if it were a whiskey ginger, obliterating the subtleties of a drink meant to be stirred and served?
The wine list offers an extraordinary number of choices by the glass, including some surely intended for show-off expense accounts. (How about Gaja Barbaresco 2012 for $80 a glass?)
Any impressiveness that might convey quickly evaporates when you realize how little the staff has been trained to help navigate such a list. A question as simple as choosing between two dry, mineral-forward whites might elicit a blank stare rather than the offer of a taste or the advice of a sommelier. Should you decide on, say, a glass of the Grüner Veltliner, be prepared to cross-reference for the numerical listing rather the actual name of the wine. Never mind the fact there’s only one glass of Grüner Veltliner on the menu, the list is too long to get by without the numbers.
101 Steak feels, at these moments, like a less expensive restaurant playing dress-up. I never once doubted the staff’s intention to please, though I did wonder if they were given the preparation to do so.
If you’re seated next to the service station in the back dining room, like we were one night, you might have the privilege of listening to a long conversation about who’s pulling the closing shift. The finesse, the polish, the comfortable feeling of being taken care of that the best steakhouses embody was, unfortunately, out of earshot.
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars
Service: friendly, but unpolished
Best dishes: 101 Steak Delmonico, roasted bone marrow
Vegetarian selections: few
Price range: $$$-$$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, noon-11 p.m. Fridays, 5:30-11 p.m. Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays
Parking: garage and valet
Reservations: available online
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: rather loud when busy
Address, phone: 3621 Vinings Slope, Vinings. 770-805-8855