For those of us willing to indulge, eating steak is the epitome of a carnal, manly experience. I've been known to blast rampant machismo, but the thought of devouring cow brings out the absolute worst in me. When I started telling friends I was going to partake of the various steak establishments in town, even my naughtiest acquaintances said, "Why would you do that?" in a disgusted tone that suggested I was doing something heinous, like voting Republican or rebroadcasting Almost Live. You know you live on the edge when the food you ingest frightens the bunch of whoring drunks you call your friends.The following is a helpful sampling of restaurants for the USDA-inclined, which will let you know what you'll be eating and, crucially, what will surround you when you eat it. Most of the places are fairly posh, financially speaking (and really, why bother otherwise?), though I threw in a couple of reasonable substitutes if you're strapped and famished, yet don't want to find yourself in some cut-rate tavern in Lynnwood.


1511 Sixth Ave, 223-0550. Morton's lets you know from the get-go that you're in carnivore heaven. You walk down two flights of stairs from street-level into the place, and confront a mighty photo collection of all the celebrity capitalists who've enjoyed tearing into great chunks o' cow. Mel Gibson looks awfully happy. The cushy place is predictably filled with the music of Frank (if I need to tell you which Frank, find yourself a nice Black Angus and leave me alone). They feature a $34 porterhouse that gastronomically resembles Brad Pitt's abdomen -- it's lean, succulent, and will make it impossible for you to fantasize about sinking your teeth into anything else. You're introduced to it -- and a very unhappy, live lobster -- before you even eat, when the waitstaff dramatically rolls in a cart that showcases raw cuts of beef and samples of various incredibly expensive vegetables. I got caught up in the shameless glamour of it all, and proceeded to order several huge side dishes that could've paid my rent, but which only succeeded in making me feel like my gut was going to explode. Eat, but be careful.

Union Square Grill

621 Union St, 224-4321. I consumed my most expensive porterhouse here: $37 for 24 ounces, and worth every damn penny of this paper's money. A big, surly, butter-covered piece of work, it's a steak that could easily knock out one of your major organs. Read no further if you're faint of heart or one of those wussies who won't eat honey because it exploits bees. The meat is "28-day dry-aged," which basically means it's hung in a walk-in and kept at 40 degrees for a few weeks until it resembles Joan Rivers in the morning. Then some lucky person hacks off everything that's grown on it, and the resulting enzymes make it really juicy. Or something like that. I loved this steak. Would I marry it? Why, yes -- yes I would. If it would have me.

El Gaucho

2505 First Ave, 728-1337. Dripping with swanky atmosphere, El Gaucho has a 24-ounce porterhouse (about $33) that is covered in a tangy beef-stock au jus that delectably soaks right into the crimini mushroom placed on top of it. Not quite as orgasmic as the Union Square Grill heifer, but nothing to sniff at, and if you want to know the coolest place to eat a steak, look no further. Be sure to choose the scalloped potatoes for the side dish.

Hidden Harbor

1500 Westlake N, 282-0501. This is where your dad takes you when he's feeling spendy after your college graduation. You're not going to rave about the experience later, but you certainly won't regret it, and it's not high-end enough to break anybody. Calling ahead to discern the contents and price range of the place, I was informed that it was, in fact, a steakhouse "with a Scandinavian flair." As my meat (about $18) was paired with the usual side dish (airy, flavorful garlic mashed potatoes) and eaten to the accompaniment of a bizarre mix tape that included "Angel of the Morning" sung in Spanish, I was initially perplexed by the description. Then my date pointed out the portrait of Norway's reigning king and queen, the ancient sailing ship models, the painting of the hearty Viking warrior, and the trolls in traditional costume from the homeland. Thus the Scandinavian flair.

Barnaby's Beef, Bay, & Bottle

11011 Meridian N, 363-1705. The kind of steak your grandma would make in the kind of place your grandpa would decorate. A porterhouse with "21 ounces of wonderful flavor" ($25) is surrounded by that delicious, crispy fat you'll only eat in front of people you love. You get a baked potato -- bacon bits, chives, sour cream, and cheese, please, ma'am -- and a bunch of warmed-up baby carrots on the side. The walls, and the waitresses, are covered in festive tartan, so that you feel really white, and happy about it. Muzak versions of "Touch Me in the Morning" and "Strangers in the Night" lend a lurid touch of erotica.

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