With sixteen units, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse chain is larger than Smith & Wollensky (ten), in range of Palm (24) and way behind Ruth’s Chris (75). In the steakhouse game, size is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, you have clout with the major meat suppliers, but on the other it’s very difficult to maintain the same, consistent quality throughout the chain. When it comes to USDA Prime beef, a grade that has been de-graded over the past two decades to meet demand, the prospects of always getting the very best beef in a seasonal market become tougher and tougher.
Simple math tells you that if USDA Prime totals less than three percent of the American meat supply, you’ll understand that vying for that minuscule amount for every new unit that opens doesn’t compute.
Del Frisco’s started out in Dallas in 1981, and, after expansion, acquired other brands, for a total of 70 restaurants. As of this writing, the company has just been split up, with the Connecticut-based equity firm L. Chatterton buying Del Frisco’s Bartaco and Barcelona Wine Bar brands for $650 million in cash, while Houston billionaire and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta’s Landry’s, Inc. has bought the Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouses and Grilles for an undisclosed amount. As a result of the transaction’s close, Del Frisco’s stock will cease trading on the NASDAQ Global Select Market.
Still, I can’t imagine the new owners doing much to change the Del Frisco template in any significant way, not least the New York operation, which is one of its highest-grossing branches.
The New York Del Frisco’s, with a slightly more casual Del Frisco’s Grille across the street in Rockefeller Center, offers pretty much the exact menu as all the other units do, although prices in New York are higher than in other units—a bone-in ribeye in Atlanta runs $64; in Manhattan, it’s $76. All are vast spaces, many on two floors and none is done in the deliberately scruffy, old-fashioned look of many of their competitors.
Where Del Frisco’s does seem to have enormous clout is in wine buying, and every unit has great depth and breadth, many with more than 1,200 labels; the wine list in New York is easily one of the best in the world, including a slew of trophy wines like Romanée-Conti going for an astonishing $29,000.
The location, on Sixth Avenue, anchors the skyscraper above it, taking up two floors, with a fabulous view of the streets and Rockefeller Center. A sweeping staircase, a ceiling held up by massive wood-clad girders, a long U-shaped bar, violet lighting, a great wine cache behind glass, widely separated tables and good linens are a departure from the formulaic in New York steakhouses. Call it Texas swagger, but the personalities of the wait staff is pure New York. When full the place can ring with voices but it’s not too loud. At lunch men will be in suits and ties, at dinner, all clothing guidelines are thrown to the wind.
Ask about the oysters of the moment ($22) and you’ll get a highly informed answer from the waiter, as you will about every aspect of the menu. Nicely chopped and spiced tuna tartare comes with avocado, sweet soy ponzu, a wakame salad and wonton crisps ($24.50). Seared foie gras takes on a strawberry balsamic glaze with toasted brioche and the unusual addition of crispy onion ($27). And what’s a steakhouse without a good, crisp blue cheese-stuffed iceberg lettuce wedge with tomatoes, bacon and rich Danish blue dressing ($14.50)?
Way too many steakhouses announce they use “jumbo lump crab meat,” then serve mashed-up shreds of crab in their crab cakes. Del Frisco’s promises and delivers the real thing, big, fat, sweet lumps of crab lightly bound and quickly sautéed, served with a lobster cream sauce ($24.50).
Among the meat entrees I sampled, by far the 22-ounce dry-aged Colorado lamb chops ($64) were the best, with a proper trim and balance of fat to meat, the right char and perfect temperature. But a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye ($76) and a bone-in strip ($68.50) lacked the richness and minerality I find in some other New York steakhouses like Palm and Porter House.
Brussels sprouts come with smoked bacon, caramelized onions for sweetness and a lemon butter ($16), the creamed spinach with smoky bacon, egg, mushrooms and Cheddar ($15) are very good, and the potatoes au gratin with scallions, bacon and cheddar ($15) delicious.
Steakhouses need to show largess in everything from bread basket to desserts, and in this latter category Del Frisco’s can be boastful: the lemon cake ($13.50) is six layers tall, with lemon butter cream and a lemon glaze—this is a good spot to take a friend for a birthday lunch and order this cake.
Butter cake was made even richer by lavishing it with butter pecan ice cream whipped creamed and caramel sauce ($13), and the warm banana bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel ($12.50) would go over well in New Orleans.
Of all the out-of-town chains in New York, like Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grille and others, Del Frisco’s competes at a higher level of largess and swank, plus it runs like a very well-oiled machine. I trust the break-up into two companies won’t change that.
Open for lunch Mon.-Sat., for dinner nightly.
DEL FRISCO’S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAKHOUSE
1220 Avenue of the Americas