Last night I enjoyed a prime rib dinner at House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. This is a fine specimen of the genre, with long waits for tables and toque’d carvers rolling silver trays hither and yon. The concept is simple. You pay $45-50 which may seem like a lot or quite reasonable depending on your point of reference (a buffet in Las Vegas today is in a similar range; an unadorned steak at Salt and Char in Saratoga will set you back $68) and y0u get a large salad, a mini-loaf of Boudin sourdough bread, the meat with its juice, an enormous baked potato, some creamed spinach, some Yorkshire pudding and a tray of horseradish sauces at varying degrees of intensity.
Here is the key to a successful prime rib dinner. Order the biggest cut (which here costs just a few dollars more than the smallest cut), eat only what you want, and take the rest home along with the accompaniments for a second meal (and maybe third) whe the meat will be as good or better the next day. I always order the end cut (also called the baseball cut) which gives you the maximum amount of crusty caramelized exterior. Sometimes it’s a bit more well done than I like but this time I was lucky and the interior meat was medium rare.
I once worked in a prime rib restaurant and can tell you the formula is very simple. Buy quality beef and age it a bit so the moisture content is reduced. We’d rub with salt and pepper and cook in a convection oven to 140 degrees exterior temperature (so the outside is well done, the center is rare) and that was it. Like any beef, it will taste better when allowed to rest instead of immediately after it is sliced.
You can reheat your prime rib dinner, or eat the meat cold by itself or sliced for sandwiches. You can also cut it into 1-inch cubes and sauté with a little butter, garlic and wine and serve over potatoes. We used to do this with the leftover roasts at the prime rib place where I worked and make a house meal. We used vermouth for the wine because we had it on hand for Destination Shrimp.
By the way, how do I waltz in and eat immediately when others wait 2 hours or so for a table? Because I’m alone and I sit at the bar. I miss the hand carving and artistic salad tossing, but conversation with fellow diners (often quirky solo curmudgeons, like me) makes up for it.