My affinity for fine dining started at an early age, thanks to my private dick grandfather, Frank J. Dunleavy. And the center of the universe for my fine dining affinity at the ripe old age of 5 was Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale. Charlie's was my grandfather's favorite restaurant. Wait, I take that back.....his favorite bar.
He would bring me there for lunch, where I would be served a hamburger in the kitchen and he would be served a Crown Royal on the rocks....or two....or three. Then he would drive me back home to Edina. I have come to realize that safety was never foremost on his mind.
He may have been a little inebriated, but back then the police did not write up former policemen for a modest amount of swerving down the road. And his Ford Galaxy 500 had no seatbelts for him to belt us in, which made it a lot easier for me to reach the loaded .32 revolver he kept in his unlocked glove box.
I miss Charlie's. It opened in 1933 and was a Minneapolis icon for nearly 50 years. It sat at 701 4th Avenue in Minneapolis. It was torn down in 1982 and where once was Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale, now sits an anonymous blue skyscraper void of any character which the owners named, in a stroke of creative genius, 701 4th Avenue.
Once I reached legal drinking age in 1973, I began to frequent Charlie's (no easy task on my $2.75 per hour wage from selling skis and boots at Hoigaard's). I'd take my dates there to show them my appreciation for fine dining....the food and atmosphere were like nothing else in Minneapolis. An old school, white tablecloth experience the likes of what would eventually disappear. But what was really cool to me was that they had two dishes that the waiter would prepare table side. Caesar salad and Steak au Poivre.
While it was fascinating to watch the Caesar salad come together on the waiter's cart (it cost just $5.00 for 2 salads), nothing beat the spectacle of the Steak au Poivre. For the finishing flourish, the waiter would light the brandy on fire and the steak would be surrounded by bright blue flames that extinguished themselves just as you were served. So in the spirit of Charlie's, here is Cook's Illustrated Steak au Poivre, sans the fiery finish. You can thank Frank for the lessons he taught me in safety awareness.
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 New York strip steaks, 8 to 10 ounces each
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- Heat 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add beef and chicken broths, increase heat to high, and boil until reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 8 minutes. Set reduced broth mixture aside. Rinse and wipe out skillet.
- Meanwhile, sprinkle both sides of steaks with salt; rub one side of each steak with 1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns, and, using fingers, press peppercorns into steaks to make them adhere.
- Place now-empty skillet over medium heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Lay steaks unpeppered-side down in hot skillet, increase heat to medium-high, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan and cook steaks without moving them until well-browned, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan, and cook on peppered side, about 3 minutes longer for rare, about 4 minutes longer for medium-rare, or about 5 minutes longer for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm.
- Pour reduced broth, cream, and 1/4 cup brandy into now-empty skillet; increase heat to high and bring to boil, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Simmer until deep golden brown and thick enough to heavily coat back of metal tablespoon or soup spoon, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter, remaining 1 tablespoon brandy, lemon juice and any accumulated meat juices. Adjust seasonings with salt.
- Set steaks on individual dinner plates, spoon portion of sauce over steaks, and serve immediately.
Pairing: Crown Royal or Cabernet Sauvignon