In its PRHYME
Justin Thompson’s upscale steakhouse classes up downtown’s beef offerings.
Thirty-five degrees, 80 percent humidity, a black light to prevent mold growth and a change of air every hour and a half. This sounds suspiciously like the description for a greenhouse at the North Pole, not the ideal environment for a future steak.
However, Justin Thompson knows this is exactly the environs beef enjoys for a nice, dry age. And those who have been dining on the steaks he grills to order at the recently opened PRHYME Downtown Steakhouse agree. “Tender,” “juicy” and “super flavorful” are just a few of the comments I have heard.
Thompson became known around town when he helmed the kitchens at Ciao Baby! and The Brasserie, but he recently hit his stride upon opening Juniper Restaurant & Martini Lounge in late 2011 to great acclaim.
His next personal challenge was to create a fine dining steakhouse, and after researching upscale steakhouses in Dallas, Kansas City and San Francisco, he came up with a plan for PRHYME. He wasn’t expecting to open another restaurant so soon after the launch of Juniper, but about a year later he did.
PRHYME (a play on words with thyme, his favorite herb, and prime, the denotation of the best selection of beef) features a creative selection of appetizers and other starters — including what Thompson believes is Tulsa’s only caviar service that appears on a menu full time — in addition to an assortment of steaks, chops and seafood.
PRHYME’s steaks fall into two categories — grass-fed and U.S.D.A. prime. When cows graze on grass, they take in more iron than with grain feeding. After processing, the beef is given a 21-day wet aging. Both of these components produce the beef’s slight “gamey” flavor, such as you might find in lamb. The grass diet also results in leaner meat than prime, which is valued for its rich, fatty marbling.
As I mentioned above, U.S.D.A. prime is a grading given to only the top echelon of beef. This grading denotation varies from year to year based on many variables, and rarely appears in more than 2 percent of all beef produced. Thompson says this year, around 1 percent of all beef consumed in the U.S. is graded U.S.D.A. prime. Considering 650,000 head of cattle are processed every week, the amount of prime beef is remarkably low.
All of PRHYME’s prime beef (in addition to the grass-fed) is aged, specifically to Thompson’s specifications, at a facility in St. Louis, and can be further divided into wet-aged and dry-aged.
In wet aging, the meat is sealed airtight in plastic (without the addition of any liquids, as the name might suggest) and aged for 21 days. The natural enzymes in the beef start to break it down, resulting in a more flavorful and tender steak.
In dry aging, the beef is hung in large cuts in a temperature- and humidity-controlled cooler for 40 days. As evaporation occurs, the meat can shed 15 to 20 percent of its muscle weight, intensifying the flavor.
Include another 15 to 20 percent loss that occurs when trimming the dried edges of the beef (natural enzymes and bacteria have been hard at work in the aging process), and you are looking at a cut that has shrunk to nearly half its original size. For instance, a 10-pound loin of beef will only yield about 6 pounds of steak.
This accounts for the higher price of the beef — the dry-aged rib-eye at PRHYME will set you back $75.
Tate and I tucked in on a cold, sleeting winter’s evening to find a full house. While perusing the menu, I was excited to see a bone marrow appetizer on the menu.
“I didn’t know if Tulsa was ready for this,” Thompson quipped, referring to the femur bone “canoe” ($15.95), which is roasted until the marrow becomes soft and spreadable. It is topped with a scattering of capers and thinly sliced red onion, and paired with toast and sliced bread for smearing — truly decadent. “It’s cool to see people exploring and learning about different foods.”
Roasted marrowbones are one of my favorite dishes. I didn’t share.
Other starters include a traditional beef tartare ($16.50), buttermilk-fried escargot with herbed lemon aioli ($14.95) and oysters served with a cocktail sauce and horseradish slaw ($18.95). The caviar service features American paddlefish, American white sturgeon and golden osetra ($65, $95 and $145).
I did share, however, the PRHYME Chop Salad (a take on the classic Cobb and chop salads), which includes grape tomato, red onion, cucumber, blue cheese, bacon, egg and red wine vinaigrette ($8.95). It was a nice palate cleanser after the rich marrow, and before the meaty steak to come. Four other salads and three soup selections round out the menu’s starters.
As far as entrées are concerned, steaks are served à la carte, while seafood, poultry and chops are served with a side chosen to complement the protein. Steaks come with no accoutrements, and side dishes are served family-style, perfect for sharing. I knew my husband would order the grass-fed tenderloin, so I opted for a wet-aged rib-eye, just so we could compare notes — and I always order the rib-eye. Both of our steaks arrived cooked to perfection.
The 8-ounce tenderloin ($34.95), which I often consider to be a boring, lean cut, was extremely tender and surprisingly flavorful. I probably could have cut my 16-ounce rib-eye ($47.50) with a fork, but opted for the steak knife. A 12-ounce tenderloin and 14-ounce New York strip also are available under the grass-fed and wet-aged selections. Sauce selections are available upon request, and include béarnaise, veal demi-glace, peppercorn cream, blue cheese cream and PRHYME Steak Sauce.
If you desire something besides a steak, PRHYME offers Australian lamb chops; a grilled, 14-day dry-aged, bone-in pork chop; and a veal loin chop. There are a handful of poultry and seafood selections, as well.
As a companion to our steaks, we chose brown butter-roasted Brussels sprouts, topped with crisp bacon and a platter of thick onion rings served with PRHYME Steak Sauce. Other sides include sweet corn maque choux (a traditional southern Louisiana dish with corn, green peppers and celery), garlic smashed red potatoes and sautéed seasonal mushrooms.
All of the half-dozen desserts are made in house. We felt chocolate was in order and enjoyed the PRHYME Chocolate Pie, a rich concoction with an Oreo cookie crust, dark chocolate mousse, chocolate crumbles and a dollop of chocolate whipped cream. Other choices include New York-style cheesecake, carrot cake and a popular Bourbon-vanilla bean crème brûlée.
When I mentioned the exceptional waitstaff to Thompson, he said, “We are going the extra mile when it comes to food … the same goes for service. We strive to be the best in Tulsa.” Servers are tested weekly on a variety of topics — wine, service and food knowledge.
PRHYME boasts a generous offering of 250 wine labels (a number that Thompson hopes to bring to 300 by summer) that have been carefully cultivated by Joe Breaux, certified sommelier and beverage director. The selection features around two dozen wines by the glass and a scattering of 375ml bottles. Select from a handful of boutique brews on tap, as well as more than a dozen bottled selections. And don’t forget Breaux’s creative cocktails.
The week after we visited, Thompson rolled out a new bar menu, which features three types of burgers and a few other dishes.
“I wanted customers to be able to ‘go big’ or eat modestly,” he said, “with the same great level of service.”
The menu is only available in the bar, but diners in the bar area also can enjoy the full dinner menu.
I asked Thompson how he was managing his time between the two restaurants, implying that he might be working some long days.
“It’s been fun,” he hinted. “Their identities are so different. Juniper is fun and casual, lively and imaginative, while PRHYME is elegant and formal, and the food is about consistency and perfection.
“I like what I do,” he added. “I’m pretty lucky.”
And in my opinion, so is Tulsa.