Tequesta chef Erik Pettersen, whose Evo Italian restaurant draws a good mix of gourmands, celebrities and in-the-know locals, dreamed of opening a fine Italian steakhouse a couple of years ago. But after some research, he nixed that plan and did what he decided was the next best thing:
He created a steakhouse operation within his restaurant.
After consulting with a cousin who is a veteran meat wholesaler and expert on aged steaks, he installed a pricey dry-aging cabinet and plunged into the science of the meat-aging process. That was about a year ago. Pettersen spent months mastering the time and temperature details and testing the progress of his steaks. The sweet spot? An aging period of 35 days, he found.
The steakhouse-within-an-Italian-restaurant experiment
“It comes down to science — proper air circulation, humidity, temperature and proper good bacteria,” says Pettersen, whose dry-aging research led him to explore the operations at some of New York’s top steakhouses.
In April, after months of testing, he quietly rolled out an off-the-menu, pocket list of dry-aged steak options. Diners can expect to pay between $65 to $75 for 14 to 16-ounce New York strips and rib-eye steaks.
Pettersen seasons the steaks with salt and pepper and sears them in clarified butter in a cast-iron skillet to create a good crust. He finishes the steaks in a quick broiler and serves them with whipped Yukon gold potato with pecorino and roasted garlic.
(Fans of Evo’s popular 10-ounce filet mignon should know that steak, which is served with gorgonzola in a Barolo demi-glace, is still on Evo’s main menu. Unlike the fattier steak cuts, the filet is wet-aged.)
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The dry-aging process yields a tender steak with bolder, beefier and sometimes even nutty flavors.
The ‘secret’ steak menu
The steaks have been a hit, says Pettersen. To his surprise, regulars started skipping their usual go-to dishes and requesting the “secret” steak menu. That meant the dry-aged steaks were competing with menu favorites like his classic rigatoni Bolognese and the popular pan-roasted salmon that’s served atop cannellini and fava ragù.
The steak adventure has been an education for Pettersen, who opened Evo 14 years ago.
“I learned about nuances,” says the chef. For this he thanks his meat-expert cousin, Bart Castellano, a Jupiter resident who ran family-owned businesses in New York’s meat-wholesale hub for years. “My cousin would say, ‘This steak needs another five days.’ I came to learn that a dry-aging cabinet would develop its own flavor profiles.”
The steakhouse-within-a-ristorante experiment has been such a hit Pettersen just ordered a second custom-built, dry-aging cabinet.
“People are now buying the raw, dry-aged steaks to cook at home,” he says. “I can’t keep up with the demand. It’s so gratifying to me as a chef.”
Evo Italian: 150 N. U.S. Hwy 1, Tequesta, 561-745-2444; open Monday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to closing.
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