Used to be, if you wanted a good cheap steak, you had to spend time with strippers. What I mean is, you had to creep into places such as Crystal City Restaurant Gentlemen’s Club or Camelot Showbar, where you could dine on eight ounces of filet mignon for less than $20 — and objectify about 100 pounds of flesh for the price of a few folded singles.
The cognitive dissonance was crippling.
These days, you can slice into a bargain cut of beef without having to cleanse your body and conscience afterward. Medium Rare has carried on the spirit of the late, lamented Le Steak in Georgetown by offering a single, set menu of bread, salad, steak and fries, all for a price that makes the $20 Diner want to jiggle his own flesh with joy. Now comes 82 Steak Out, a friendly little outpost in Rockville Town Square that offers a similar prix-fixe steak dinner, among other options.
82 Steak Out is a project between Shelly Galloway and Anna Don, a pair of hospitality pros who met at Buddha Bar, that clubby temple of Asian exoticism and bottle service on Massachusetts Avenue NW, whose karma ran out in 2012 after a two-year run. Galloway and Don’s 82 Steak Out draws inspiration from the famed Le Relais de Venise (a.k.a. L’Entrecote) in Paris, which has been serving the same steak-frites menu for more than 50 years. Don’s family apparently owns some spinoff L’Entrecote bistros in the Ukraine, her native country.
If their Rockville restaurant is a gamble — and what restaurant isn’t? — then the owners have relied on the perfect tool to name their place: La Smorfia Napoletana, which is sort of like Italy’s Daily Racing Form for the subconscious mind. In the morning, some Italians will look up their nocturnal dream images in La Smorfia and find the corresponding number for each, from 1 to 90. They will then place bets on those numbers in the lottery.
Hey, makes as much sense as betting the numbers on the back of Chinese fortunes.
Anyway, the No. 82, according to La Smorfia, represents “la tavola imbandita,” or roughly the “lavishly set table” in English. 82 Steak Out’s name, then, is something of a misnomer for a place situated in a quasi-industrial space with brick walls, unadorned brown tables and an uber- minimalist menu. Lavishness is overrated: My vision of the perfect steak dinner doesn’t include a 24-ounce bone-in rib-eye, a double magnum of Bordeaux, a trough of creamed spinach and early onset gout.
Modesty is the new black, and places like 82 Steak Out embrace the philosophy of eating less. Its signature house special is a dinner of rolls, salad, fries and an eight-ounce portion of prime sirloin for $18.82. Unlike similar prix-fixe meals, this one provides honest-to-God options: your choice of salad (mixed greens with a Dijon vinaigrette or chopped greens topped with bacon and blue cheese dressing) and fries (regular or sweet potato).
So let’s break it down: The ’80s-era rolls come from Vie de France, a nearby bakery, and they’re crusty little torpedoes with a soft, white-bread interior, sometimes warm, sometimes not. The chopped blue cheese salad may take the form of (unchopped) spinach thickly coated in the mildly pungent dressing, or chopped mixed greens that don’t shrivel and die in the presence of the creamy dressing. The consistent choice is the crisp mixed-greens salad, with the pleasant nasal pinch of Dijon vinaigrette. The fries, whether regular or sweet potato, are in dire need of both salt and crunch.
The steak itself, a cheaper cut of top sirloin, proves how much goodness can be found among the B listers of beef. My perfectly medium-rare specimen arrives pre-sliced and drizzled in a house-made porcini sauce, essentially a rosemary- intensive jus that piles on the flavor. Like the coulotte at Medium Rare, the sirloin never seems to sport any char, a minor annoyance in an otherwise satisfying preparation.
Because their clientele demanded it, Galloway and Don have ventured well beyond the single prix-fixe dinner of their peers. Their menu includes a steak variation, the involtini, in which the meat is pounded thin and stuffed with prosciutto and fontina, making for a chewy, nutty, salty and semi-decadent bite.
As a nod to Galloway’s own background in Philadelphia and Italy, 82 Steak Out offers a few well-trodden Italian plates, as well as a cheesesteak served on an Amoroso’s roll. The soft Philly roll comes stuffed with chopped — you might call it “minced” — rib-eye, whose beefy muscularity could use more softening from the onions and provolone.
The thinly pounded chicken Parmesan is dolled up with dollops of fresh mozzarella, which slowly melt into the top layer of red sauce; underneath all that well-applied makeup, alas, lies a dried-out bird. By contrast, the full-flavored lasagna sags with so much moisture — from the cheese, the beef-pork bolognese, the well-cooked noodles — that it barely has structure. The sides include a floury and under-seasoned mac and cheese as well as a dish of creamed spinach, this lukewarm knot of cheese and greens aggressively doused with nutmeg.
The best way to leave happy here — other than to order that prime sirloin — is to dig into a karahi-style bowl packed with a crispy, moist and chewy dark chocolate brownie and two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream streaked with chocolate. Allow me to pause here and collect my drool. Lavishness, thy name is dark chocolate brownie.
101 Gibbs St., Suite C, Rockville. 240-428-1295, www.82steakout.com.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.
Nearest Metro: Rockville, with a 0.3-mile walk to the restaurant.
Prices: Entrees and sandwiches, $11.82-$19.82.