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Steakhouses Are a Lot Like Hip-Hop

For many business people, steakhouses act as culinary armaments of power. Within the genre of hip-hop, an artist's talent lies within their signature style. And like hip-hop, steakhouses are the restaurant genre where the ingredients yearn to...
December 3, 2013, 6:25am
Photo via Flickr user Doug Letterman

Carried along by the eddies of wealth and whorls of largely imaginary cigar smoke— depending on the state you live in—the steakhouse is a current trend in which to kayak on a big dick canoe. No other type of restauranteurs category so vociferously advocates its own excess quite like a steakhouse. Sharp knives, dead animals, strong Manhattans, these are but the armaments of power, the elements of swagger.

Power-lunching businessmen perch at their tables with knives drawn, bared teeth, and ocean liner-sized watches, beasting steak by the pound. What are they really engaged in if not deadly combat, like two stags on a butte? Who can finish the bone-in rib-eye first? Who can spend a grand on oysters alone? Who is beating their party for the check first? Kwakwaka'wakw chiefs once held potlatches, traditional feasts where generosity became competitive, and the act of giving, a proxy war for killing. At steakhouses, captains of industry, bros', and other metaphorical acts of serious dick swinging partake in the same dance. It's a pissing contest, minus the totem poles.

I hate steakhouses because I feel supremely uneasy in them. They are undeniably delicious, but they signify everything I object to in the world. Playpens for the patriarchy, they rely on the unequal distribution of wealth to fill their tills and revel in audacious spending. They valorize a more-is-more mentality. Woe unto the beast who strays into the path of their ostentation, be it cow, goose, or gander. It's all meat to them.

Steak via.

Steakhouses are restaurants for villains. Fuck 'em.

But then I listened to "Rap God" by Eminem, and my outlook subtly shifted.

Steakhouses have a lot more in common with hip-hop than beef. Both of these culinary and musical genres follow a codified set of instantly recognizable rules. They are meditations on a specific set of themes. At steakhouses, these rules are captured by the décor and menu offerings. There is, of course, a preponderance of steak: steak for one or two, filet mignons, rib-eyes, and T-bones. Traditionally, steaks are served unadorned with basic sides, no garnish in site. Sauces are listed à la carte that include iconic options such as béarnaise, maître d' butter, au poivre, the occasional chimichurri, and a signature in-house steak sauce. There is almost always a surf-and-turf option, which often involves lobster. There are always oysters. Sides are comfort foods like mac and cheese, creamed spinach, and starchy potato concoctions. But in recent years, with the advent of off-site dry-aging and wet aging, it is common practice to list how long a particular piece of meat has been aged, like a boast of chicks banged or bonuses bagged.

The overriding theme of these beef parlors is a deep love for wealth and power. When other restaurants seek a reasonable price for entrees, steakhouses are perversely pressured— because it is so performative—to increase their prices to levels of complete absurdity. At the recently opened NYC steakhouse, American Cut, it's $10 for a single carrot. These restaurants practice nuclear price proliferation where the endgame is a plate of $350 steaks at a spot like Old Homestead— it's Kobe, but who the fuck cares?

Above, "surf and turf" via.

In the realm of hip-hop, 90 perent of it is strictly concerned with boasting. Under this umbrella, another 90 percent is concerned with boasting, relative to five broad subtopics: technical prowess, sexual conquest, conspicuous consumption, violence, or the capability of inflicting violence against men and women. Homophobia, and sexism abound. These themes trickle through each verse like béarnaise sauce down the chin of a day trader. As a man who completely fails in every one of those five arenas—and abhors both homophobia and sexism—the only thing I dislike more than steakhouses is hip-hop.

The third verse of "Rap God" made me realize that one can actually feel neutral about the core themes of hip-hop or steakhouses and still value the ingenious artistry that's involved. In many ways, the themes are as of little interest as Jesus was to Pontormo. He painted the dude, but he really just loved painting.

Marshall Mathers raps, "I'm the walking dead / But I'm just a talking head / A zombie floating / But I got your mom deep throating / I'm out my ramen noodle / We have nothing in common, poodle / I'm a Doberman / Pinch yourself in the arm and pay homage, pupil." How can one deny that long-winded, profane incantation of slant rhyme and braggadocio? What Mathers is saying is secondary to how he is saying it.

Hip-hop genre at a music store via.

I similarly revere the sleepy skills of Earl Sweatshirt, though he does not seem to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles. As much as I hate Kanye West, I have an enduring love for his song, "Gone" from Late Registration. These six lines of linguistic genius nearly justify Ye's latter-day Yeesuz complex, "What the summer of the Chi got to offer an eighteen-year-old / Sell drugs or get a job / You gotta play your role/ My dawg worked at Taco Bell / Hooked us up plural/ Fired a week later / The manager count the churros / Sometimes I can't believe it when I look up in the mirrow / How we out in Europe, spending Euros."

When I cogitate upon the idea of steakhouses, it's not that I draw the mores and customs of the rich bros' who eat there close to my bosom, or join them in their ill-gotten plunder. I recognize the milieu as a stage act, that the players there— chef, restaurateur, designer—have but a limited cast from which to choose. And within these limitations, there is genius to be found in the expressions of these motifs, from the hammered steel tangs of the steak knives to the engineering awe of the glass wine cellar. In that $10 carrot lies a sly, self-knowing wink. The parade of sides, from skillet truffle mac and cheese to copper pans laden with overpriced creamed spinach are but pure theatre. And those steaks are but bit players, yearning to freestyle.