Tour de Stage: Washington, D.C. – Bourbon Steak
Chef Michael Mina ’89 has a great reputation in the industry for creating and executing great restaurant concepts from noodle bars to steakhouses and from bistros to fine dining restaurants with tasting menus. His restaurants are great to work at, offer advancement opportunities, and support staff to realize said opportunities.
He creates institutions that become the benchmark in their categories. Bourbon Steak has the reputation of being one of the best in the country. Chef Joe Palma, the head of Bourbon Steak DC’s operation, says, “With 26 different cuts, there is no other restaurant in the nation that can top the steak program at Bourbon Steak.” The restaurant was also recognized for its bar program and cocktails last year.
Chef Joe Palma comes from Le Bernardin. After running an operation for Chef Eric Ripert in DC, Chef Palma became the head chef for High Cotton in Charleston, SC. Since his two-year tenure there, Chef Palma has been running Bourbon Steak DC for Michael Mina Group.
As soon as I arrived in the kitchen, familiar faces started trickling in. First it was Taylor Pritekel ’13 in pastry, then Arturo Riquelme’14 and Kirsten Thorn ’13 in the manager-in-training program with Four Seasons Hotels, then Alexia Ayala ’14, Tom Prescott ’15 and Aref Zalatimo ’14 on the savory line. Wherever we go, of course, we’re made to feel at home, but seeing a restaurant from the perspective of your fellow cooks with whom you share the same educational background is something completely different. You speak the same language, your expectations and dispositions are very similar, and you work cleanly and speak like a professional.
Omar is the definition of a beast rockin’ the grill station at one of the best steakhouses in the nation
Bourbon Steak has a great steak program. Yes, it’s a steakhouse, of course. The selection is incredible, grass-fed or corn-fed beef, Japanese wagyu, aged meats, burgers, game meats, and a dozen different cuts from tomahawk to teres major. The seasoned grill master is also responsible for tempering the meat, which for some of the cuts is a two-step process. Most of the meat is kept at room temperature but some of them are pre-poached in a solution of clarified butter and rendered beef fat. Salt is important for every cook who cares about the product he puts out. And Omar on the grill knew exactly what he was working with; his seasoning was spot on varying in intensity for different cuts. Once on the grill, every time he moved the cut, he would baste it with one of the flavorful butters. The red wine butter in particular gave the meat a pleasant acidity and brightness. Paired with good seasoning this step alone should suffice to set apart Bourbon Steak’s steaks. Cooking temperature is of course very important for a steak house as well. Not only is the grill station the most senior position in the restaurant but also communication flows from there to the pass seamlessly with verbal and visual cues. The grill station and its organization was to me a hallmark of what I expected to see as ‘structure’ in a Michael Mina restaurant.
One of the signature dishes, this dish is plated table side. It looks like something from an Escoffier book!
Loved these whimsical lobster corn dogs! Laura’s favorite ‘junk food’ is corndogs and this is definitely a good treat!
Bourbon Steak that is willing to showcase its culinary skills. The dishes on the hot appetizers station change seasonally and reflect the aspirations of the restaurant. From the octopus plate to the famous lobster pot pie, from the smoked ’smores to the raw fish and steak preparations, the dishes were well thought-through and executed perfectly. Incidentally, these dishes were what the cooks were most excited about too.
Portuguese octopus, artichoke, capers, bagna cauda emulsion, crispy potato
It was an incredible experience to learn from Chef Joe Palma and have a conversation with him about the business model, working for a successful restaurant group, and the operation of the steakhouse, which he loves. It was wonderful to catch up with friends and meet new alums from my alma mater as well. I’m leaving DC inspired by the institution that is a Michael Mina restaurant.
For more food photos, adventures and stories from the travels, visit Sayat and Laura’s instagram at @LauraAndSayat.