Located in what was long the ungainly building that housed Mark’s, Shepherd and the folks from Underbelly are offering a slightly different take on the expected chop house that should please both those interested in city’s more interesting fine-dining spots along with those who consider a nice meal out a visit to a steakhouse. One Fifth Steak is the first concept for the space that has been announced as a nearly five-year project that will offer a new cuisine each year, inspired by Chicago’s oft-changing Next from acclaimed Grant Achatz. One Fifth Steak will close at the end of July with plans to reopen on September 1, as the second concept, One Fifth Romance Languages, subtitled, “French, Spanish, Italian.” With the Super Bowl recently in town with thousands of heavyset, well-heeled steak-lovers from around the county – and the restaurant able to open just in time for the pre-game festivities – the steakhouse concept was apparently a no-brainer. And, given what I heard from the staff how busy it’s been since the gun, and my experience with the execution, it was certainly a great call.
Surprisingly flavorful Gulf oysters on the half shell from Alabama complemented by an excellent cocktail sauce, a more-than-serviceable mignonette, and, best of all, a piquant and very tasty house-aged Calabrian chile sauce was the first food. It was excellent starter that prefaced by a well-made Bourbon Manhattan, whose only demerit was the substitute for a nonpareil Luxardo Maraschino cherry that I have accustomed to at Public Services and, more recently, elsewhere. The steak, a 10-ounce Sirloin Flap, was perfectly cooked medium rare and featuring a nice, light salty crust was fantastic and tender. It was even better than the excellent steak I recently had at Riel. Those whipped potatoes, Pommes Aligote on the menu, are Gruyere- and Point Reyes Toma cheese-laden that were an impeccable steak side that evening, somewhat rich, but not overly so.
Though the expected strip, ribeye and porterhouse is on the menu, there is no filet. Customers should be satisfied with one of the other options, including the succulent sirloin I had or the 100-day-wet-aged hanger steak, a true onglet cut that you would expect given the restaurant’s provenance. The steaks are USDA Prime, of course, except for the even more marbled Marble Ranch Wagyu. There are bone-in versions for the bigger spenders – and copious seafood towers, caviar service and Pappy Van Winkle – and not just for the ballers, but for tables of six or more, The Baller Platter that has a variety of meats and cuts to share for the main course. The one I saw, brought out on a long butcher block, looked quite impressive. (I need to save up for the next level, I'm sure: Baller, Shot Caller). The sides are riffs and the standard, but in a departure from tradition, there is no Caesar salad. The funkiest things on the menu are a pate, terrine and beef tartar, even if there are lamb necks and a pork collar, they taste just like good lamb and pork, respectively. The unadventurous should not shy away from One Fifth.
The wine list is terrific, too, and with good prices for the quality what you can expect from wine director Matthew Pridgen, who has long had a very appealing array of wines at Underbelly. As a wine by the glass for the steak, he recommended a 2004 La Vieille Cure Fronsac for $15. 2004 by the glass. The Right Bank Bordeaux was a special purchase at a relatively low price, and the Merlot-laden blend was pleasurable accompaniment to beef. Before that the Premier Cru Chablis for $13 was so for the raw oysters. The list here is even more wide-ranging than at Underbelly. It might be described as interesting, Old School and contemporary, though not in the hipster vibe. They would like to introduce you to the joys of grilled meat with sturdy products from excellent producers in the Rhone Valley, Piedmont, Tuscany and some less well-known areas. Napa Cabernets, the focus of many steakhouse regulars, are not a focus here, but there are a couple of dozen of those including a few cult objects from Schrader and Abreu. More tempting, food-friendly and easier-on-the-wallet options are easily found, though. Dedicated beer drinkers are in good stead here, too, with the involvement of Hay Merchant head Kevin Floyd.
On that recent bustling evening, One Fifth Steak gave the impression of an engagingly quaint and proficient restaurant. Certainly there was a buzz, but everything seemed to be running quite smoothly from the bar, raw bar and kitchen throughout the dining rooms, something that can be difficult for a five-week-old establishment. The crowd then featured what seemed to be former regulars at Mark’s, others seeking out the newest and the brightest among the local dining scene, a big table of Indian-American women upstairs, with Chef Chris Shepherd minding the store both greeting and cooking, a welcome sign. Newly enshrined Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell was also there plus a few NFLers, including part-owner Whitney Mercilus of the Texans, who appears to have pretty good taste. I saw Pridgen decant a couple of bottles of Scarpa ‘Tettimorra’ Barolo 2001 ($235), from a highly regarded old school Barolo producer, for his table. He decanted to the light of a J.J. Watt-pictured votive candle, which I found quite humorous. I hope that Mercilus did, too; he is much larger than Pridgen. As much as everyone in attendance appeared to be enjoying themselves at this excellent, upscale steakhouse when I departed soon after the decanting, I would imagine that he did.
One Fifth Steak
1658 Westheimer (just east of Dunlavy), 77006, (713) 955-1024