Knife Dallas is one of the most celebrated steakhouses in the Metroplex. I’ll be honest with you: it’s expensive. I have recently visited Knife for an alcohol-free dinner for my family of three, and it cost us $180 not including tips. So, is Knife Dallas really worth the big price? Before you commit your reservation, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about this restaurant and hopefully answer this question.
How Much Should You Expect to Spend at Knife Dallas?
Unfortunately, the official website of Knife Dallas contains no price points on the menu. In fact, I went through several years worth of Yelp photos looking for the menu snapshot, and found out that the price fluctuated continuously. This, I believe, is the result of using exclusively locally raised Texas beef. Beef price depends on a lot of factors such as energy cost, weather condition, but most importantly, good-old supply and demand.
Since Knife’s beef is sourced from a handful of farms in Texas, there’s no way to shop around looking for the cheapest meat available and keep the cost constant. Therefore, we must pay market price. Knife also ages all their steaks in-house, so the menu itself doesn’t stay the same either, depending on what’s available in the inventory. The steak menu is broken into three sections:
- New School – relatively inexpensive cuts that aren’t dry-aged, such as top sirloin and flat iron steak. They are cooked in the sous-vide and then grilled on wood fire. This menu is usually static. The price goes around $20 – $30 per portion.
- Old School – 45-60 days dry-aged beef, usually comes in 28-32 oz shareable portions. The price ranges from $40 to $60 per pound (16 oz) depending on the cut.
- Exotic – 100+ day dry-aged beef that will definitely cost both arms and both legs – about 80 dollars per inch of thickness. Since a steak less than 2 inches thick won’t taste good, that’s $160 minimum.
Appetizers range from $15 to $25, and all desserts are $12. Let’s add them all up for a full and frugal (no drinks, appetizers, steak and desserts all shared) dinner for two:
Steak for 2: $100
Steak condiments: $6
Two Sides: $25
Grand Total: $163
Adding tax and tips, it’s about $200, or $100 per person. That is, of course, without any beverages.
What Makes Knife Dallas Special (And So Pricey)?
Knife is a relatively new addition to Dallas’s extensive fine dining scene. The mastermind behind Knife, Chef John Tesar, opened the restaurant in 2014, after a successful venture with Spoon Bar & Kitchen at Preston Center. I won’t enumerate here all the recognition from press like Eater, Esquire, and D Magazine; it was simply by word-of-mouth that prompted me to try Knife: a certified meat scientist from Dallas told me that he preferred Knife any day over Papas Bros, another award-winning steakhouse.
Chef Tesar is quite a character – and so is his food. While the rest of the culinary world celebrates flame broiled beef, he took pride in baking and steaming the burgers before searing on a flattop, and boiling the flat iron steak in a Sous Vide machine.
The Chef’s Touch
But if you ask me, the most interesting thing about the food from Knife Dallas is that “chef’s touch” added to each menu item. By that I mean, for a normally ordinary dish, there’s always something extraordinary about the taste. It can be something you have never tasted before, or just eerily familiar but indescribable.
For example, the roasted okra from the side menu came out caramelized, but when you bite into it, there’s a toasty and slightly bitter and sour note, which could be balsamic vinegar but not quite. It somewhat resembles dried figs, or dried jujube dates. Then, the chimichurri which we ordered to accompany the steak was quite different. It didn’t have the usual pungency of raw garlic, but instead tasted like sauteed garlic. Whether it was intended or not, the reduced pungency did help keeping “garlic breath” from ruining the evening.
I would describe Chef Tesar’s style as being “innovative, somewhat rebellious”. He doesn’t treat a classic dish the classic way, and loves to make changes and innovations that speak to his own past experience. A traditional steak tartare is supposed to be hand-sliced into tiny cubes, and then mixed with condiments such as onions, capers, and mustard. However, what you’ll get from Knife is ground steak (ground to order, thankfully) that has been worked to a point that it reminded me of raw Chinese dumpling filling.
The seasoning was also quite unusual. It was clearly not like any variant of mustard I’ve had, or perhaps it wasn’t mustard at all. There was a noticeable earthy flavor which I had a hard time explaining, so eventually I decided to just write the answer as “freshly grated turmeric”, submit the exam, and hope for the best. The “21 style” tartare also came with an egg yolk on top, which is Slavic rather than French. Notably, Chef Tesar also grew up in Slavic family, so it’s quite interesting to see the connection here. Again, it’s a reflection of one of Tesar’s visions for Knife: the Chef’s Touch.
Extensive Dry-Aging Process
For a steak house carrying dry-aged beef, the aging usually takes 30 days max. That’s not the case with Knife. Here, 45 days is the minimum for a steak to list as “dry-aged” on the menu. As Chef Tesar explained in this video, at 45 days the beef begins to develop a white mold, which imbues the steak with the taste of popcorn, blue cheese, and truffle.
We ordered the 60-days dry-aged bone-in sirloin, a 32-oz thick cut of heavenly bovine goodness. Besides the guaranteed tenderness expected on any dry-aged steak, the extended aging was no joke: it managed to make beef taste like prosciutto. Yes, prosciutto, the Italian cured ham. It was a “wow” moment for me, since I always loved cured and aged ham, and it was incredible to taste it in a steak. Now I’m curious what kind of eye-opening experience the 240-days dry aged steak would give me.
Also, Knife gets most of the beef from 44 Farms, a local Texas cattle ranch that raises high quality Black Angus beef fed on a diverse grain diet. Rather than finding the cheapest meat available around the country, Knife focuses on the reliable, consistent high quality provided by 44 Farms, which warrants higher prices even at wholesale level.
If it’s your first time at Knife, my personal recommendation is to go with any 45 day steak. I suggest this because not everyone would enjoy the earthy taste of cured ham in a 60+ day steak, and at this price level, it’s better to go safe for the first time.
“Best burger I’ve ever had!”
Said my eight-year-old daughter. She had been fine-dining with us since she was four or five, a few times a year. Very spoiled, yes! But I loved being able to teach her how to appreciate works of art. She usually reserves the “Best XYZ” phrase for food I cooked at home, but she didn’t hesitate a bit to issue the best burger prize to Knife.
The burger she ordered was the “Ozersky Burger”. It was a tribute to the late New York food writer Josh Ozersky, who preferred his burger extremely simplistic. The Ozersky burger consisted of just the patty, two slices of American cheese, and red onions. Nothing else. For Knife, a good burger is all about the high quality local Texas beef in a perfect blend of meat and fat, charred on a flattop and finished under the broiler.
My daughter described her burger as “really juicy” and cut me a bite. To me, the most noticeable difference from other burgers I have had before was the strong onion flavor. One may think the chef might have infused onion with the meat before cooking, though no experienced chef would defile a burger like that.
The secret seemed to be the slice of red onion sitting under the patty. I believe as soon as the patty was finished from the boiler, it was placed on top of the piece of onion immediately, cooking it slightly with the residual heat. Then, while the juices in the burger settled and redistributed, the flavor of the onion rode along the permeated the meat. As Nick Solares suggested on The Meat Show, this is definitely what Josh Ozersky would have loved. May his spirit watch over this magnificent burger for years to come.
Texas Hospitality with A Sense of Humor
First of all, I’ll give credits to the staff at Knife Dallas: they were experienced, patient, and friendly. We left the table several times to take pictures in the courtyard, and our server waited for us to return before bringing in the appetizers.
Knife puts a lot of effort in making guests feel special. No matter what you ordered, at the end of the meal each guest in your party will receive a soft, chewy candy that tasted like passion fruit, a miniature cookie, and a small sheet of mint candy with “Knife” printed on it – a great way to conclude the meal even if you didn’t order dessert. Wait! There was more: we each also got a nicely packaged blueberry muffin to take home! At first I thought it was just some stale baked goods from a grocery store, but boy I was wrong. The muffin was soft and moist; it crumbled and melted nicely in my mouth, and the buttery sweetness got me instantly hooked. Chef Tesar, if you happen to be reading this post, may I ask where I can buy more of these?
Our occasion for the visit was my wife’s birthday. Much to our surprise, Knife gave us a slice of complimentary entremets, complete with a “Happy Birthday” sign made out of mint. But! The free cake came with a playful twist: the smooth mirror glaze on top of the mousse is capable of tainting your tongue and lips blue, and it won’t easily go away for thirty minutes or so. My wife, being a lady-like graceful eater, didn’t get tainted at all. My daughter and I? We weren’t so lucky.
Beyond Knife Dallas
At this point, this post has pretty much conveyed most information you’ll need to plan your trip to Knife Dallas. However, there is so much more to Chef Tesar’s vision, that I feel it would be necessary to look beyond the halo of Knife Dallas to fully understand it.
The Venture of Knife Plano
Four years after the successful launch of Knife Dallas, Chef Tesar took his venture up north. Knife Plano at Willow Bend mall inherited the same spirit of aged beef and chef-inspired taste. There are also a few beloved creations from Chef Tesar’s past seafood restaurant, Spoon. Despite sharing the exact same recipes as Knife Dallas, public reception has been rather polarized. Out of 78 reviews on Yelp, almost a third gave two or fewer stars, and another one-third gave a solid five stars. The trend has been steadily improving, fortunately.
Personally, I find the fact that a high-end steak house is part of a mall a bit confusing. It certainly won’t attract most of the mall visitors, and even had to post a priced menu outside the door to avoid misguiding people. But after learning more about Chef Tesar’s vision, I began to understand what his purpose was: to show us the way to the zen of beef.
Unlike Knife Dallas, Knife Plano comes with its own online butcher shop. From there you can order four cuts of beef: Filet, 45 day to 150 day dry-aged Bone-in Ribeye, Flat Iron, and Coulotte (top sirloin). These are the exact same meat Knife puts on its menu, sourced from the same ranches: 44 Farms, Heartbrand, and Creekstone. So, why did Chef Tesar adopt this uncommon business model?
Knife: Texas Steakhouse Meals at Home
This question would be difficult to answer until you discover Chef Tesar’s own cookbook, Knife: Texas Steakhouse Meals at Home, published just two years ago in 2017. I was curious about what he has to say about steak and bought the book. And it blew my mind.
The book began with a full account of Chef Tesar’s personal stories, from his up-bringing in Long Island to the up and downs of his restaurant career. Then, he described all he had learned about cattle, beef, aging, and steak cooking. Finally, for the bulk of the book, he provided detailed recipes of many dishes he offered in his restaurants, including Knife. Yes, he gave away the secrets behind most of his menu items from Knife! Imagine having just dined at a high end restaurant, and then get to know exactly how they cooked each and every dish you ordered! That was exactly what happened to us. Everything we ordered that day was covered in the book. Remember when I tried to guess what was in the steak tartare? I was wrong – there was no turmeric!
After cooking many sorts of steaks regularly for a decade, the knowledge and advice about meat in the book really resonate with me. For example, in my review of Terra Mediterranean, I mentioned how Terra under-cooked the flat iron steak kebab, due to the nature of this cut of beef. Here, Chef Tesar also acknowledged the requirement of longer cooking time, and explained how they dealt with the issue. I appreciate him for not holding back nuanced details like these.
Even though I have been cooking steaks regularly for almost a decade, I still learned a lot from Chef Tesar’s book. I followed his advice on basting, an idea I have never thought of when cooking steak, and boy it made a difference! I would recommend this print for anyone who feels like going nerdy with good old American beef.
One may wonder how we can learn to make good steaks without access to the high quality, dry-aged steaks so upheld by the book? Yes, you guessed it: we can get them from Knife Plano. Old school and new school. Fresh and dry-aged. Chef really left us with no excuses here. Now I can understand why Chef Tesar did what he did. He first learned the art (from Mario Batali and Adam Perry Lang, actually), perfected it through his steakhouse, then wrote a book to teach the art, and opened a butcher shop to provide the opportunity for hands-on experience. All with the purpose of showing us the way to good steak, something he mentioned time after time in his book: Back to The Pan.
So, Is Knife Worth The Price?
In my opinion, yes – if you come with the right reason. Chef Tesar was born and raised in New York. As they say, you can’t take New York out of the kid: he’s all about the food. The kind of food enjoyed by rich New Yorkers and powerful mobs in the olden days. Knife only serves food in the highest quality, and that’s what we are paying our hard-earned money for. There is no cutting corners and no cut-throat price; the expensive side dishes are there to keep the restaurant finances afloat. It really comes down to whether you want to take a leap of faith on Chef Tesar’s interpretation of a good steak.