“Now everybody can afford to eat steak.” So boasted an ad for Tad’s Broiled Steaks, a cafeteria chain that opened in 1955 with locations in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Back then a steak with all the trimmings (green salad, baked potato, and garlic bread) ran $1.19, which adjusted for inflation, would translate to $11.22 today.
The food was what you would expect at those prices, and those who remember Tad’s and are interested in taking a stroll down Memory Lane won’t need a time machine. There’s one remaining New York location in Times Square, at 701 Seventh Avenue, 212-768-0946. You’ll also need to fork over $18.99. Tad’s has evidently grown greedy in its old age.
But my purpose here is neither to praise Tad’s nor bury it but, rather, to tell you about another discount steak chain. It’s name is Ikinari, and as you can probably guess from the name, the chain originated in Japan, which still boasts 300 locations. New York, in contrast, has five, though at one time there were as many as ten.
Like Tad’s, Ikinari is self-serve, which in part explains the seemingly low prices (emphasis on seemingly). Sirloin, the least expensive cut, goes for $2 an ounce, with a minimum order of seven ounces, and the most expensive, Wagyu sirloin, sells for $6 an ounce, again with a seven-ounce minimum order. That means, effectively, that the cheapest steak in this category runs $42, which comes close to what you are expected to pay at the city’s non-budget steakhouses. In fact, unless you have a bird’s appetite, you’re going to want to spring for at least a 10-ounce steak, which, if you order the Wagyu sirloin, will run $60. Ikinari attempts to justify the price be pointing out on the menu that Wagyu beef is “known as American-style Kobe beef.” If you’ve eaten Wagyu beef elsewhere in the city, at for example the Old Homestead, you know you are paying for a Kobe steak but getting only the sizzle.
That menu has plenty of other entertaining features. Under a picture of a chef weighing your steak, it explains:
Each slice of meat is freshly cut in front of you based on your weight request. You can have your steak as thick as you want. Just tell us how much you’d like to have. We’ve got your back!
The reassuring English expression “We’ve got your back!” evidently translates to “We’ll charge you accordingly” in Japanese.
The menu also notes with pride that the steaks at Ikinara (aka, “J-Steaks”) are wet-aged. It is an interesting confession coming at a time when every steak emporium worth its salt dry-ages its meat. The process of dry aging permits enzymes naturally present in the beef to break down the muscle tissue, resulting in improved texture and flavor. Wet aging, usually in plastic shrink wrap, is what you get when you buy a pre-packaged steak from your supermarket meat case. Wet aging does not, contrary to what Ikinara tells you, tenderize the meat.
Side dishes at Ikinara, limited to mashed potatoes, rice, riced cauliflower, and a couple of salads, come in two sizes: small, which sells for $3, and regular, which goes for $5. Bargain note: You can order a combo of soup, rice, mashed potatoes, and a small salad for $5.
Don’t worry that cross-language communication problems will prevent you from determining whether the cheesecake is New York-style or Italian. There is but one dessert, and it is mochi ice cream.
Oh, did I neglect to mention there are no chairs at some branches of Ikanara? Standing and eating a slice of pizza at Ray’s is one thing. Trying to cut through a slab of beef on a 500-degree cast iron platter while shifting from one foot to another is another.
Ikinara, 455 Park Avenue South (bet. 30th & 31st Sts., 917-261-2798. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Other locations and hours can be found here.