Like the rise and fall of hemlines, beef cuts go through trends. One year it’s the porterhouse, the next the flat iron is the meat to eat. Perhaps the most dramatic steak ever sculpted from an animal is the tomahawk steak, which saw a surge on menus nationwide in 2014, and is now a Flinstonian presence at some of Honolulu’s top restaurants.
The highly praised TBD… opened in June with a tandoor-cooked tomahawk on its eclectic menu. “The tomahawk is one of the most flavorful cuts, with great marbling. And it is a showstopper,” says TBD… chef Vikram Garg. “When people go out for celebrations, they want Champagne, something big, a little drama.”
And being cooked in a tandoor, his version may require the most work — the steak is cured 48 hours, then skewered and inserted into the vertical clay oven at a slant, and moved up and down constantly to ensure an even char.
“I’ve thought about using a tandoor to cook steaks before, but this is the first time I’ve done it, and it works well,” says Garg. The tomahawk is served with green mango chutney, along with other sauces he includes to allow people to “have fun with it, because every palate is different.”
SO WHAT is a tomahawk? Also known as a cowboy steak, technically speaking it is a bone-in rib-eye, with an extra 5 to 6 inches of carefully trimmed rib left in place, making it look like an edible single- handed axe. (A standard rib-eye cut would leave an intact rib plate section that could then become short ribs.) A tomahawk generally runs upward of 32 ounces (that’s eight Quarter Pounders).
“More than anything it is visually impressive,” says Bryan Mayer, director of product at Kunoa Cattle Co. and a nationally recognized butcher. “There are folks that will say that cooking meat on the bone adds flavor — that’s not true at all. In fact, a bone in and of itself has zero flavor. The flavor is the meat on the bone or the marrow in the bone. What is good about cooking on the bone is if you’re grilling, the bone acts as an insulator. So it will help you and prevent you from overcooking it. With something like a tomahawk, which is a rib-eye, you’ve hopefully got some good marbling in there, so that fat along with the bone will keep it from overcooking.”
But really, chefs and restaurant managers agree, it’s about size and shape. “Presentation of it is bar none. When it comes to the table, it’s always a complete wow,” says Bill Nickerson, manager of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, which added the tomahawk to its menu a year ago. The 28-day dry-aged steak is crusted with salt, broiled at 1,500 degrees, then shown to diners whole before it is returned to the kitchen to be sliced for easy sharing for up to four people.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House may have started this beefy trendlet locally, having added the tomahawk to its menu in 2015. The rib-eye gets the classic salt-and- pepper steakhouse treatment and goes into the trademark 1,800-degree broiler developed by the chain’s founder, Ruth Fertel. It’s served on 500-degree plates (oven mitts not included!).
In April, Halekulani’s La Mer added a tomahawk steak (aka cote de boeuf) dinner for two, to meet a demand for something, er, meatier. Chef Alexandre Trancher’s tomahawk gets a French accent — it comes with bearnaise sauce and a veal jus celery root mousseline — but it still fits the Hungry Man bill. The restaurant reports that it’s popular with American, Australian and European male guests. So far a dozen extra-famished guests have ordered the $175 dish as a solo meal.
STRIPSTEAK HAS had a tomahawk on its menu since it opened in 2016. Newport Meat Co. in Irvine, Calif., which sources natural and sustainably raised beef from farms across the country, has a dry-aging facility with an area dedicated to the Mina Group, which owns Stripsteak. The restaurant receives primal cuts (whole sections of an animal) dry-aged a minimum of 35 days, that it butchers in-house.
The steak is prepared with just a light dusting of salt and pepper, broiled and finished with red-wine butter. “The beef speaks for itself,” says Stripsteak general manager Justin Yu. “The tomahawk is a little fattier and has more of that rich flavor. It is our most popular steak.” And at 36 ounces, it is eminently shareable.
When the weather cools off, look for Stripsteak’s off-menu Washugyu tomahawk special. It’s a 4-pound rib-eye from a wagyu-black Angus crossbreed from Oregon. “It’s as close as you can get to wagyu without being from Japan,” says Yu. “It’s highly marbled, rich, beautiful, but with that beefiness of Angus.”
Some critics have done a hatchet job on the tomahawk trend, citing it as an upsell that has customers paying for bone, not beef. But the experience of spectacle is half the reason we go to steakhouses, no? And rib-eye lovers won’t be disappointed. If you’re not shy about eating like a caveman, gnawing on the meat on that rib is one of the most satisfying things about the tomahawk.
HERE ARE some places where you can find a bronto-size steak:
>> Cote de Boeuf: $175
>> Weight: Approximately 32 ounces
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Waterfront Plaza, 599-3860
>> Tomahawk: $147
>> Weight: 40 ounces
>> Dinner for two: $250; includes tomahawk, soup or salad, side dishes and dessert
International Market Place, 800-3094
>> Tomahawk: $195 for two
>> Weight: 36 ounces
Lotus Honolulu, 791-5164
>> Tomahawk: $169
>> Weight: 38 to 40 ounces
Royal Hawaiian Center, 922-3600
>> Tomahawk: $124.95
>> Weight: 34 to 36 ounces