By Land and Sea
Surf-and-turf pairings make a 21st century menu comeback.
Chef Shane Sutton’s interpretation pairs salmon and beef rounds with contrasting reduction sauces.
Diners looking for old-fashioned opulence need look no further than surf and turf, a duo that offers the best of operators’ meat and seafood options.
“Customers get their palates satisfied from both sides,” says Anna Little, owner of the Water’s Edge Restaurant in Sebasco Estates, Maine. “Sometimes you think you want seafood, but then you think you might want a steak. Why not both?”
Traditional surf and turf is an uncomplicated affair: juicy steak—typically filet, rib-eye or New York strip—accompanied by lobster tail. As one might expect from a seasonal operation on the tourist- and lobster-rich Maine coast, Water’s Edge, a full-service 70-seat lunch and dinner restaurant, offers just that. Its 1 1/4-pound whole steamed Maine lobster with a 10-ounce rib-eye, priced at $25.95, comes with salad, choice of side, house-made bread and melted butter.
“It’s a big seller,” says Little. “People come in just for that because the steak is so big and good. And it’s not scary for them if they’re trying lobster for the first time.”
“From a business standpoint, it’s always good to have guests get what they want,” says Rich Vellante, executive chef and senior vice president of operations for 30-unit, Boston-based Legal Sea Foods. While menus at its restaurants vary, one common factor is the choice—of double-stuffed shrimp, grilled shrimp and scallops or whole steamed lobster—given to customers who can’t decide which reef dwellers to have with their beef. “We try to be as accommodating as we can,” Vellante says, “and the more choices we offer, the more frequently guests will return.”
An Old Favorite’s New Looks
While traditional pairings of steak with shrimp, crab or lobster are most common, across the continent from Legal Sea Foods one finds a slightly updated version of this tried-and-true combination.
The Zócalo Grill, a 2-year-old, 175-seat California cuisine concept operated by San Diego-based Brigantine Restaurant Corp., keeps a watchful eye on new developments within the industry. “We use a flatiron steak,” says Sam Montgomery, general manager. “It’s a lightly marbled shoulder cut that’s relatively new on the market,” he says. “It’s reportedly the second most tender piece of meat after the filet.”
The prime flatiron steak, part of Zocalo’s surf-and-turf offerings, is accompanied by shrimp ($32) or lobster ($37) and served with Gorgonzola-and-dried-tomato butter, cilantro mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
For many diners, a feast as rich in calories as it is in dollars is appropriate only on special occasions. Happily, life is full of such opportunities.
Double-stuffed shrimp with steak is among surf-and-turf choices at Legal Sea Foods restaurants.
Since the mid-1980s, Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, Ky., has been offering a “Stork Club Meal” to new parents. “People are excited about a new child and usually the first night they’re not going anywhere,” says Rand Cimino, Morrison Healthcare’s food and nutrition director at Central Baptist. “It’s something just to sit down and have a nice meal and celebrate.” For $20, new parents get a petite filet mignon and broiled lobster tail with choice of sides such as fresh asparagus or mixed vegetables and baked or garlic new potatoes.
If surf and turf’s 40-year history is any indication, some of those newborns whose parents celebrated with a “Stork Club Meal” may find themselves, a generation from now, at a surf-and-turf celebration of their own in northern Michigan.
The wedding menu of the Landmark Inn in Marquette offers a half-dozen takes on the familiar theme, from the standard Black Angus tenderloin with broiled lobster tail to the intriguing broiled lamb chops and Alaskan king crab, or herb-encrusted bobwhite quail wedded to grilled jumbo prawns.
New Year’s Eve is another popular night for surf and turf, as many revelers take in one final feast of overindulgence before the dropping ball ushers in a resolute new era of moderation.
The Madrona Manor, a privately owned inn and fine-dining restaurant in Healdsburg, Calif., includes meat-and-seafood dishes as part of its seven-course tasting menu. “We’ll do Dungeness crab risotto with veal or sometimes a filet with lobster,” says Sous-chef Jamil Peden, “and it sells to the point that we’re surprised by how popular it is.”
The Madrona Manor’s 2004 New Year’s Eve dinner included a 21st century interpretation of the 20th century classic: butter-poached lobster tail with oxtail ragot served with potato purée and veal-red-wine reduction.
The Hinterland Brewery Restaurant, a 130-seat American brewpub in Green Bay, Wis., added to its New Year’s Eve dinner a luxurious pairing of lobster mousse-stuffed lobster roulade with filet mignon. Crisp potato galette and champagne-tarragon sauce completed the plating.
“As a concept, I’m definitely a fan of surf and turf,” says Kelly Qualley, Hinterland’s sous-chef, “and we try to push the envelope as far as creativity, coming up with new ideas and variations on the theme.”
Qualley cites an updated surf-and-turf offering from a recent menu. “We sauté foraged mushrooms—matsutake, chanterelle and hedgehog,” he says, “and then braise baby greens such as Swiss chard, tatsoi and a variety of mustard greens.”
These two Asian-style sides join roasted Peruvian purple potatoes and accompany giant pan-seared Baja scallops and hoisin-glazed duck breast, pan roasted to medium rare. The plate is finished with a reduction of soy sauce, cream, sherry and ginger emulsified with foie gras. “It’s like a beurre blanc that uses foie gras instead of butter,” Qualley says.”
Way Beyond Steak and Lobster
Seemingly a far cry from filet, foie gras has been sneaking into surf and turf nationwide. New York magazine cited Wylie Dufresne, chef-owner of WD-50, a casual upscale New York City eatery, for having the “Best Inventive Dish” of 2004 for his foie gras and anchovy terrine. “Those two ingredients are not traditionally served together,” says Public Relations Manager Rachael Carron, “and though some people initially were resistant, it became a signature dish.”
Marinated anchovies top foie gras terrine in Chef-owner Wylie Dufresne’s version at WD-50.
Dufresne overlaps marinated anchovies across a foie gras terrine and sprinkles it with cocoa nibs. The terrine is plated with a chutney of lemon, lime, lemon confit, golden raisins and tangerine oil, and an emulsion of tarragon leaves, hard-cooked egg, water and grapeseed oil. “People thought it was strange when he first did it,” Carron says, “but his response was, ‘It’s surf and turf.’”
A common misconception among diners and operators is that the farther one gets from New York City, the further one gets from culinary innovation. Shane Sutton’s cooking debunks that myth. Sutton, chef-owner of Le Guignol, a 44-seat contemporary French bistro in Honolulu, has gained attention with his surf-and-turf appetizer.
Created for a competition sponsored by a cheese maker, Sutton’s winning entry is a duo of marinated beef tenderloin carpaccio and thinly sliced smoked salmon, each stuffed with cheese, formed into timbales and plated with balsamic vinegar reduction. “It’s tough working with carpaccio because the shelf life is so short, “he says, “but it’s great for private parties when I can do twenty of them at once.”
As Sutton attests, competitions are a great opportunity for chefs to spread their culinary wings. John Rolfe would agree. The executive chef of the Big EZ Lodge, a luxury resort in Big Sky, Mont., Rolfe used the Montana Chef Competition to create a surf and turf using local ingredients. “Our concept is ‘seasonal, regional cuisine,’” Rolfe says, “and we always try to come up with new flavors, new textures.”
For the surf, Rolfe made a mousse of whitefish fillets, egg whites, sour cream and dill, chilled in a timbale mold. Representing the turf was a pan-roasted Scottish Highland beef New York strip loin. The two were plated with carrot purée and whitefish caviar.
“The popularity of surf and turf is never going to decline because people feel safe with it,” Rolfe says, “but the thing is to try to take them out of that safety zone with different flavors, different textures.”
Surf and Turf on the Menu
The origin of the term “surf and turf” is not entirely clear, though it first gained widespread popularity in the early 1960s. Since then, pairings of meat and seafood have become among the most recognizable, adaptable and timeless items on menus, whether identified as surf and turf or not.
Surf-and-Turf Pizza with thin-sliced marinated sirloin, baby shrimp, fresh mushrooms, crunchy onions, mozzarella and American cheeses and white garlic sauce
Al’s Gourmet Pizza, Washington, D.C.
Surf-and-turf kabob: bacon and scallop skewers with sweet peppers served with sweet-and-sour rice salad Broiler Zone,
University of Washington, Seattle
Turbot layered with oxtail and melted potatoes in red-wine reduction
Josephs, New York City
Surf-and-turf couscous “risotto” with filet mignon tips and rock shrimp with cumin-spiced almonds and black-olive cream sauce
Firehouse Restaurant, Sacramento, Calif.
Surf-and-Turf Burger: ground beef topped with crab meat, lettuce and tomato
Kirby’s Pub Grill & Raw Bar, Juno Beach, Fla.
Zinfandel-braised short ribs, diver scallops, parsnip cake, leek confit, black truffle
Barrier Reef Surf ’N Turf: 9-ounce sirloin with choice of grilled shrimp or scallops
Outback Steakhouse, multiple locations
Sautéed shrimp with country ham, shiitake mushrooms, chopped tomato and green bell peppers over creamy Cheddar cheese grits with corn relish
The Parson’s Table, Little River, N.C.
The Ritz Surf & Turf: butter-braised lobster and bacon-wrapped bison filet with foie gras mashed potatoes
The Ritz-Carlton Chicago
Surf & Turf: grilled sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce and grilled or fried shrimp served with garlic-mashed potatoes and broccoli
Shoney’s, multiple locations
James P. DeWan is a Chicago-based freelance writer.