(per TSG's request)
How does one describe an experience that bears no outward evidence of flaw and yet leaves no remarkable memory? Can a restaurant be very good at what it does and yet never break the impression-barrier? If so, this is the essence non-pareil of Steel.
If you'd like to skip the forthcoming verbosity, both Steel's food and service were excellent for its genre. Consistency has been a hallmark of this particular incarnation of that which Dallas seems most to crave: expensive Asian fusion. While my cynicism towards this trend borders on the snarling and vicious, in the end Steel executes well. Perhaps its greatest sin is simply that it does not distinguish itself.
Saturday night's meal-- my most recent of several visits-- began with a brief wait at the bar as the place was unbelievably crowded. As if Steel was taking the Tei Tei overflow or something. Elbow room was literally at a premium.
In the same vein as every single other of its competitors, Steel's ambience attempts to take serenity to its edge. Imagine Cru crossed with Abacus, or Houstons with Nakamoto. Or perhaps 9 Fish with more mahogany. Steel is an ancient Japanese tea ceremony taking place in the heart of Hong Kong. Juxtaposed, yes, but harmonious, no.
Leaving the mob scene of Typical Dallasites at the bar, our party was seated and greeted graciously and quickly. The sole exception to fairly flawless service was a loud and abrupt interruption of our ongoing conversation to introduce himself. Forgivable, considering our shifting demands upon him as the night wore on.
In fact, let's give Steel some major kudos at this point. The two couples in our party had not come to a mutual decision about who would pay the tab and both ordered separately. The server astutely recognized that we had wildy over-ordered as a table, and delivered a massive plate of sashimi (from either memory or very subtle notetaking-- we did not use the traditional form). Midway through this vast array of Poseidon's bounty, he quietly asked me if we really did want that Combination Seafood Salt Encrusted with Chili Sauce entree (I've ordered it at least twice before and it has been consistently outstanding) we originally ordered. Truth be told the answer was no, and he accomodated this change without resistance.
The sashimi was all quite excellent. Not quite Teppo, but only slightly less than perfect: the albacore was overly seared and the toro was definitely not toro, but just regular maguro. Considering the huge amount of food overall (scallops, four types of tuna, uni, mussels, several rolls, etc) a small slip wasn't noticed. Drinks were refilled (new glasses for every wine refill!) efficiently and prices were in line with the marketplace in Dallas in general.
Beef tataki with chili sauce and jalapeno served extra-rare (upon request) was incredibly good, although far spicier than two of us preferred. As an alternative to the Vietnamese Beef Carpaccio (which I find to be frankly disgusting-- worse than traditional French beef tartare), this dish was worth the trip alone. Better than Tei Tei's kobe tataki on a rock even. Substantially better.
Steel's menu is extensive, and I wonder how many visits would be required to truly sample its depth. It is possible to have a bad meal here, simply by virtue of the overwhelming array of choices and one's personal taste. Perfect execution is also a possibility, and that factor makes Steel a challenging review.
At the end of the evening, we had enjoyed at least one excellent course of many and some refreshing moments of sparkling service. We rubbed shoulders with the typical Dallas beauty pageant scene, although there were far too many of them. We had no complaint and in a parting gesture, the host offered to call the popular club we were headed to next to ensure our undelayed entry.
Rereading this, I cannot help but think that my jaded approach to Dallas dining has influenced what sounds like a superb culinary experience.
And yet, the visit has left little impression. The service was better than expected, and the food was as good as expected. Steel is no cheap date, and the tab was substantial.
Perhaps Steel lacks a touch of character. Uniqueness. That subtle asian flavor of umame, as foodies might imagine.