Dinner for Two … at Your Place

To celebrate a birthday, anniversary or even a Saturday night, a romantic home-cooked meal for two is always enchanting. Vegas Seven sat down with John Schenk, corporate executive chef of Strip House at Planet Hollywood (striphouse.net), to help plan your perfect evening.

“The whole focus of a romantic dinner is your attitude and what you bring to the meal,” the Buffalo, N.Y., native says. “Know who you’re cooking for and cook what you know.”

For our dinner for two, Schenk suggests a charred strip steak and simple yet impressive cheesy potatoes. For dessert he recommends a little danger (and a little liquor) with bananas Foster. (He recommends you try a rich, creamy lobster bisque, which is a little more complicated).

Before stretching your culinary limits, Schenk recommends that first-timers practice these dishes a few days beforehand. ”Nothing’s worse than if it all goes to crud,” the chef says. He has had his own attempts at romantic dinners fall flat in the past and now keeps a list of reliable take-out restaurants ready “in times of crisis.”

SteaksThe Steak

For the main course, Schenk provides many helpful pointers for preparing the perfect steak and potatoes. When shopping for steaks, he recommends the choice rib-eye steak, “which will naturally give you a large marbelization, without the cost of other overpriced filet.”

This preparation is for an outdoor grill, which adds “a real sense of texture, an extra palate sense,” the grill master says. “A nice char really adds a lot of layers of flavor.”

Dry the steaks (about one pound each) on a paper towel before dipping them in a blended oil, lightly coating each side. Season each side with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Schenk suggests seasoning “more than you think is necessary,” and place it on a very hot grill. The oil allows the surface temp to come up quickly and char the outside, which seals the juices inside. When charred (roughly 8 minutes for medium rare, but will vary depending on the thickness of the steak), flip the meat over to another hot part of the grill for another 8 minutes.

When finished, remove the meat from the grill and place on an elevated rack to rest for 4-6 minutes. This will allows for the air around the meat to circulate and the juices to filtrate back through the steak.

One trick they use at Strip House is to place the steak back on the grill for a brief moment right before serving to give it “a good sizzle.” They then top it off with French gray sea salt, a milder salt, which accentuates the flavors without giving a salty taste.

Strip House Bisque (Serves 4)

Like any meaningful courtship, time and attention are required for this delicious bisque. Prepare the first course the day before, because of the amount of time it takes.

  • 1 pound lobster bodies, shells and all, rough chopped
  • ¼ cup blended oil
  • 1 and ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ⅛ cup cognac
  • ⅛ cup diced fennel
  • ⅛ cup diced celery
  • ⅛ cup diced carrot
  • ⅙ cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ quart heavy cream (regular cream is OK)
  • ⅛ cup arborio rice (the same rice used in risotto)
  • 1 teaspsoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 ounce sherry

In a soup pot, cook the lobster (shell and all, but be sure to save a few pieces for garnish) in the blended oil until they have turned red and appear to be drying. Take the pot off the heat, add the cognac and de-glaze. Once the liquor has burned off, return the pot to heat and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the diced vegetables and cook until tender. Add the tomato paste and thyme, cooking for an additional two minutes. Add the milk, heavy cream, rice, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Schenk recommends adding seasoning halfway through the preparation and again at the end to “bring out the flavors.” Remove from the heat for another 15 minutes, before you get ready to transfer the bisque to your food processor, allowing the flavors to intermingle. In batches, blend the mixture together until well-mashed, then pushed the mixture through a fine strainer. Cover soup pot and refrigerate overnight. Reheat for 30 minutes on a low simmer, re-season to taste and add the sherry to the hot bisque just before serving. Top off with a dollop of fresh whipped heavy cream “to cut the thickness of the soup,” a few pieces of the cooked lobster and fresh chopped chives.

Potatoes RomanoffPotatoes Romanoff

  • 4 pounds grated whole baked potatoes
  • 1 ½ cups minced shallots
  • 4 cups grated white cheddar cheese
  • 3 cups sour cream
  • kosher salt and ground white pepper for taste

Perfectly complementing the steak is Schenk’s own recipe for a dish that looks complicated, tastes amazing but couldn’t be simpler to pull off.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the grated potato, shallots and 3 cups of the cheese. Season well with salt and pepper. Use the “open hand” method to fold in the sour cream one cup at a time. Schenk picked up the technique while watching pitas being handmade in Egypt.

The potatoes may be baked in individual ramekins or in a large baking dish. Just be sure to spray it with a light oil (Pam) before lightly layering the potatoes inside.

Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and if using an individual ramekin, place in a water bath before baking in an oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until the cheese has browned. Schenk suggests preparing the dish ahead of time and refrigerating until you’re ready to bake. It may need additional bake time if refrigerated, though.

Bananas FosterBananas Foster

  • ⅕ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground mutmeg
  • ½ cup Meyers Rum
  • ½ orange zest
  • 2 under-ripe bananas, cut into thin circles

If dinner is still going well and you’re feeling adventurous, bananas Foster is a surefire way to impress your date and show off your cooking skills.

“Dessert is always complicated for the home cook,” Schenk says. “But done right and it can be an excellent dish to share and enjoy together.”

In a high-topped pan, flame the rum until it stops burning. Careful though: This night should end with a trip to the bedroom, not the ER. Once the alcohol has burned off, add the heavy cream, cinnamon and nutmeg, blend together and set aside off the heat. In a separate pan, melt the butter, add the brown sugar and cook until dissolved. Next, add the bananas and cook until the edges brown. Stir in the cream mixture, add the orange zest and bring to a simmer.

To make the dish truly decadent, Schenk suggests placing a pecan cookie or chocolate brownie on the bottom of your serving dish followed by a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream. Pour the bananas and sauce over the top and serve in one dish—two spoons.

Following these steps should almost assure you of a romantic evening that will not only win over your date’s stomach, but also his or her heart. Whether you choose to use these recipes or one of your own, the most important thing is to be comfortable with what you’re preparing. It’s not only practical, it’s sexy.