Steak is usually one of the most expensive items on a fine dining menu.

But a new Italian restaurant in Salt Lake City has taken the beefy splurge to a new level, selling large cuts — topped with truffles and encrusted with edible 24-karat gold — for as much as $260.

The beef or “carne” items at La Trattoria di Francesco are not only the state’s most expensive, but also its most extravagant.

The high cost hasn’t stopped customers from ordering, said Giuseppe Mirenda, whose family operates La Trattoria, the newest member of the Sicilia Mia family of restaurants. Since the restaurant opened in mid-January — in the 1500 South 1500 East neighborhood — it has sold three or four of the 48-ounce Fiorentina steaks for $260 each week.

"We’ve had customers eat the whole thing by themselves,” he said. But more often a large group will order and share the giant-size cut.

The menu includes smaller steak options with the gold and truffles. There’s also a 36-ounce tomahawk for $260; a 16-ounce wagyu for $240; a 10-ounce filet mignon for $100 and 16-ounce ribeye for $80.

The gold leaf — typically used to decorate desserts — is safe to eat, passing through the digestive tract without being absorbed.

The prices, of course, drop if customers order steaks sans the gilding. Depending on the cut, steaks with delicate cream, sautéed mushrooms or herbs range from $45 to $180, more in line with typical steakhouse prices. The menu also includes less expensive appetizers, soups, pastas and entrees.

Besides the gold, Mirenda said, several factors warrant the high price for the steaks — namely that the meat’s DNA can be traced to Italy’s famed Piedmontese breed of cows.

Discovered more than a century ago in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, the animals have a unique genetic makeup that creates greater muscle mass compared to conventional cattle, yet the muscle fibers remain tender and have less fat marbling.

The result is lean meat — advertised as 1/3 that of typical beef — with a strong beef flavor.

Additionally, after the steaks arrive in the La Trattoria kitchen, they are rubbed with butter and aged for two weeks. “It gets into the muscles,” Mirenda said of the butter, “and adds to the tenderness.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Tomahawk cut of meat is aged in butter at La Trattoria di Francesco, the newest Italian concept from the Sicilia Mia chain of restaurants.
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Raymond Zaelit, the owner of Salt Lake City’s Majestic Meat Co., supplies La Trattoria — and several other Utah restaurants — with Piedmontese beef. It is raised on family ranches in the Midwest, grass-fed and finished and free of added hormones, antibiotics and steroids. It also is traceable back to Italy’s historic herd.

“When you look at the steak, it doesn’t have the marbling you might be used to,” he said. “And you think it shouldn’t be this tender, but it’s all the genetics."

Because of its price, Zaelit said many restaurants use the Piedmontese meat to make thinly sliced carpaccio. Precious metals, of course, are not included.