“Well, here’s the thing. The steaks were *cooked* perfectly, but, they were *not* served in
That’s the thing, according to my friend Jake, who left me a vmail on the way home from our meal at BR Guest’s Primehouse in New York. And you can ask him.
My little group of friends has become accustomed to, and fond of, the Luger’s style of steak (knowing that I’m being completely unfair to Primehouse by comparing it to the Luger’s style when it’s very clear that it isn’t trying to be Luger’s isn’t going to stop me).
The Luger’s style can loosely be described as: a very clearly dry-aged porterhouse with a wide footprint, a plate sizzling with clarified butter and animal fat, and a non-trivial amount of salt. I like that. And that’s my admittedly skewed perspective when it comes to steak.
Marketing and paradigms
Primehouse is another of the seemingly 100’s of new-paradigm steakhouses that have popped up in Manhattan and New Jersey in the past few years. New paradigm in that they’re branching out beyond manly slabs of beef, limited wine lists, gruff service, and female-unfriendly environments. These new places are sleek and sexy, have huge wine lists, lots of stuff on the menu, all kinds of raw bars, fancy cocktails, etc.
Pretty much all of them seem to make some sort of confusing and contrived claims of serving USDA Prime steak, usually by casually dropping the word “prime” in the descriptions of the meats (“prime” really means nothing. “USDA Prime” does) or on websites or press releases. “Angus” is another descriptor that restaurants throw around. People seem to think “angus” is fancy. Black ones, even fancier. “Kobe?” Forget about it. People go gah-gah over “kobe”. “Wagyu?” Hell I think that’s related to “kobe”, so it has just got to be good. So much foolishness. So much marketing (save for real Kobe beef, which you’ll recognize immediately as the real deal when you see the price tag).
I don’t mind paying 80 dollars for a steak-for-two at Luger’s because I’m pretty sure they’re serving USDA Prime beef. But make no mistake about it, even if there’s no “Prime” stamp on the carcass, courtesy of the USDA, 80 dollars for a steak-for-two is the new standard. Some places will get you for even more. If you believe that there’s only so much USDA Prime and top-quality Certified Angus Beef to go around, you have to concede that all of these places can’t possibly be serving the best, even though their prices would have you believe otherwise. The sooner you realize that the sooner you’ll become annoyed paying USDA Prime dry-aged prices for lesser meats. Sneaky bastards, every one of them.
Primehouse takes the marketing thing one step toward the absurd: they say they have a bull, named “Prime.” “Our very own bull.” Right there on the menu it says that. I asked the waitress what significance a single bull could possibly have on a restaurant that surely turns 300 covers a night. She didn’t really have an answer. I figure if they were serving bull semen shooters, well then maybe I’d like to know where that semen came from. I would think on a first name basis, though I have no benchmark for this sort of relationship. For all I know Prime produces the best semen in town. That’a boy. But outside of semen in a glass, I really don’t care about a bull named Prime. I’m sure he’s a very nice bull, the best sire in all of North America, but he probably isn’t going to have much of an impact on the steak that I’m ordering. “Bull”, methinks, although I'll admit that I know nothing about bull and cow mating. If he does have a hand in all of that beef, well, my hat is off to him.
You’ve got plenty of choices for steak here, including sirloin, rib eye, filet, and porterhouse. They also have some super-aged steaks, a la Craftsteak, from 40-ish days up through 50 something if I recall correctly. These are priced as high as you might expect. We ordered a 40-ish day aged sirloin (50 bucks-ish) and the porterhouse for two (80 bucks-ish).
The 40-ish day aged sirloin certainly couldn’t be described as huge, but it was an appropriate portion for a single person. Thinner than I would have expected from a steakhouse, cooked to m/r as requested. Not all that notable, no pronounced minerally overtones. But, quite tender, and quite a decent steak, unless you want something that tastes super-aged.
The porterhouse for two was a thick slab of beef, probably ½ thicker than Luger’s. Its smallish footprint, and miniscule amount of tenderloin suggested “t-bone” to me more than it did “porterhouse”. In fact, the tenderloin pieces were somewhat mutilated by the time they were cut from the bone, probably because it was tough for the carver to navigate that side of the bone. The tenderness of the filet seemed to contribute to its mangled post-carving appearance as well. Quite tender indeed.
I think I really do like tenderloin
I’m of the opinion that an awful lot of people who normally turn up their noses at filet mignon’s spongy texture, livery, and not terribly beefy meaty flavor (like me), tend to like the filet side of a dry aged porterhouse more than they do the strip side (described, incorrectly, I think, as “sirloin” by our carver). My guess is that the filet side takes on more dry-aged flavor than the strip side during the aging process. It has a higher ratio of surface area (exposed to air and aging) to flesh than does the strip side. And it has less inherent flavor than strip, so it dry-aging takes very well to it. Makes sense to me. The filet side was the winner here. Some funky flavors, tender, good.
The strip side was mostly free of chewy sinew, and looked nicely marbled. The ¼ inch slices were picture perfect (I didn’t have a camera) and about 2 inches nicely square. The crust (not burnt char) was perfectly uniform, as if it was painted on. In fact, the slices of strip looked more like sashimi quality tuna wrapped in nori than they did steak. It really was quite beautiful, and makes me wonder what cooking process they’re using. I’m guessing it’s not a salamander and a hot platter.
Beyond the looks, there wasn’t much going on here. No minerally overtones from dry-aging, and not much flavor. I thought both steaks could have used more salt, but my preference does lean towards more salt than less. Speaking of salt, the ridiculously pointless salt and pepper shakers with the tiny pinhole in the tops were about as useless as tits on a bull. Put them in your pocket to make more room on the table for plates, glasses, and other essentials. But don’t forget to throw them away when you get home.
Sides were mostly uneventful. Hash browns were just OK. Not very crispy in the parts where they probably should have been. The bacon in the brussel sprouts/bacon dish was the best part. The onion rings were quite good. Big, round, onions, lightly battered and fried. The brussels were not crispy, and were mushy inside and a bit too cabbagey. I can do better at home with little effort, but I can appreciate that they have to make a whole crap-load of this stuff at once. That’s really no excuse though, and I’m not sure why I typed that.
The beet and Coach Farms goat cheese salad and the blue cheese salad were both serviceable. Tableside steak tartare was quite good. Two orders of that, a half bottle of pinot at the bar, and you’ve got yourself a nice meal. That’s what Jake said and I agree.
Contrary to what a stranger at the bar said, the wine list looked like no bargain. I don’t think there was a single bottle under 50 dollars. That’s not to say that they bottles weren’t great values vis-à-vis markups, but I would prefer to see a couple of bottles priced for us poor and unsophisticated B&Ters from Jersey.
The highlights included Gruet sparkling wine by the glass (my favorite sparkling wine out of New Mexico, and pretty much anywhere for that matter), and very pleasant service. Oh, and excellent sourdough bread with lots of salt. Like a bagel almost. Round with a hole like a bagel too.
Lowlights of the experience
In order of lowness…
- Hostess desk
What’s with that hostess desk? It’s about 4 feet deep, deeper than it should be given its width. It gives you the feeling that this is a deliberate barrier between you and your first point of contact with the restaurant (second, actually, as the reservationist was the first, and was very pleasant). Not very welcoming. And sort of funny looking.
- Guy who stands in the restroom
Someone should remind BR Guest that this isn’t a club, it’s not 1988, and I can turn on the faucet myself. The kid was nice though, and ultimately helpful, in a “I need someone to hand me a paper towel and oh, look, free Listerine!” kind of way. I remember the good ol’ days at the Limelight, where your meager tip meant you could grab a free cigarette. Now *that’s* service.
- Cold steak
…is not my preference. Our steak was not served on warm plates, or from a warm platter, and ended up cold mid-meal. Add the time it takes to execute the tableside carving routine to the cold plates, and you’ve got cold steak. Contrast this with Luger’s, where the steak ends up overdone by mid-meal.
- An uncomfortable amount of conversation revolving around bull semen
Primehouse New York : 381 Park Ave South (27th) : New York, NY : 212.824.2600