Best dish of the week: Preserved pork: Chengdu 1: Cedar Grove, NJ
Grand Sichuan in Jersey City? Can it be?

South City Prime: Little Falls, NJ and South City Grill: Rochelle Park, NJ [CLOSED]

Updated: 01/09/2009:  South City Prime is closing retooling, and will reopen as Fire & Oak.  Hopefully the good steaks and burgers will remain.

A tale of two South Cities?

Oh that was hacky.  Please accept my apology.

We rolled into South City Prime, on its first night (stupid, I know, but what the hell), with reasonably low expectations.  After all, we had no love for its sister restaurant, South City Grill, a restaurant at which we had a forgettable (regrettable?) meal 10 years ago.  More on that place later.  That, coupled with how unimpressed I was with the other new Little Falls steakhouse, Rare, and hell, I was figuring this was another gaudy big-money more-flash-than-flesh pick-up joint, posing as a steakhouse.

And I was wrong.  At least about the steak.

We sat at the bar, because bar dining is almost always preferable.  A friendly bartender took our drink orders (a bourbon concoction for me, what with this new bourbon kick that I'm on) and fetched us some menus. 

South City Prime was reported to serve USDA Prime dry-aged beef, which was the draw for me.  However, in reviewing the meat choices, you'll notice some Certified Angus Beef mixed in with USDA Prime, and you'll notice that only the ribeye and porterhouse are USDA Prime and dry-aged.  At least that's what the menu will have you believe.  I'm not too concerned with the other cuts, however, as porterhouse is my cut, and USDA Prime and dry-aged are my adjectives. 

More on the steak later.

The oyster selection included Beausoieil, which I've never had, and frankly have never heard of.  "From where are these sourced?" I asked where they were from and what flavor profile we might expect (briny vs. sweet, etc), and was pleased to hear that these were briny little oysters from some very cold water up New England way.  A dozen oysters was certainly in order. 

Unfortunately the wine choices for these oysters were quite limited.  On a list of about 6 whites by the glass, 3 were different brands of chardonnay.  If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times:  offer just one chardonnay.  People who drink chardonnay by the glass are most likely not going to care which producer it's from.  They're really not.  Fill up the other 5 slots with some interesting wines, and hey, maybe some wines that compliment your food?  Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gruner, Sauvignon blanc.  There's a good start.  In fairness, they had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the list, so my oysters didn't have to slide down a dry throat. 

These oysters, these oysters were so tasty, served so perfectly, liquor intact, just the right chill, that we joked that we try South City Grill on the following night, just to see if they had them.  More on that later.


Crappy low-light pic for reference purposes only


Now the really good part.

Our steak arrived m/r as ordered, with a nice crust, and nicely seasoned.  things were looking good.  Although I could do without the little pad of herbed butter on the top.  Flick it off. 

The meat exhibited very clear tell-tale signs of dry-aging.  It had a wonderfully minerally flavor in parts.  Some of the fat was on the funky side.  And it was as tender as filet mignon.  Although, since one side of the porterhouse is filet mignon that might not be saying much, but it really was tender.

One of the owners came by and asked how things were, and I couldn't help myself:   I gushed over the steak.  "Do you guys dry age this stuff here"?  I ask the nice man.  "We have a butcher that we contract out that does the aging," he replies.  I says to the man I says "well it's really super."  He said "well it had better be!", suggesting that this service and beef does not come cheaply for the restaurant.  The steak doesn't come cheaply to you, either:  89 bucks for that slab of beef.  But like I've said before, if I'm getting USDA Prime, dry-aged beef, I don't mind paying USDA Prime dry-aged prices.  South City Prime is delivering the goods.

The owner and we had a nice, if not perhaps a bit too candid, discussion on various topics:

On truffle oil, that chemically non-truffle tasting stuff that you'll find at most restaurants that are trying too hard:
Me:  "What's with the truffle oil all over the menu.  That stuff is horrible."
Owner:  "Eh, people seem to like it.  Just tell the server you don't want it and we'll make the dish without it."
Me:  "Cool."

On the decor:
The missus:  "I love that light.  Where's it from?"
Owner:  "c.i.t.e., in SoHo"
Us:  "Ooooh"

On restaurants:
Me:  "I gotta tell ya, we didn't think much of South City Grill."
Owner:  "When did you go?"
Me:  "About 10 years ago."
Owner:  "Ah, well, we were just getting on our feet.  Try us again."
Me:  "OK then."

As we were leaving, we were put on some sort of VIP list for all of their restaurants.  I don't know what that really means, but presumably we can get into the places if they're otherwise booked.  Maybe not.  Who knows.  But it was a nice gesture, as was the 15% discount (or was it 20%?) during the opening week.  And believe me, at those prices, 15% adds up to a nice chunk of change.

We were absolutely impressed with South City Prime.  The bartender was very nice and accommodating.  The owner was gracious and engaging.  The  coat check person was nice.  So impressed we were (and wanting those oysters again) that we went to South City Grill the following night.

Here's where things go a bit wrong, and where my expectations were fully met.  Let's start with boobies.  That's usually a good place to start.

South City Grill's bartenders dress somewhat provocatively.  In my experience, this type of outfit and look attracts, how shall I say, a special kind of North Jersey jackass to the bar.  And they were a-representin' that night.   I'd go on to explain them, but you probably get the idea.  Add the jackasses to those boobies and South City Grill's bar area is certainly not family friendly.  It's not even t:e-friendly.  But I'm a trouper and can manage boobies and jackasses when necessary.

Anyway, our bartender was none other then the one from South City Prime the night prior.  She recognized us and we received very good service.  Must be that VIP thing kicking in, we thought, and so soon too. 

We got right into the oysters. 

South City grill serves their oysters with some sort of shaved ice mignonette, which is really not very good.  Gimmicky, impressive to some no doubt, but not good.  They don't even serve regular mignonette (that wonderful condiment of vinegar, shallots, and black pepper).  But with us being all VIP-like someone ran into the kitchen and made a special ramekin just for us.  The oysters fell short of the prior night's.  Maybe that was a by-product of heightened expectations.

I figured they might be producing a great burger, so I gave it a whirl.  In reality they're producing a pretty good burger, but one that's too flat for the bun and for my taste.  Too much bun. 

A tuna tartar dish was inedible and tasted as though it was seared in the morning and left out in a hot kitchen.  Like tuna jerky.  We don't normally send food back, but when asked if everything was alright, we expressed dissatisfaction, and the dish was taken away and stricken from the check.  Fair enough.  It really wasn't good . At all.  Something tells me we got a bad plate of it, but that's no excuse.  Anyone in the kitchen should have known that this tuna was not in any shape to be served, especially to VIPs such as ourselves.

On the way out, the manager apologized for the tuna, and seemed genuinely pleased that we had said something.  "We like to know these things" he said.  Good for them.  The friggin guy actually walked us out to the valet and showed us a warm place to stand while waiting for the car, apologizing and coddling us all the way, until we were in the car.  Hell I think he even shut the car door for muh'lady.  I'm kinda digging this VIP business.  Who knew?

For additional reading on South City Prime's excellent burger, click here.

South City Prime : One Route 23 South : Little Falls, NJ (and soon in Jersey City and Montvale) : 973.785.4225

South City Grill : 55 Route 17 South :  Rochelle Park, NJ (and other locations): 201.845.3737