Jay Fox's Dining Guide
Culinary capers in the core of the Big Apple - Part II
This is the second part of my recent culinary adventures in New York City. You read last week that I was there for a continuing education program on tax education. I brought my lovely wife Georgia, AKA G, and our two eldest granddaughters.
Monday dinner — Peter Luger Steak House (178 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718/387-7400; www.peterluger.com). Serving New York’s finest steaks since 1887, I’ve been eating there since 1968. The original store is in Brooklyn at the end of the Williamsburg Bridge. Back in the old days, they served only three kinds of steaks and tomato with onions. Now the menu is greatly expanded and even includes a not-so-tasty bugger. As with the first two restaurants, we were here two years ago with Emma who still talks about the steak here. Harper talks (all the time) about the maaavelous steaks we had at Gibson’s in Chicago. But the first words out of her mouth, after tasting her first bite of porterhouse, was, “Just as good as Gibson’s” and that’s as good as it’s gonna get from that girl. But I’m getting a wee bit ahead of myself.
The Brooklyn store is housed in a not-so-nice neighborhood, so it’s best to take a taxi here, at least at night. There is a subway stop about two blocks from the restaurant. The building is the original location; the main level bar is a true classical gentleman’s bar. Seating is on both levels and in every nook and cranny of the restaurant. Service is generally very good. The old gruff waiters have all died off, and the new breed of wait staff is generally friendly and very professional. But you want to know about the grub.
The restaurant serves lunch daily except Sunday. Burgers are available at lunchtime only. I had one last visit as an appetizer and it was ok. Methinks it was too lean and came over cooked. But most steakhouses over cook buggers cuz the cook forgets it takes less time to cook a bugger of the same thickness as it does to cook a steak.
The somewhat confusing menu offers small sirloins, lamb chops, salmon, a rib steak and The Steak, that being a porterhouse of enormous proportions. You can have it cut for two, three or four, although a steak for four will feed six hungry dudes easily.
They also serve several munchies, including sliced tomatoes with Luger’s own sauce, tomato with onions, extra thick bacon, shrimp cocktail and a Caesar or mixed green salad. The bacon is served by the slice and not to be missed. The tomatoes are usually fantastic. But the porterhouse steak will blow your mind. It is unquestionably the best steak in America. Every critic ranks it in the top two or three. It comes sliced and slightly charred. Here no one will notice if you gnaw on the bone. And if you don’t, you’re missing the best part.
A word, or two or three, on porterhouse steaks. The porterhouse is a stupid cut of meat. It consists of the filet on one side of the bone and a strip steak on the other side. It comes off the short loin of the cow. Think about how you cook this sucka. The filet has no fat and is the tenderest part of the cow. The strip has some fat and is denser than the filet. So how do you cook it without overcooking one side or the other? Answer: you can’t. Altho Peter Luger comes as close as you can get. I never order porterhouse steaks. Except here.
Also on the menu, and not to be missed, are several veggies (serve two) and desserts (likewise). The house special German-fried spuds are the best you’ll ever have. The special “Holy Cow” hot fudge Sunday sundae is the perfect conclusion for an already overstuffed person, but only if you walk around the block 47,003 times. But then you might lose your way back cuz the streets are confusing. And it’s not a nice neighborhood. I usually have the wondrous apple strudel. All the desserts are served with a house-made “Schlag” (whipped cream).
I’ve eaten at lotsa upscale steakhouses around the country, and while I still believe that day in and day out, Denver’s Capital Grille is the best there is, this place is not to be missed. At least once in your life. Be sure to eat there at least once in your life.
Tuesday dinner — Redeye Grill (890 7th Ave at 56th St, 212/541-9000; www.redeyegrill.com). Here we were joined by my cousins, Auston & Dyllan, at this very popular seafood eatery. We decided to get a variety of dishes and share them. Fried calamari (of course), sake-steamed mussels, a jumbo Gulf shrimp cocktail, the house special famous Dancing Shrimp (jumbo Mayan shrimp with Cajun spices, coconut crusted and pineapple and orange coconut sauces), and a maaavelous seafood paella with Maine lobster, shrimp, clams, calamari and mussels, and three-hour braised short ribs. Enuf food for two armies but we managed to devour most of it. Naturally, we had several desserts to share. Every bite of every dish was “yummy for the tummy.”
Service was very good with our W making excellent recommendations, albeit from the higher end of the price scale. The restaurant is located 50 feet from Carnegie Hall and three blocks from Central Park. It derives its name for the infamous late-night flight linking America’s two cultural hubs. The fusion of the two coasts is present both in this lovely café’s interior design and its menu.
Wednesday dinner — Smith & Wollensky (49th St & 3rd Ave, 212/753-1530; www.smithandwollenskysteakhouses.com). I was rather amused by the description of the New York store on their Web site. “Smith & Wollensky is well recognized for its healthy portions, seasoned service staff…” I luv that term, “seasoned.” Our W was certainly that. As in he should have retired 40 years ago. Maybe he did and didn’t know it.
New York delicatessens useta be known (not always positively) for the age of their wait staff. Old men sauntered around the room, mumbled everything, threw the food at you, and often dropped the check on the floor and didn’t bother to pick it up. But they never got an order wrong, nor did they err in the calculation of your tab. I thought all of these men were long dead. But S & W resurrected one to be our server. While he didn’t throw the food at us, dishes did get shoved around to make way for the entrees at this ultra-crowded eatery. He sauntered around the room, mumbled with the taking of our order, and even managed to drop the check. But he did pick it up.
This was our third visit to an S & W, two of which were in Las Vegas. Our first visit was fantastic, with excellent service and superb food. We returned several months later with friends and the entire experience was a disaster. The service was abominable and the food was awful. This visit was somewhere in between. It seems different stores serve different dishes, and the dishes that are the same vary in presentation.
The Wollensky salad we fell in love with in Vegas, where it came in a beautiful tilted bowl, arrived on a flat plate with not near the amount of food the salad in Vegas came with, and not nearly as pretty a presentation. But it was very good, with baby roast potatoes, bacon, and an assortment of salad items.
For our main course, the girls shared a giant bone-in rib eye steak, the finest cut there is. I ordered the same for myself. G had the veal chop. The steaks were, disappointing.
G’s veal chop came medium, as ordered, and was delish. My rib eye, ordered medium rare, came very medium, with the edges medium well. The girls’ steak, ordered medium rare, came sliced, half of it medium and half of it well done. Unfortunately I didn’t notice the well done part until we were ready to leave, and asked our W to package my leftovers as well as their leftovers. Since their steak was sliced, I didn’t see how done it was until we separated the slices for packaging. When I pointed this out to our W, his answer was very simple: “We won’t package up the well done pieces!” I was so excited to get out of there, so I could stop at the Stage Deli and get a corned beef sangie to go, I didn’t want dessert, but when two young ladies who are about as perfect as they could get want dessert, they get dessert. I have no idea what it was or if it was any good. But I never sed a bad word. I didn’t leave such a good tip either.
Two out of three isn’t a very good score, so I don’t think we’ll be back to S & W anytime soon, but all the other eateries remain on our approved dining list.
G and I believe New York is the greatest city in the world to visit, and we plan on returning soon. Aside from all the diverse and excellent dining, there is so much to see and do. G has a list of stores she hasn’t shopped in and I have a list of restaurants that we haven’t tried yet. If you have favorites, send them to me and we’ll get there on one trip or another. My only hope is that they move, hide or close the giant Macy’s department store at 34th Street and Herald Square. The shoe department alone is larger than most department stores, and G can get lost in there for days. It’s sooo big it’s in two time zones. And that’s big.
Note: many restaurants in the theater district have pre-theater and/or after-theater menus, so be sure to ask your server. He’ll also be sure you have enuf time to have dinner and still get to the theater on time.
Jay Fox is a traveling gourmand who keeps Statesman readers sated with his many morsels about restaurants near and far. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.