Stepping into Minetta Tavern, you can’t help but feel reminded that this is New York City you’re in. The bar is packed for Sunday brunch, with fortysomething women turned backward on their barstools to flirt with fiftysomething men. The floor is that classic checkered black-and-white, the ceiling is hammered tin, and the walls are covered in a mural that looks like it’s been there since the 1800s. Only the Minetta Tavern of today opened in 2009. It was opened by Keith McNally of Frenchy favourites Balthazar and Pastis, though, so you can bet it’s the perfect mix of the used up Minetta Tavern of the 1930s and sparkling new, classic and newly-conceived. And nearly impossible to get a reservation at.
My boyfriend and I went solely for the Black Label Burger, which is mostly talked about because of its $26 price tag. And also because it’s really, really good.
A mix of different meats from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, this thing is dry-aged for weeks like a fine steak is. The New York Times review that gave Minetta Tavern three stars said, “It’s without question a riveting experience, because burgers seldom pack the discernible tang and funk of aged beef. But for that same reason, it’s unsettling and arguably too intense.” MAYBE FOR A PANSY. For me, biting into this thing with its caramelized onion topping was like sipping a cup of French onion soup. Beefy French onion soup. Except better, because it was on a bun. The meat was so dark and had such deep, rich flavors that it tasted expensive, gentlemanly, and refined. Served with a side of slightly crispy, slightly curly fries to soak up all of those beef juices.
Neither fried nor green, these tomatoes were a big broiled disappointment when they arrived at our table. But once we got over the menu lying to us, we found that these were perfect to spread over our burgers like natural ketchup. Of course the burger was perfection on its own and didn’t need them, but at least we found something to do with them aside from throwing them onto the floor in anger.
The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.
The bloody mary list is five-deep and ingredient-thick here, and this one had green tomatoes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Southwestern spices. Tex-Mex in a glass.
With fresh coconut in the cream and toasted coconut on top to make it extra coconutty, and a nice, balanced amount of sweetness. There are rumors of rum being added to the cake, which would explain how moist it was.
Living in a city so crowded, I have a preference for sparse, modern, clean-lined dining rooms, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the hubbub and ballyhoo of Minetta Tavern. It felt like half of NYC was crammed into the restaurant that afternoon, all of us sipping cocktails and listening to the conversations of the people next to us.
After a totally-not-heated debate over on my personal blog, I decided to watermark my photos until enough people complain about them being ugly. Well, as luck would have it, Dr. Boyfriend invited me to Quality Meats for lunch on a whim last week, so I didn’t have my DSLR with me, and I forgot to set my point-and-shoot to take RAW photos, so the first time you’re going to see my watermark is on these less-than-stellar pictures. I recognize the error of my ways! No need to publicly mock me!
Anyway. Niko from Dessert Buzz was kind enough to link to one of my posts last week and also mentioned this post from Midtown Lunch that featured this sundae. Which I obviously had to have. So I linked it to my not-usually-impulsive Dr. Boyfriend, and he said he wanted to go. For lunch. Right then. I called and asked if it was okay for me to show up in jeans, the hostess laughed at me, and I hopped on the subway post-haste.
We love Quality Meats. This was our fourth time there, I believe, and it never gets less delicious. The decor is maybe a little three years ago, with those old-timey exposed filament lightbulbs and dark, dark wood everywhere and the feeling that someone may butcher a cow right next to your table. But I’ll never get tired of that decor; to me, it feels casual and expensive at the same time.
The rolls are the very best bread service in NYC. I dare anyone to contest that. Topped with chunky salt and so much rosemary you’d think you were dining with the Virgin Mary, the rolls are soft, warm, buttery, and taste like a forest full of evergreens. We asked for seconds, and I am not ashamed.
I’m not a huge fan of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s food, but I credit him with the surge in homemade sodas simply because I had them there first and have ordered them everywhere I can since. So I guess it’s my own surge. Either way, these were far more elaborate than the Jean-Georges versions, with ingredients like whole lemon slices, strawberries, and hibiscus in mine and cucumber and jalapeño in Dr. Boyfriend’s.
I’m not saying they were better than J-G’s, because the ones at his restaurants are a little more intensely flavored, but I really appreciated how huge the drinks were for the price and the fact that they’re served in to-go cups so I could enjoy mine well into the afternoon. And then suck dry all of my hibiscus leaves while my co-workers’ heads were turned.
Huuuuuge chunks of crabmeat served with sides of cocktail sauce, a soy-sauce-based sauce, and an herbed mayo. There’s not really much I can say about this, because um, crabmeat is kind of just crabmeat. I guess that’s why I’ve never jumped at the chance to share a plateau de fruits de mer with Dr. Boyfriend, much as he’s dying to. I like the taste of crab, and oysters are fine, and lobster has one of my favourite textures ever. But I’d much rather see what a chef can make with the meat than to just be served the meat alone, which is why I’m a crabcake kind of girl.
I have to admit that the presentation threw me off a little. It’s a . . . log . . . of chicken salad. But really, what else are you going to do with chicken salad? Take a big scoop of it and plop it down in the center of the plate? Classy. Fill a lettuce wrap full of it? Tired. So I guess chicken salad meatloaf is the only option.
If you like chicken salad, and I do, this is a fine one. Crunchy from the celery, biting from the onion, and rich from the truffle, all on top of a buttery bread with a millimeter of crust on the top and bottom. The Marcona almonds and red grapes were the perfect crunchy, sweet accompaniments.
I kind of secretly wanted a steak, but I didn’t think I could handle a porterhouse for two all by my lonesome at lunch, so I went with the burger. I love ordering burgers, because:
1) there’s no such thing as a bad one, and
2) they’re both super-familiar and super-nuanced.
I haven’t really had, say, enough halibut in my life to be able to say how this one’s flakier than that one. But I’ve had a lot of burgers, starting with the ones made from the meat from my family farm’s own cows. This one tasted like steak. Not like regular ground beef but like a slab of prime rib slapped on a focaccia roll. It was seared so dark on the outside yet dripped juice all over my hands with each bite. With cheddar and crunchy pickles and spicy mayo and all that steak flavor, it was not a kids’ meal burger.
Accompanying both of our meals were these cross-cut fries with some well-aged Parmesan on top. These were the crispiest fries ever. I really mean that. Crispy to the point of too-crispy almost. There was no soft potato left inside of them, just oil-soaked snap-off-in-your-teeth crispiness. It was interesting but probably not my favourite way to prepare fries.
. . . and that’s where the meal ended. Dr. Boyfriend remembered halfway through the bread that he had a conference call and would need to leave in a half an hour. So we plowed through our appetizer and entrees and left entirely sundae-less. Which, of course, was the entire reason for the meal. I wept at first but later realized this just means we have to go back again now, and obviously there’s no complaining about that.
If you can get past the fact that it’s owned by Michael Jordan and is called Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C. (what?), this place is actually a decent steakhouse with atmosphere that beats the usual Harvard-crimson carpeting and gold-lacquered everything. My boyfriend and I talked casually about visiting The Steak House every time we spotted it overlooking Grand Central Terminal, but it took seeing Chef Michael Vignola on an episode of The Food Network’s “Chopped” to make us seriously consider a reservation. On the show, the chef was super-creative–quite the opposite of what we expect from someone just cooking steaks and lobster all day–and we were excited to see what sort of avant garde creations he was pushing out with Michael Jordan’s blessing. But alas, The Steak House’s menu mirrors every other one we’ve seen.
Never overestimate the power of assorted breads when it comes to getting an extra donut in your rating from me.
I’m just starting to get into lobster after years of hating seafood, and this was just the right dish for a newcomer. It was lightly-dressed enough that the ocean flavor came through but included enough other ingredients that I was sufficiently distracted from the idea of eating, as my boyfriend says, the insect of the sea. The cabbage helped keep it fresh, while the spicy mayo on the side gave it a kick. Also: potato chips. Yeah.
Obviously this dish totally cheated by dressing itself with roasted corn. I didn’t particularly care for more cabbage slaw, but I suppose they don’t expect you and your date to be gluttons who order multiple apps on top of their filet mignons. I did particularly care for the lemony sauce the crab was swimming in, and the filler factor was slim to none in the cake.
The mac & cheese is listed as Michael’s Macaroni & Cheese on the menu, which only furthered our belief that he would pop out of the kitchen at any moment in his tall chef’s hat, giving us a friendly “bork bork bork!” a la the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. But no. Both of the sides were oversalted to my boyfriend’s taste, but I’m a freaky saltfiend who likes to make the waterboy come over every two minutes to refill me, so they tasted great to me. The mac & cheese was definitely the better of the two, though, almost certainly because it’s Michael’s.
As for the steak–it was well-seasoned and cooked to my liking. It wasn’t Peter Luger quality, but it wasn’t Outback, either. (Sorry, Outback.) The problem is that the prices are more Peter Luger (and actually even higher than that) and less Outback, which means I was expecting the same quality.
I love the view over Grand Central location so much that I’d forgive the lesser quality if it wasn’t for the higher price. I’d recommend The Steak House for impressing out-of-towners, clients, or anyone who hasn’t been to the city’s top-notch steakhouses like Peter Luger and Keens (which itself isn’t nearly as good at Luger, as you’ll see in my review). Come for the classy black-and-white action stills of Jordan hung on the walls and the menus that feel like the skin of a basketball, but don’t come expecting the best-quality steak.
Last weekend, Dr. Boyfriend and I went to The Modern at MoMA for a tasting menu that included grilled foie gras with champagne-vinegar-preserved strawberries and a harissa tuile:
This weekend, we’re going to Outback for a Bloomin’ Onion:
The funny thing is that Dr. Boyfriend, I think, is waaaaaay more excited about Outback than he was about The Modern. He’s never been there and is under the impression that it’s just the chain version of Peter Luger.
This is going to be awesome.
I went into my dinner at Keens Steakhouse with an extremely open mind. I’m a lover of Peter Luger, but I was under the impression that $90 steak is $90 steak wherever you go, and I was excited about the scotch-and-cigars atmosphere of Keens.
I hadn’t known to specify in my reservation that my boyfriend and I wanted to sit in the main dining room, so I was worried when all of the people in front of us were sent to different parts of the restaurant, but we were luckily seated downstairs under the ceiling entirely covered in clay tobacco pipes. The atmosphere is much darker and cozier than Luger’s, with dark walls and low light to contrast Luger’s whitewashed walls and bright windows shining in the midst of nowhere Brooklyn. This is the place you come to slurp oysters and talk about the things gentlemen do.
None of the appetizers enticed us in the least–though I’m sure my boyfriend would have jumped at the $65 seafood platter had I given him any indication that I was interested–so we opted for two side dishes with our slab of meat instead. We ordered the porterhouse for two, carrots with brown butter, and boiled baby potatoes with parsley and butter. For the record, any kind of restaurant with a separate menu section entirely for potatoes is my kind of restaurant.
We ordered our steak medium rare, because that’s how my boyfriend likes it, and I prayed that it’d be served on a hot dish like it is at Luger so I could allow my pieces to continue to cook. It was indeed, but we really didn’t need it to be, because the ends were so much darker than the middle that they were perfect for me and my desire for blackened beef.
Right away, I noticed that the plate just didn’t look as good as it does at Luger. The steak was smaller, and it was already cut off the bone. The bone was pathetically propped up on one end of the plate, which was almost worse than it not being there at all. I waited a minute to give our server a chance to put several slices on my plate like the waiters do at Luger, but he just walked away. It’s not that I even like that they put the steak right on your plate at Luger, but I somehow expected it.
The first bite of steak was just as juicy and steaky as any great steak I’ve had, but after that, I honestly believe that I could tell a difference between it and the steak at Luger. To be super, super honest, I think the steak I had at Primehouse might have actually been better than this one, but I don’t want to say that and risk losing my cred and have people think my palate is inferior.
There’s no doubt, though, that the sides we chose were better than anything we’ve had at Luger. My boyfriend said the cooked carrots were the best he’s had; we loved all of the butter left in the dish for spooning over our plates. The potatoes were the kind you close your eyes to savor completely.
My boyfriend ordered the crème brûlée, and I excitedly told him about a review I’d read in which the writer gushed about the deep dish that left plenty of cool custard underneath the layer of custard warmed by the torching of the sugar on top. What the reviewer failed to remind us was that a deeper versus wider dish meant there was a lot less caramel to enjoy.
However, everything I read about the hot fudge sundae was true. The woman at the table next to us was so impressed by the look of it that she leaned over to ask what it was. What it was was a giant cocktail glass filled with hot fudge an inch deep, several scoops of vanilla AND chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, slivered almonds, and wafer triangles. My boyfriend complained that the whipped cream didn’t compare to the schlag at Luger, but I was too busy having a heart attack over how much the hot fudge tasted just like my mom’s homemade sauce to notice.
I wanted to like Keens better than Peter Luger so I could stick to Manhattan when I want a great steak, but it looks like I’m stuck traveling to Brooklyn when I want to impress someone with a stack of meat. Keens wins for atmosphere, service, sides, and desserts hands down, though. And for saving me $20 on cab fare.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)