The mystery of the steakhouse:
Exorbitant steakhouses are the name of the game here in New York City: that’s the bottom line. It seems as if every Zagat rated establishment in this category is obliged to charge north of $30 and as much as $60 for a piece of meat; even if it is a transporting slice of filet mignon. Regardless to the state of the economy and high rate of unemployment, it is essential to figure out which steakhouses are worth your time and hard earned money and which ones deserve a pass. That’s where I come in: through my years of dining experience in this great town, finally I have painstakingly assembled a list of the top five “must try” steakhouses in this city. It should be noted that this list only reflects restaurants where I have personally dined, so if your favorite is not mentioned then it is possible that I have not tried it yet. Furthermore, this does not take into consideration those restaurants which serve steak but which are not known as steakhouses. Are you ready for some high quality red meat?
My list of the top five steakhouses in New York City is organized as follows: rank, name, Zagat rating for food, decor, and service, why I like it.
- 1. The Palm: 25, 19, 23. My highest praise goes to the Palm where I continually discover, taste, and savor the Texture and flavor galore found in their transporting steaks. My ideal steak is a hearty but extremely tender filet mignon, which has been well charred with just enough seasoning to compliment its natural flavors. The Palm always delivers on this concept with no frills or any type of pretension. The service is generally outstanding, and as rarely as I dine there it feels like Cheers when I enter because all of the hosts act as if they know me. In addition, they make some mean hash browns (which you should always order extra crispy) and don’t forget the heart attack inducing half and half: a plate divided between fried potato chips and long thin fried onions. (Moderation is the key folks!) If I am on a health kick as I have been of late, I can order some fish and a side of excellent green beans in garlic. However, if you are going to The Palm, you would be doing a great disservice not ordering some of their top notch cuts of beef.
840 second Avenue (between 44th and 45th street)
- 2. Peter Luger’s: 28, 16, 20. (A.K.A. your favorite foodie’s favorite steakhouse) Many foodies and food critics alike praise this restaurant and place it at the top of their list, and with good reason. It is a New York City establishment; rated number one in Zagat’s restaurant guide for the last 28 years. I choose to disagree, however I am still ranking it at number two so therefore I do hold this classic establishment in high esteem. Ladies and gentlemen here is the Peter Luger experience: you call them one or two months in advance in order to secure your reservation, otherwise you either won’t get in or you will be forced to eat steak at 10 pm. Upon arriving to their location in Williamsburg (a few minutes from Manhattan on the subway), you will find a crowded restaurant with a possible wait time for your table. Despite the traveling and the delay in the seating process, there’s something beyond words reflected in the ambiance and vibe of the restaurant. (It just feels like an ancient restaurant with so much history of this city that one can soak up even while mingling in the front or while waiting for your meal to arrive.) When it is time to select your steak, here are the options: steak for 1, 2, 3, or 4. That’s it: no filet mignon, no sirloin, just their traditional porterhouse in the size of your choice. The sizzling sound from afar will alert you that your order is on its way, and they have mastered the art of cooking steak to absolute perfection. The million dollar question is: is this the best steak in New York City? For my money, (insert awkward pause and possibly a drum roll!) no it is not! As outstanding as this meat and restaurant is, I firmly believe that a better piece of filet or sirloin can be found elsewhere. However, there is definitely no shame in being what I consider the number 2 steakhouse in all of New York City. By the way, remember to order a side of their famous German potatoes (extra crispy), and all of their desserts come with a delicious whipped cream called Schlag!
178 Broadway, (at driggs avenue) Brooklyn.
- 3. Primehouse: 24, 23, 23. In the immortal words of a 1990’s Burger King commercial “I love this place!” If you thought that my last pick was controversial, then prepare for the following shock: After several excellent meals at Primehouse, including lunch, brunch, and dinner, I assert that it is definitely the third best steakhouse in New York City. This restaurant represents the ideal dining experience for me: From the moment you walk in, you are treated with respect, and this high level of service continues throughout your meal. Arriving at your table, you will discover that Primehouse has some of the most comfortable seating in any restaurant: hands down! (Check out their extremely cushioned chairs and banquettes which are nearly impossible to get out of, they are just that nice and add great depth to your dining experience.) In terms of food, Primehouse makes what might be
the best hamburger
always well charred and seasoned with French fries that are beyond outstanding. (Think thick, crispy steak fries with just enough salt that could never be frozen.) Their selection of steaks are all terrific; allegedly Primehouse has its own Black Angus bull, named
who lives on a farm in Kentucky, where he works tirelessly to sire choice beef cattle on the restaurant’s behalf. I find their meat, especially the filet mignon, to be especially tender and seasoned in an understated manner but with slightly more of a kick than the previously mentioned steakhouses. (By kick, I am not referring to spice; they use a combination of herbs and Himalayan sea salt that is simply outstanding). I have never been disappointed by any of their side dishes and the desserts at Primehouse are always special.
381 park avenue (at 27th street)
- 4. Keen’s: 25, 24, 24. This century old establishment makes some of the best steaks in this city and is well worth your money.
They call it “the old boy’s club” but don’t be turned off by this notion.
In my previous review of Keen’s,
two friends and I went there and found that essentially everything we tried met our expectations as our ideal of steakhouse fair: from the flavorful crab cakes to the huge jumbo shrimp, the three outstanding kinds of beef I sampled (sirloin, prime rib, and filet mignon) were all excellently prepared. It is very difficult for me to admit this, but Keen’s cooks up an even better version of a prime rib than my beloved filet mignon; that is a true statement of their talent! As Zagat’s restaurant guide likes to say about many steakhouses, everything at Keen’s is “cooked to perfection”!
72 W. 36th Street (between fifth and Sixth Avenue)
- 5. Spark’s: 26, 20, 23. When I talk to people about Spark’s, I find four different types of reactions emerge:
- 1. They have never been there.
- 2. They tried it and didn’t think it was particularly great.
- 3. It is their absolute favorite steakhouse.
- 4. “Isn’t that the place where John Gotti shot someone?”
(For your information, yes it was, but let’s focus on the food.)
For my money, Spark’s is certainly a solid steakhouse and I was not disappointed with my visit there.
I do not fall into the four categories mentioned above, but with so many other great steakhouses here in New York City I must admit that I do not visit Spark’s very often. However, I had absolutely no complaints about my experience at Spark’s, and as mentioned in my review it passed my “leftover test” with flying colors. The next time you go out to one of these establishments, consider taking a portion of your steak home and trying it the next day. Are you as blown away as you were at the time? I sincerely hope so!
210 E. 46th Street (between second and third avenue).
Conclusion: what is the perfect steak:
As I was selecting and ranking these various steakhouses in the process of writing this article, an interesting question occurred to me: How do we classify the perfect steak? (I’m sure it is subjective for many of us, but surely there must be some universal guidelines by which to judge all contenders in this category.) In my experience, the perfect steak represents that magical combination of the ideal texture and flavor. By texture, I mean that
- 1. The perfect steak should be tender to the point where you should be able to cut through it easily.
- 2. It must be cooked to the level of doneness specified by the customer because it directly affects the texture of the steak. (and it’s the right thing to do!)
- 3. I prefer a steak devoid of fat, especially when it comes to the filet and sirloin, unless you are ordering a rib eye which is supposed to be naturally fatty.
These three rules of texture might sound simple on paper, but I have dined on my fair share of rubbery, tough, and/or fatty steaks; any of which is a definite problem. (Honestly my favorite type of steak is filet mignon, but these concepts apply to all types of steak.) In addition, I am personally an advocate of charring, when the outside of a steak becomes slightly crispy while the inside remains moist and tender. The level of seasoning also plays an important role; the ideal steak needs a little seasoning but just enough to heighten the flavor in a subtle manner. To summarize: texture, charring, seasoning, perfection! Steak is a real treat as long as we remember that everything should be used in moderation. (cliché but true) As always, thanks for reading and I hope that you have learned something today.