Sunday, September 30, 2007

db Bistro Moderne Burger

Beef Aficionado reader Kevin L. recently wrote to ask if I had tried the famous db burger. I had to admit that I had not, but that omission has now been rectified as I tried the vaunted sandwich last week. For the uninitiated, the db burger is Daniel Boulud's take on the venerable American classic. It is made of sirloin filled with Foi Gras, braised short ribs and black truffle served on a Parmesan bun.

What makes a great burger great in my view is that it is better than the sum of it's parts. The db burger deftly manages to reverse this equation, and for the princely sum $32. Here you have some wonderful ingredients, an intensely rich Foi Gras, earthy black truffle, a hearty braised short rib and some how combined they become a stogy amalgam that is lesser than the sum of its parts. The fat to lean ratio is probably quite close to 75%/25% ideal given the richness of the Foi Gra but the sirloin is so lean that it makes for a terrible burger on its own and at least some of the bites will be pure sirloin as the sandwich has a tendency to collapse in on itself, the soft squishy interior unable to with stand the pressures from with out.

Another problem is the size of the whole contraption, it is almost impossible to eat even with two hands. I subscribe to the ideal that Hamburger guru George Motz used when describing what burgers used to be like in mid century America - "you have your coffee and cigarette in one hand and a burger in the other." The beef to bun ratio is way off as the db burger is taller than it is wide. The bun is simply not up to the task of containing the patty, despite being rather tasty.

Quite frankly there is just too much going on here all without a semblance of balance; it is one rich ingredient piled on top of another. The individual flavors homogenize in to a super rich mealy paste, short rib losing all subtlety, Foi Gras losing that lovely velvety texture. This is what happens when you design a burger to be more than a burger, whether it be to gain publicity or to satisfy some perceived market niche or simply because you can.

One of the most heavenly dining experiences of my life was the tasting menu at Mr Boulud's flagship Daniel. It was a wondrous, exquisite experience. The freshness of the ingredients, the pairing of flavors and texture, the presentation were all beyond reproach but it was ultimately, despite being the epitome of bourgeois dining, food with soul. The db burger has no soul, it is dinning for the nouveau riche, those with more money than sense and certainly more money than taste.

db Bistro Moderne
55 W. 44th St.
(bet. 5th & 6th Aves.)
Manhattan, NY

Monday, September 24, 2007


In the ever more crowded pantheon of Manhattans culinary scene there are a few star performers that consistently distinguish themselves over their peers by providing command performances. A recent sampling of the tasting menu at Bouley confirms that it deserves its reputation as one of the brightest stars in NYC.

The phyllo crusted shrimp, baby squid, scallop and Maryland crabmeat in an "ocean" herbal broth was utterly exquisite, the combination of textures and flavors was just about perfect.

Return from Chiang Mai

A terrine of chilled Maine lobster, mango, artichoke wrapped in Serrano ham with a passion fruit, fresh coconut and tamarind dressing. A delightful combination, the flavors perfectly matching each other, the salty ham and buttery lobster was complimented by the sweet and sour flavors of the sauce.

The Sashimi quality tuna was delectable, tender wonderfully seasoned it was accompanied by a shaved fennel dressed in herb oils, it literally melted in ones mouth.

The wild salmon

The 21 day dry aged USDA prime NY strip was tender and succulent although it was not quite the equal of what you will find at a top steakhouse. Certainly it was rare as ordered but it lacked the charred crust that steak lovers expect It was also quite expensive for the $40 supplemental price it added to the tasting menu. For the somewhat meager portion size one would expect domestic Kobe style beef, indeed I was expecting American Kobe as the menu on the restaurants website indicated as such. Frankly the rest of the tasting menu is so wonderful for the regular price, despite the lack of beef, that even the Beef Aficionado can heartily recommend it.

Squab stuffed with Foi Gras.


Hot Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé, perhaps a little too hot as the ice cream was rather melted by the time it made it to the table. Never the less it was decadently sumptuous dish.

What a pleasure it is to dine at Bouley. Certainly the cost is relatively high but when food reaches this level of expertise it transcends price. The dining room is tastefully ornate although some might argue effete, I am reminded of the line from film American Psycho - "this is a chick restaurant." The service is, as Frank Bruni noted somewhat schizophrenic. The waiters and floor manager posses the prim, aloof air that one expects of food at this level. They may be curt but they are efficient, conversely the servers seem more like catering school trainees, struggling to recount what is on the plate they are placing in front of you. Bruni experienced the appearance of the unrequested check. So did I, it is an odd, but apparently deliberate, change in tradition.

If you subscribe to the idea that dining on this level is "theater" then there are some minor missteps on the part of the supporting cast. Of course the star of the show is the food and here there are no qualms about the performance, it is virtuoso.

120 W. Broadway
(Duane St.)
Manhattan, NY

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Strip House - Don't Believe The Hype

I have eaten at the Striphouse on a number of occasions and while I find there is much to like about the restaurant I have never understood the praise heaped upon their steaks which I find to be, frankly, far below the best in the city. Yes, Striphouse has an engaging ambiance, a decent wine list and some very good sides and appetizers but conversely the room is inevitably crowded, you will wait for a table even if you have a reservation and the room feels very cramped, the tables are just too close together. Despite the assumption that this is a "sexy" steakhouse and the perfect place to take a date this is not the place for an intimate meal unless you go on the off hours, you will be literally shoulder to shoulder with adjoining tables. I understand a restaurants desire to maximize turnover but Striphouse needs to strike a better balance.

A creamy delicious bisque comes with a generous portion of lobster

Clams Casino

The seafood at Striphouse is of a very high quality and better than what you can expect at a traditional steakhouse.

The rib eye steak

The rib eye steak is probably the best steak on the menu here. While it is served bone in it is also Frenched, removing a lot of the flesh that makes a rib eye so wonderful in the first place. I really appreciate steaks that are served "butcher style." The marbling on the rib eye has definitely gotten more prolific at Striphouse over the years but is still not that impressive.

Despite the restaurants name the NY strip here was not even close to what you will find at NYC's leading steakhouses. While it had a decent, not tremendous, level of marbling it lacked the complex dry aging induced mineral rich tang that steak lovers are accustomed to. It was tender enough but did not have that ethereal "melt in your mouth" quality that can be found elsewhere. However, the Striphouse is to be commended for turning out steaks that are perfectly cooked every time.

While the steak appears to have a decent although not great amount of external char looks can be deceiving, since the steaks here are rubbed with pepper most of the blackness is merely the pepper burning. Frankly if you have a beautiful piece of dry aged prime steak you should let it speak for itself. A pinch of salt will enhance the flavor, a pound of pepper will completely mask it.
If the steak fall behind the curve the sides are definitely ahead of it. The black truffle creamed spinach was absolutely delectable, the truffles adding a welcome earthiness to the already rich dish. The goose fat potatoes were also delicious, a hearty crisp golden crust giving way to a tender interior. While the sides are priced comparably to a traditional steakhouses the portion sizes are far smaller, this is not unwelcome given the richness of the dishes and the quality of the ingredients.

The service at Striphouse can be effusive but the room is so packed that waiters from adjoining tables will invariably impinge on your meal. The waiters and busboys work at a frenetic pace, looking not unlike the staff on an ocean liner rushing to accommodate their next dinner seating. Despite the noise and chaos the staff do manage to get the food out in a timely manner.

While the Striphouse does many things well the steaks are not the equal of those at any number of other steakhouses in NYC. Despite some excellent supporting sides and appetizers, a room that is leagues ahead of the drab confines of your average steakhouse and good service I find it hard to recommend the Striphouse, at least for their steaks.

13 E. 12th St.
(bet. 5th Ave. & University Pl.)
Manhattan, NY

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Luger Loses a Star in the NY Times

Frank Bruni demotes the venerable Peter Luger Steakhouse to two stars in today's NY Times. He echoes much of what I other critics have been saying for months about Luger and the deluge of clones. Back in July in a review of Craftsteak I noted the following:

"I will admit that I am more than a little tired of Peter Luger replicas, often replete with "former Luger staffers." I expect the Peter Luger dishwasher to open a steakhouse any day now, or perhaps it will be the ruddy faced gentlemen who watches the garage." Link

Bruni today:

"One after another, Luger clones have opened, operated by former Luger cooks or managers or waiters, all of whom trumpet their association with it, all of whom appropriate its traditions. Any day now I expect a news release announcing that a Con Ed worker who checked Luger’s meter is starting a steakhouse." Link

Bruin's claims of inconsistent food and dismissive service at Luger are not off the mark. I have long complained about the kitchens inability to cook a proper black and blue steak correctly, but even more traditional temperatures are hit and miss. A rare steak will come out closer to medium while a medium will come out raw. And the service can be equally patchy, sometimes charmingly kitschy but more often than not it is curt and indifferent. Bruni poses an interesting question:

"Has Luger grown tired of us? Or have some of us just grown tired of it?"

Has the gruff steakhouse waiter shtick finally worn too thin? Does having a spluttering plate of prime thrown at us while our other requests go ignored rather than the effusive doting service we get at the noveau steakhouses make Luger seem somewhat passe? Luger will continue to thrive. of that I am sure, but if it does not adapt to the realities of a world filled with its clones it will no longer remain the gold standard for steakhouses.

NY Times Review

Peter Luger Steakhouse
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dylan Prime

Regular reader of this blog are probably sick of me complaining about the lack of divergence from the generic NY steakhouse menu (porterhouse for two, creamed spinach and hashed brown potatoes) in new steakhouse ventures. There are so many traditional steakhouses that handle the task so well that I feel that new steakhouses need to reinvent the genre. Unfortunately the nouveau steakhouses that I have tried of late, BLT Prime, Craftsteak, and Quality Meats have all failed to win me over for their handling of domestic steer. I am happy to report that Dylan Prime comes a lot closer to the ideal of combing prime steak and a chef driven menu. Dylan Prime offers both traditional steakhouse cuts a la carte - porterhouse, rib eye, strip etc, along with separate sides but also a selection of "Chef's compositions" that are complete dishes.

A comfortable, dimly lit modern room can be intimate but it is generally so busy that it is usually quite noisy. This is not helped by the drone of music playing throughout the restaurant. The service here is definitely more reserved and refined than the usual gruffness of steakhouse waiters.

Despite a concise wine list there is a decent variety of bottles, unfortunately on a recent visit two bottles that I requested were out of stock.

The Lobster salad with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, tarragon vinaigrette and lobster oil was delectable. Perfectly poached lobster combined with the well chosen supporting ingredients provided an elevated experience vis a vis the traditional steakhouse seafood cocktail.

Despite being only 14oz and boneless I found the rib eye steak to be excellent. It had a hearty beefy flavor juxtaposed by an ethereal buttery tenderness that approached Japanese Kobe in exquisiteness. It is too bad that it is not offered with the bone in and in a larger portion.

The sides were excellent, the mini baked potatoes served with roasted garlic, Parmesan cream sauce, bacon and chives was irresistible and much less stogy than a traditional baked potato. The creamed spinach was also as good if not better than what you can expect at other restaurants.

Organic 24oz Brandt “Cowboy” Ribeye

The ribeye from the boutique steer of Brandt farms was wonderful. Tender and flavorful with the mineral rich flavor that only dry aging can impart. The sliced steak is served with a delicious smokey barbequed vegetable salad, warm brown butter and fresh herb vinaigrette. This is exactly the sort of inventive reinterpretation of steakhouse fare that I have been clamoring for.

Carpetbagger steak

Another wonderful dish from the chef's composition section of the menu is the carpet bagger steak, a filet mignon stuffed with blue point oysters accompanied by baby spinach, mashed potatoes and a Guinness and brown sugar sauce. I can see this dish potentially going horribly wrong but it was absolutely delectable. The earthy gritty flavor of the blue points infusing the tender and nicely seared beef with a rich flavor. The sauce, perhaps a tad rich for summer dining, was hearty and worked nicely with the creamy mashed.

The 32oz porterhouse comes sliced in the traditional steakhouse manner but sans the butter or "shine" that usually accompanies the dish. It is not missed, as luxurious as it may seem to eat steak with dripping butter I find that it tends to mask rather than enhance the flavor of the beef. And the flavor of this porterhouse was excellent, the outside nicely charred with a thick crust covering a cool interior.

The marbling on the porterhouse was impressive

While the porterhouse was indeed excellent it was ultimately not quite the equal of the porterhouse at Luger, Wolfgang's, Bobby Van's et al but it was very close. However with the rib eye and the sides being so excellent and with the superb chefs compositions available the over all dining experience at Dylan Prime is finer than what you will get at a traditional steakhouse. While the prices are higher pound for pound at Dylan Prime versus a traditional steakhouse the quality of the cooking and the inventiveness of the menu justify the difference.

The homemade baby ice cream cones were underwhelming. It is not that they did anything to offend they just did not provide anything special.

Dylan Prime Chocolate “Porterhouse” for Two
Red Velvet “N.Y. Strip,” Frozen Mousse “Filet,” and White Chocolate Bone

The chocolate porterhouse is a rather silly concept but it was admittedly delicious. It was hard to eat the white chocolate bone because it was just too cold and unyielding but the mousse and the red velvet cake complimented each other nicely. This is probably enough desert for up to four people. At $24 it is priced accordingly.

Dylan Prime definitely moves steakcraft forward. Prime steaks are expertly handled in the manner of a traditional steakhouse but are combined with an inventive menu using fresh ingredients. While traditionalists may scoff at the elevated prices here I find the quality of the ingredients and the originality of the menu more than justifies the difference. Highly recommended

Dylan Prime
62 Laight St.
(Greenwich St.)
212 334 4783

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bobby Van's Knows About Meat

One of the more humorous episodes in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was the chapter entitled "What I know about Meat" in which the author recounts how he was once interviewed by Bobby Van and, unable to decipher the latter's thick Irish brogue, mistook the word "meat" for "me." Thus when asked what he knew about meat, a natural question at a steakhouse, he thought he was being asked about the owner of the restaurant and candidly replied that he knew "next to nothing." Obviously he was not hired because Bobby Van knew a lot about meat, and although retired, the tradition of great food continues at the restaurants that bear his name.

A rather stingy portion of Gorgonzola cheese top a decent, for a steakhouse, mixed green salad. I find most steakhouse salads far too large and over dressed, emphasizing quantity over quality, Bobby Van's is no exception. But who comes here for the salad?

NY strip steak

All the beef at Bobby Van's is dry aged USDA Prime

Hash brown potatoes

Despite the crisp golden shell the interior of the hash browns was creamy and tender. Steakhouse hash browns often end up tasting like butter but these actually tasted like potato.

Porterhouse for two

The porterhouse for two is first rate, equal to what you will find at NYC's other top steakhouses. The beef was expertly prepared, the outside deeply charred, the inside perfectly rare. I generally prefer the strip side of a porterhouse but I was amazed at the flavor and tenderness of Filet.

Creamed spinach. Hearty and satisfying, a classic dish

Bone in Rib steak

The bone in rib steak is my favorite steak on the menu here although I found all the beef to be excellent. Bobby Van's is as good an example of the classic NYC steakhouse as you will find. While the 46th Street location is a rather dreary room the 54th street location is a far more convivial environment. The food is excellent at both locations. Highly recommended.

Bobby Van's
Multiple Locations

Beef Aficionado visited:

230 Park Ave.
(46th St.)
Manhattan, NY

131 E. 54th St.
(bet. Lexington & Park Aves.)
Manhattan, NY

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Goodburger Opens in Union Square

Goodburger has finally opened in Union Square. Back in May I extolled the virtues of this growing chain and today I grabbed a quick burger to see how the latest incarnation stacks up. Despite having only opened yesterday the burger was almost as good as those put out by the other locations I have tried. It fell behind the curve in presentation, the burger was rather sloppily assembled, and in exterior char. The latter problem will doubtlessly be rectified once a few thousand burgers have hit the grill and seasoned it.

The patty had plenty of flavor and juice but just needed a little more fire. Despite some nice grill marks the surface was just a little light in color.The rest of the ingredients were wonderfully fresh however. With the line at Shake Shack being so absolutely incomprehensibly long these days (It is a great burger but I wouldn't wait for Kobe beef as long as some people wait for a burger) Goodburger is a viable alternative in the area. And I would argue that it is a comparable, albeit different burger vis a vis the Shack. Many I am sure will prefer the flame grilling cooking method, and I doubt the line will be as long.

Good burger more than lives up to its name. The thoroughly modern room, replete with flat panel TV's , is definitely designed to handle large volume. Whether they can maintain the high standards of their other locations remains to be seen, but they are off to a good start.

870 Broadway
(between 17th & 18th St.)
Other Locations

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


One of NYC's top steaks can be found not in a steakhouse but in a storied little Italian restaurant that has been serving up delicious steak and pasta since 1932.

As much as I love Pietro's I cannot quibble with the woefully low 13 score for decor bestowed upon it by Zagat. It is, to be charitable, a rather drab room but one that somehow managed to still have a great atmosphere.

Shells a la Nat - Shells in Marrow sauce.

One of the most delectable pasta dishes I have ever eaten and my favorite menu item here is the Shells a la Nat. Named after founder Pietro Donini's brother Natale, the shells come in a creamy velvety marrow sauce . As good as the steak is at Pietro's I recommend you at least get an appetizer portion of this wonderful dish.

USDA Prime strip steak for two.

The massive hunk of dry aged steer is presented whole at the table and is then whisked away for carving. Moments later it reappears as perfectly apportioned square slices served with melted butter. This is truly great steak, the exterior perfectly charred, the dry aged prime imparting massive beefy flavor.

Perfectly cooked rare steak

Creamed spinach, as good an incarnation of the classic dish as you will find at a steakhouse.

Hash brown potato's, a superior incarnation of this classic dish to what you will find at a steakhouse. The potato's were perfectly cooked, crispy, golden and very flavorful yet were totally un-greasy. I have eaten more hash browns than I can remember but these were definitely memorable.

Just like the Ruffino wines featured here, Pietro's is not flashy or trendy but is instead a stead and totally dependable entity. The drab room aside the excellent food and good service make for a wonderful dining experience. Highly recommended.

232 E. 43rd St.
(bet. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)
Manhattan, NY
212 682 9760