Prime Time In the Big AppleÖ

By Bob Bickell

There are exactly 23,000 restaurants in New York City and 25,000 are steakhouses (at least it seems that way). One thing is for certain - Americanís are officially hooked on red meat, and now more than ever, they are eagerly continuing to support their favorite steakhouses. This support has ignited the steakhouse sector and money doesnít appear to be the problem. Owners are spending big dollars building them and maintaining them, and the public is spending big money dining in them.

There are great steakhouses all over America, but somehow they are decidedly better in New York than any place else, and itís so much more than just the food. And please donít suggest that a steakhouse is a steakhouse, and they all are basically the same. They come in all shapes and sizes, and while the attention focuses primarily on steak, the differences can be most significant. We have included some interesting steakhouse possibilities below.

I love the word ambiance (ambience) and I appreciate how important it is to the restaurant experience. Most people feel that the ambiance kicks in when you walk into the restaurant, but the real definition is a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing. In this case itís the place Ė New York itself is the ambiance. New York is the buzz, and no disrespect intended, if you place any classic Manhattan restaurant in Kansas City, Dallas, or Cincinnati, (or any city for that matter) itís not going to be the same. My simple conclusion is that New York steakhouses are better because they are located in New York.

People who live in New York get accustomed to the "Buzz", but ask them to leave the area for an extended period and they go out of their minds. Leave New York for good and it probably means years of serious decompression. Visitors feel the buzz the moment they hit the city. A famous songwriter called it "a beautiful noise" but no matter what you choose to call it, you canít help but feel it. The restaurants are an extension of this never ending party, and everything just feels and tastes better.

If you really want some serious buzz (and a superior steak), spend a few minutes with Mr. William "Jack" Degel, the owner of the popular Uncle Jackís Steakhouse. To suggest this man is enthusiastic would be a gross understatement. This owner is driven, and if General George Patton has truly been re-incardinated, he is alive and well in a bustling steakhouse at 440 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. Uncle Jackís is a reflection of this ownerís personality, and predictably, this place is jumping.

Jack" knows about the importance of service, and simply put, you wonít find better. He also understands the steakhouse business is all about ingredients Ė you buy the best of everything because thatís what a great steakhouse is all about. Weíre talking about 21- day, dry-aged USDA prime meats, Kobe Beef, and Australian Lobster Tails. The house specialty is a 48-ounce Porterhouse for two and it makes for an unforgettable steakhouse experience. Uncle Jackís looks and behaves like a real (hardcore) steakhouse with the red velvet curtains, the tiffany lamps, the upholstered round booths, the beautiful wooden bar, the great wines, and the decadent desserts.

Perhaps the best example of the "not so hardcore" might be Rothís Westside Steakhouse with a single worldwide location on the upper Westside (680 Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street). The Roth part of it is an energetic owner named Marc Roth who is always at the restaurant and big difference here is the soothing sounds of live jazz that sets a very different, but relaxing mood. The restaurant is also located in a neighborhood and not on a busy Manhattan intersection. Everything about it is more of a friendly, upscale family restaurant than the prototypical New York steakhouse.

Mr. Roth still takes his steaks very seriously, and part of the program is a tableside presentation of the various cuts of meats and an ongoing education concerning the quality of USDA prime meats as well as the aging process and all aspects of the meal. Marc prides himself on his attention to service, and his attention to detail clearly demonstrates the benefit of having a caring owner so involved in the dining out process.

You might not find an actual owner at Ruthís Chris Steakhouse, but for Ruth Chris devotees (and there are tons of them) and basic steakhouse fans, this is a great choice. I couldnít resist asking their sales manager, Eric Ostrow, a question that might be politically impossible for him to answer. I wanted to know why the Ruthís Chris Steakhouse in New York seemed better than any of their other locations (not to imply that Iíve tried them all).

According to Mr. Ostrow, " I agree with you and itís all about being in New York. This location is our number one restaurant in terms of volume in the entire country. The guests of our steakhouses tend to be very loyal, and they come from all over to visit New York. They know what we are about and the seek us out - itís the benefit of being in such a dynamic city along with the fact that we have some eighty locations throughout the world. We have always stressed our Southern hospitality and New Yorkers appreciate this feeling about our restaurant. It also helps to have the best steaks in the world. At this steakhouse itís about the sizzle, and the dramatic presentation of every steak that leaves the kitchen."

Frankie & Johnnieís is what one would call a New York "Classic††††you get to be called that if youíve been around for some 75 years and folks like Citysearch name you the "The #1 Steakhouse in New York" (2005). This onetime speakeasy (opened during Prohibition in 1926) now has four locations including two in Manhattan and one in Rye, and the other in Hoboken. Each restaurant is housed in a classic and historic building and while there are differences in terms of presentation, the quality remains the same. Van Panopoulos, from the family that took over Frankie & Johnnieís in 1991 is understandably enthusiastic when talking about his restaurantsÖ "Take my word for it when I tell you that in terms of steaks, we only buy the best. My customers know this and all you have to do is visit anyone of our restaurants, and you will understand what the best is all about."

"What makes us interesting, is that we donít simply specialize in steaks. We have a diversified menu that begins with carefully prepared homemade soups to our fresh Maine Lobsters, and a host of delicious pastas. We are a steakhouse, but not everyone wants a steak. Itís important to us to offer a whole lot more."

The recently opened La Carne Grill is a glatt kosher steak and sushi house located at 340 Lexington Avenue between 39th and 40th streets. It is owned and operated by Eddie Allaham, who originally founded the popular Prime Grill on East 49th Street. Eddieís concept is an American/ French cuisine steakhouse featuring glatt kosher meats. The chef is Alexandre Petard who cooked for the legendary Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Jean Georges at the Trump International Hotel.

The La Carne Grill is both upscale and elegant and located on two floors with a bar on each floor. Itís also important to note that Eddie Allahamís family has been in the meat business for over 100 years, and so the man knows something about selecting and preparing great steaks, and thereís always an on-site kosher butcher. The steakhouse menu includes a variety of seafood dishes, and kosher sushi prepared by the restaurantís sushi chef.

For the past ten years, Nick Vuli has been the proud and successful owner of Flames Steakhouse in Westchester County. His second Flames location in the Financial District (5 Gold Street) is off and running, and even though the rent might be a whole lot higher, everything about the menu (including the prices) will remain the same as his suburban location. As executive chef and owner, Nick believes in keeping things simple, and his philosophy will also remain intact Ė buy the absolute best quality and sell it for less. It has worked wonders in Briarcliff Manor, and his second rendition of Flames in Manhattan is working those same wonders.

The good chef ages his steaks on the premises for four weeks and personally handpicks his steaks on a weekly basis. Everything (including seafood) is cut by hand, and the steaks are broiled at 1200 intense degrees (F) to capture the flavor and release the juices. The large Ecuadorian shrimp and the Canadian hard-shell lobsters are just an indication of the quality in seafood, and the featured steaks are taken from the porterhouse cut that combines the flavor of the strip steak and the tenderness of the filet.

Once again, the only thing that should stay constant as it relates to your steakhouse experience in New York is the quality of the food. When it comes to the subject of beef, the actual percentage of USDA prime is less than two percent and itís the most tender and flavorful beef. This means that itís going to be pricey, and it might even mean that not every steakhouse is going to give you this type of quality. Itís an old story, but you get what you pay for, and the best steakhouses will only give you the best. The good news is that in terms of quality steakhouses in this great City, there are more great choices than one could imagine.

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