by Mort Hochstein
January 29, 2008
Primehouse New York
381 Park Ave S
@ 27th St
Jake, my grandson, is sixteen, and “cool” is his mantra. He wouldn’t admit to awe of anyone or anything. If he’s impressed, no one else knows it. So as I watched him express his unabashed enthusiasm for Primehouse New York in lower Manhattan, I was fascinated and decided to use him as my gauge throughout our recent meal there.
Jake’s grandmother, Rollie, and I were shocked when we sat down and the first word Jake said was “wow!” The “wow!” may have reflected his appreciation of the stark yet haute décor of the large black, beige and white dining room, or maybe the massive array of silverware in front of him, or it may have been a comment on the attractive greeter who escorted us to our table or the equally attractive waitress who delivered our menus. That last seems likely because the next shocker was when he asked us, “Do you have to be beautiful to work here?
Then, again, perhaps Jake was intrigued, overwhelmed even, by all the knives and forks set before him. Studying the arsenal of implements, he asked “Do colleges teach courses in etiquette?”
Jake, though only recently half-past sixteen, has already visited more than a few fine-dining houses with us and these remarks were a revelation, definitely a break from “cool.” He stayed intent on that same comely server as she meticulously prepared his Caesar salad at the table, cracking an egg into a huge bowl of greens and meticulously blendng the ingredients. I’ve seen too many faulty Casesar salads in lesser restaurants, too many substituted ingredients, too many omissions. This was the real thing, croutons, dry mustard, lemon juice, anchovies, grated Parmesan cheese, nothing left out.
Jake, we’re happy to report, eats salad because he likes it and not because an adult tells him he must. Despite the volume in that huge bowl, he put his Caesar salad away easily and then happily took on the next challenge: a huge, 20-ounce bone-in rib eye, the steak overtaking his plate and accompanied by — what else for a teenager — French fries. But these, like almost every item prepared by executive chef Jason Miller, had a special touch. The fries stood tall in a vertical cone-shaped plate, and were enhanced by truffle oil and sprinkled with Asiago cheese. The kid was good enough to share them with us. It’s hard to resist fries so extraordinarily dressed, diet or not.
We elders started off with an over-the-top mixed seafood plate, what the French would label un plateau de fruits de mer, and what the menu writers here called a “chilled shellfish Chrysler.” I didn’t ask how it got that name. This was the smaller of two seafood platters — the other being called an Empire — and ours held a couple of jumbo shrimp, a half pound Maine lobster, four oysters, four littleneck clams, a pair of snow crab claws, ocean fish ceviche and a trio of sauces; traditional cocktail, mignonette, and ginger aioli. It was a particularly zesty aioli, of which, shamelessly, I called for a second serving, which also disappeared rapidly.
Continuing our sharing pattern, we elected to split a 14-ounce New York sirloin, and even that was almost more than we old folks could handle. The wonderfully aged steak was perfectly charred on the outside, medium rare within, and had all the juiciness, sweetness and tanginess you seek and seldom find in beef today. We can never resist creamed spinach at a steakhouse and this lived up to expectations — maybe a bit too much butter, but who can quibble over a dish this tasty. It vanished quickly, as did a side of roasted organic mushrooms. Across the table, Jake was enjoying the beef and fries and generously sharing them with us.
We went for novelty among the desserts, electing a plate of doughnuts accompanied by chocolate, butterscotch and strawberry jam fillings and a syringe to insert the content of your choice. The doughnuts and their fillings took me back more than half a century to early mornings in my father’s bakery when I was shaken out of bed to fry doughnuts and pump jelly into them.
Primehouse, with its unique open-to-view, glassed-in aging room, is one among a growing crowd of steakhouses satisfying the recently awakened carnivorous appetites of New Yorkers. From marketing wiz Stephen Hanson’s B.R. Guest group, Primehouse counts among its peers Fiamma, Blue Water Grill, three Dos Caminos in New York and David Burke’s Primehouse in Chicago.
Did we need yet another steakhouse? Well, just try to get a reservation. It may take a while, but if you’ve got a generous expense account or deep pockets, you’ll be rewarded with great beef. You’ve got ten steak choices, including three reserve cuts available nightly on a limited basis and a 39-ounce Porterhouse for two, sliced tableside, plus a smaller selection of non-beef and seafood options. We’ll definitely be going back; Jake is already asking when.