May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Consider the bone-in-strip at Strip House.
It costs $49, about the going rate for USDA Prime in New York. It’s a big son of a gun, standing almost two inches tall, weighing 20 ounces.
The strip is broiled at 1,400 degrees, imparting a dark char. It’s speckled with peppercorns and salt. Inside, the meat is crimson rare.
Juices don’t spill out when cut, indicating that the kitchen let the beef rest for a few minutes before sending it out. So far, so good.
Then you take a bite. These cows were clearly raised on, mostly, decent grass. There’s none of that unctuous mouth feel you get from pure corn-fed beef.
Still, something’s not quite right.
The beef lacks beefiness. Remember those ethereal notes of musk, minerals, game and liver from the dry-aged cuts at Minetta? They’re nowhere to be found here, where the steaks are wet-aged. Strip House’s sirloin has all the flavor of brined chicken breast.
All right then, try the ribeye ($46). The texture and taste are almost identical, with none of the signature marbling of a Prime grade. Still, no one seems to notice.
Strip House is packed with well-dressed men and women who will easily spend about $150 per person after wine, tax and tip.
Such is the unfortunate acceptance of mediocrity at Stephen Hanson’s latest acquisition. He’s the private-equity-backed impresario behind the Dos Caminos national brand.
Why build a steakhouse when you can buy two? Last year, Hanson purchased the Greenwich Village and Las Vegas locations of Strip House, leaving the Florida, Texas and New Jersey outposts with the original Glazier Group owners.
The Manhattan flagship, which once served some of the best steaks anywhere, still boasts an “Amsterdam red” dining room, designed by David Rockwell.
Pictures of nudes still adorn the walls, suggesting the pun that gives the place its name.
Downstairs, there’s a handsome new grill room for walk-ins; the full menu is offered there, along with cheaper fare, like tender fried calamari ($14), French onion soup ($12) and a decent bacon burger ($18).
Sweet crabcakes ($17) and garlic bread ($8) are your go-to appetizers. Caesar salad ($14) tastes fresh from the bag and bottle while tomato salad is so cold your teeth will hurt ($14).
Abstain from the blubbery bacon strips ($19).
Beware the up-sell. Waiters wax poetic about the raw seafood platter. What’s the price tag?
“Ninety-eight dollars for the table.”
Funny, wasn’t it $49 on a previous visit? Strip House conveniently forgets to mention the half-size tray if you’re a party of four, even though the smaller serving can feed five.
Here’s what you get: oysters, some with pieces of shell, others with no liquor, still others with popped bellies. Scallop ceviche has lots of lemony tang, no shellfish sweetness. Alaskan king crab legs are waterlogged and poached shrimp taste like cardboard.
Maine lobsters are listed as “market price.” How much will a two-pounder cost?
“Twenty-six dollars per pound,” replies the server; he’d rather not scare you off with the $52 price tag. The crustacean arrives with the aromatic shell missing, the tamale and juices gone.
Instead, there’s just a pile of meat, as if it had been removed and reheated from a plastic container.
The porterhouse “for two” is advertised at $45 per person, which means it’s always $90, especially for whoever’s paying the bill. How does it taste? Like ordinary beef.
In any case, pair it with a Ladera California Cabernet ($20), or a Cotes De Bordeaux ($17) from Chateau Des Mille Anges. Both have enough acid and tannins to keep court with the steaks. But both are poured away from the table, which means you really don’t know what you’re getting.
Truffled spinach ($12) manages to keep the flavor of the greens amid all the cream. Also good are goose fat-fried potatoes ($12) and the super-early creamed corn ($9).
Skip dessert. There’s no sting of alcohol in baked Alaska because there’s no tableside flambe. And the banana tart tastes like any other.
If traditional fine dining is effortless, Strip House requires vigilance and patience; we weren’t seated until 30 minutes past our reservation one night. The casual, careless atmosphere of American steakhouses doesn’t fly in an era of food inflation where beef, once an affordable indulgence, is now a $50 luxury.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: About $150 per person after wine, tax, tip.
Sound Level: Very loud, often over 80 decibels.
Inside Tip: Dry-aged cuts sometimes offered as specials.
Special Feature: Higher-end wines by the glass available downstairs, like a $28 Duckhorn Merlot. (For no good reason, those wines are not served upstairs.)
Back on My Own Dime: No.
Strip House is at 13 East 12th Street. Information: +1-212-328-0000 or http://www.striphouse.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include art auctions and Greg Evans on film.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.