Fizzle, Not Sizzle, Sinks Arlington Club: Ryan Sutton
There seems to be no end to the abuses New Yorkers will suffer in the search for a good meal. Why? I mean, it’s my job to eat at bad restaurants. Everyone else can get up and leave.
These were my musings as I visited the crowded mess hall that is Arlington Club, a steakhouse-slash-sushi spot on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The first of three dining companions cut his losses early. He entered, noted the 90-decibel screaming all around, apologized and left.
Here’s what he missed:
A 35-minute wait for our reserved table, during which time we were put off by the host and ignored by the bartender. Then things went downhill.
The host didn’t apologize for the wait, but she did ask us to close out our bar tab. I tried a little persuasion.
“Can you please transfer the check,” I tell the bartender, balancing three drinks with two hands. No dice.
“My hands are kind of full, can I give you my card later?”
“Sorry, I need a card.”
The host walks us to our table as the cocktails splash over me. She finally offers to help as I climb a staircase to the cramped upstairs dining room. Welcome to Siberia, Ivan Denisovich.
All right, things can go wrong on any given night even at New York’s best restaurants. And when they do, good food and wine usually smooth out rough edges.
Then there’s Arlington Club. Over three visits I endured such a systemic failure of cooking and hospitality that I half-expected Ashton Kutcher to throw a cream pie in my face and shout: “Just kidding!”
Women dining at the bar wear fur coats in an effort to stay warm as the front door lets in frigid air. This type of flaw would be understandable at a mom-and-pop shop. But Arlington Club is run by the people behind Lavo and Tao, two of the country’s highest-grossing restaurant concepts. They can afford heat.
In 2010, I gave Lavo’s New York location half a star. The Arlington Club is better, though not by much. So much for the triumphant reboot of chef Laurent Tourondel, whose fare includes macadamia coconut shrimp rolls ($17). The haute hat-tip to TGI Friday’s doesn’t quite work.
Neither do the sushi rolls, tasting fresh out of the supermarket refrigerator aisle. Truffled Kobe beef over rice betrays neither Kobe nor truffle flavor; it’s luxurious in price only ($17). Rubbery rock shrimp maki suggest something made long ago and far away.
Arlington Club hopes to get you in and out fast. So better ask for raw bar items as a separate course. Otherwise the kitchen will send out your plump oysters ($18 for a half-dozen) and fatty bluefin toro ($28) with all your hot appetizers, crowding the table and leaving you to strategize what to eat at prime temperature.
Lobster bisque gets chilly quickly, which hardly matters, since the soup, sugary as creamed maple syrup, contains a scientifically insignificant amount of shellfish flavor.
Tarragon in the crabcakes ($26) completely suppresses the flavor of crab. Shrimp cocktail ($15), the Ur steakhouse side dish, is like a ball of rubber bands cut into crescent slices. Free popovers, which may arrive burnt, are delivered with butter so cold it’s un-spreadable.
Wine service is, well, nonexistent. When one of us asked for a red to start the meal with, the waiter recommended a big-bodied super-Tuscan ($17), the oenological equivalent of benching pressing a Humvee without first warming up on Nautilus.
That red comes in the same glass as the one for a nimble, nervy riesling ($12). Of course, you’re never offered a pre-purchase taste; the vino is served already-poured, chain-restaurant style. Consider yourself lucky it arrived at all, a glass of $28 rose champagne, ordered shortly after our steaks hit the table, didn’t come until I was almost finished eating.
And as for the steak, Tourondel offers the usual gamut of beef. All the cuts are underseasoned. The ribeye for one ($62) and cote de boeuf for two ($125), as well as the strip steak ($52) are all cooked to order, but lack the musk and mineral tang of dry aging that keep us going back to Minetta and The Dutch. Only the cheapest steak, the $34 skirt cut, packs a beefy punch.
Then you try braised Wagyu short ribs, big on price ($38) and short on flavor, leaving your hands and innards coated with enough oil to light a lantern.
Smarter diners will remember what made Tourondel famous at the long-closed Cello: Fish.
Red snapper ($36), while arriving cold, is brilliant, pungent with scallions. Black bass ($34), steamed en papillote, is a clever conduit for coconut milk and cilantro. And Dover sole ($59) is pure brown-butter bliss.
Sure you could get a decent warm sticky date pudding for dessert, or a scoop of coconut sorbet that melts before you can finish it. But really, you’re better off following the path of my first guest and leaving. You don’t have to be here. I do.
Rating: 1/2 *
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Often $150 or more per person.
Sound Level: Over 90 decibels in the bar.
Date Place: Would you keep your date waiting 35 minutes?
Special Feature: Noise is a welcome distraction from the food.
Inside Tip: Stick with oysters, Caesar salad, Dover sole.
Back on My Own Dime: No.
Arlington Club is at 1032 Lexington Avenue. Information: +1-212-249-5700.
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. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com)
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