New York City

January 14, 2009

I added Gothamist to my Google Reader feed and wish I’d done it sooner.  The subscription is especially great because they regularly share great photography.  Below, a few examples.

Abandoned Harlem Unveiled

First Look at New Yankee Stadium

New Standard Hotel Now Open (Sort Of)

Lunch at Luger’s

December 14, 2008

My father is a wonderful cook.  He is capable of producing meals from our Armenian heritage, eagerly tackles Spanish comfort dishes, and has a particular way with fruits di mare.  But if there’s a flaw in his culinary portfolio, it’s not what he produces for the dinner table, but the esteem in which he holds certain of his dishes, most notably, his steak.

Going out for a steak is a quintessentially American practice that my father would have none of.  When my grandparents (note: his inlaws) celebrated their 60th anniversary, our family went to a trendy steakhouse in Worcester (yes, there is one) and he reluctantly approved of the meal that was roundly praised by everyone in company.  By contrast, I very much enjoy going out and getting an occasional steak.  I think the particular benefit of going out for steak is the quality of the meat that you enjoy at a steakhouse — far superior to the average cuts you’ll get at a supermarket and likely even a butcher shop.  It also provides a very traditional, reliable, masculine sense of satisfaction.

And so, while home for Thanksgiving, I told my father that when I got back to the city, I’d be going for lunch at Peter Luger Steakhouse as an indulgent means of celebrating my new job.  He’d just seen a special on Luger’s on the Food Network and, intrigued, wanted to know about the meal after I’d finished it.  I told him I’d give him a call.

I went to Luger’s with my friend Jeff, who is as rich of a gourmand as any 24-year old can be.  I’m frequently privy to his stories of luxe dining in Europe and in New York and often left hungry when the conversation ends.  A victim of the recent investment banking implosion, his afternoons are free while he charts his next course, so we went for lunch.

Though I’d never been to Luger’s, I knew it was a casual restaurant, with its famously gruff waiters and rustic interior.  Still, anticipating at least a somewhat businessy crowd, I wore khaki’s, dress shoes and a tie.  I walked to Jeff’s apartment and waited outside; he emerged in a tattered Brown University t-shirt and jeans two sizes too big.  I’m not sure if he showered.

It was obvious that I had overthought the day and, by extension, the restaurant.  When we arrived at Luger’s, I recognized the interior from the television show, but not the clientele.  I expected to see business lunches, with the Brioni-clad man to my right closing a real estate deal as tore into Luger’s famous porterhouse.  Instead, there were a number of contractors and other regular-looking folk who might not have worn ties in the last year, let alone for lunch in Brooklyn.

Luger’s is known as much for its steak as for its atmosphere, raw tabletops, chalk-and-bone colored plates and servers wearing white shirts and black bowties.  It helps to dine with a veteran, because I was soon privy to the small details that make Luger’s what it has become.  “No menus,” said Jeff as he quickly ordered a tomato and onion salad and bacon strips for our appetizer.  This, too, was reported in the special.  The appetizers come out in deference to each other: the tomatoes and onions, both the thickest, crispest I’ve ever had, rest quietly on top of one another, while the bacon (if it can be called bacon) arrives crackling.  It’s less bacon and more massive ham steak.  Both were delicious and were enjoyed with the house sauce, meant to be applied to everything but the steak.

Luger’s is famous for its porterhouse, of course, so we ordered it for two and it arrived soon thereafter.  The arrival of the steak is something of a show.  According to the special, the rule at Luger’s is that the steaks must be removed from the oven, sliced into pieces, and delivered to the table in no less than two minutes.  A small plate is placed near the edge, on which the platter rests, so that the juices and buttery solvents flow toward the bottom for quick scooping.  With two spoons, the waiter places the sizzling meat on my plate and drizzles it with juice as we begin eating.

As if there was ever a doubt, the steak was bliss.  My preferred sirloin chunks were flavorful and tender, and the filet had a supple note that stood out.  It was a flawless plate.

“And the best thing,” Jeff says with a pause, “is that it is like this every single time.”

Peter Luger democratizes gourmet dining — and make no mistake, the eating at Luger is elite by any measure.  Jeff commented that Luger is “begrudgingly” awarded a Michelin star because despite the absence of tablecloths, it does its one thing so well that even the most snobbish of food critics must recognize its performance.  But Luger’s is well-liked as much for its charm and decency as for its food.  As we slumped in our chairs, defeated from the meal, Jeff lamented to the waiter that I wouldn’t be able to try the “schlag,” a homemade whipped cream that accompanies each desert.  He gave a chuckle, picked up our plates and returned a minute later with a completely unexpected, complimentary bowl of schlag that was a sincere and perfect cap to the meal.

As we struggled to carry ourselves back to the subway, I called my father and reported my experience.  I’m sure he didn’t quite grasp my satisfaction, and though the meal is affordable by gourmet standards, he thought I’d lost a screw for paying that much for steak.  But I’d do it again today, and I’m not sure if it could get old.