The Clocktower

5 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10010(212) 413-4300 • theclocktowernyc.com

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The Clocktower is so damn good, time stands still. From the moment you walk through the door, you are hit by a bar so insanely hip that you almost don’t want to head up the equally stylish spiral staircase. But please do, because b-b-b-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Upstairs, the décor is simply magnificent. Like a grand, ritzy social club with high ceilings, huge rooms and stunning walls covered in a smattering of incredible black and white photography. And while the setting alone goes a long way in making you feel richer than you actually are, so does the staff, from waiters to hosts, you feel catered to like a Russian oligarch.

And that’s not just the booze talking, because I hadn’t even had a drink yet. But once I did, Whoa Nilly! I only tried two of the cocktails but both were excellent. The first going by the name The Cereal Killer, served in an old-fashioned mini milk bottle, complete with a red striped straw. It’s made with bourbon and Cheerios milk. Need I say more?

On the flip side from rich, the other end of the cocktail spectrum is nailed with comparable skill in the refreshingly light, Dill or no Dill. It’s comprised of gin, cucumber, lemon and dill, of course. Speaking of which, I love the touch they add to the glass with a teeny, tiny clothespin on the rim holding a sprig of fresh dill to the brim.

While we’re on the topic of hooch, the wine list is quite impressive as well, although the majority of the options are a bit steep ($200+), but luckily there are some solid affordable options on the list, even if they’re the minority. Like the Prisoner Cabernet blend (Syrah and Zin both play supporting roles) which I only just discovered days earlier. Great wine and an even better deal.

Firing on all cylinders, the food proves to be every bit as exquisite as its surroundings, plated with an architect’s eye, the presentations keep wowing one after the other, as do the bites. The first being the bread and butter, which might very well be an Ultimate, served warm, right out of the oven with a soft churned, salted butter that melts into every nook and cranny, making it a moral imperative to “get it while it’s hot.”

Going four for four on starters is also great way to get into my good graces, as all of them were shades of fabulous. In fact it was like Sophie’s Choice trying to decide which one was the best. The risotto with chanterelles, crispy veal sweetbreads and lemon confit was an Ultimate, so I tend to lean there, but that should take nothing away from the steak tartar au poirve with horseradish cream and charred onions which was superb. As were the pan seared scallops done up with cauliflower, pickled raisins and burnt butter. The native lobster might’ve been the least amazing of the bunch the more I think about it, but only in terms of flavor, because the presentation stole the show, served over ice, still in the tail, then mixed into an apple, mussel and fennel salad.

In terms of entrees, however, the winner was much more cut and dry. The lamb was the runaway champion, slow cooked and served with spiced eggplant and roasted salsify. Such a mastery of flavors on the fork, you have to stand in awe at the artistry. Following the lamb as a distant second would be the halibut with pink peppercorn sauce, seaweed and a carrot puree. And bringing up the rear was the filet mignon, which is a complete missed opportunity in my opinion (although the fries were good). Skip the steaks. There are so many inventive preparations on the menu that truly showcase the chef’s skill, so why would you ever go for something you could just as easily get at a Smith & Wollensky or Morton’s?

Closing strong, the dessert course also delivered yet another Ultimate, the best tart tatin I’ve had since La Goulue closed down (RIP). It’s made with pink lady apples and topped with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and if I could have children with a dessert it would most likely be this one. The other two desserts didn’t fare as well for me, however. I thought the pistachio soufflé with chocolate ice cream sounded amazing, but somehow fell short in execution, tasting less nutty and more chalky than one would hope. And the grapefruit sorbet with hazelnut streusel and fennel marmalade also proved to be better in theory than in practice.

But no place is without its misses and The Clocktower had very few. Surmounting its hype and outshining its next door neighbor Eleven Madison Park. Sure, them’s fightin’ words, but bring it on. I’d be happy to go toe to toe with any dissenting foodies out there who say otherwise. And I’m not just saying that because Clocktower is my new restaurant crush… Okay, that’s exactly why I’m saying it. But so what?

5 teeth

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Peter Luger Steak House

178 Broadway Brooklyn, NY 11211(718) 387-7400 peterluger.com

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There are two types of New York Steakhouses, old school and new school. And while they both obviously serve steaks as their main event, I truthfully find the experiences to be apples and oranges. Refined versus reminiscent. Inventive versus simple. Pricey versus- okay, well they’re all pricey.

So, where does Peter Luger fall in this? At the very top of the apples (a.k.a old school). The steaks are sourced, aged and cooked to perfection, along with a little butter. Served sliced, which I found novel and a touch risky, allowing all of those juices to get out before serving (pictured), but somehow Peter overcame, serving up a buttery, delicious pile of sliced meat.

The other surprise was how casual the setting is. Similar to Old Homestead and Smith & Wollensky, Peter Luger leverages the Tudor house of décor, but the vibe and the details are such that it almost makes you feel awkward to be dressed up, unlike the aforementioned.

But perhaps the most shocking thing of all about Peter Luger is what I’m about to tell you next… Don’t go for the steak. Go for the strudel. I have been to the finest strudel maker in Vienna, where strudel is practically religion, and I submit to you now that Peter Luger’s apple strudel is better. So take that Austria. How you like them apples?

P.S. They used to only take cash, so bring a wad the size of your femur because the place isn’t cheap.

4 teeth

 

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse

157 Chrystie St. New York, NY 10002(212) 673-0330

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By and large there are two types of steakhouses in the city, the old school types like the Strip House, Old Homestead, Gallagher’s, Smith & Wollensky and Peter Luger. And the newfangled types like BLT Steak, BLT Prime and Quality Meats. And then there’s Sammy’s Roumanian, in a class unto istelf.

And by class I sort of mean the absence of class. You see, there is nothing about Sammy’s that anyone would ever mistake as “classy.” Cheesy perhaps. Schticky for certain. But definitely not classy. And the thing is, Sammy full on knows this and makes zero attempt to avoid it. Rather they embrace it full on, diving head first into an experience that feels like a three-way between The Wedding Singer, Tony & Tina’s Wedding and beef.

The festivities begin with a bottle of vodka served in a block of ice, placed directly on your table. No shit. Check out the picture above. So when it comes to your alcohol tolerance, bring your A game. Especially if you’re a smaller party.

Thereafter, you will be entertained by a Bat MItzvah-type emcee who looks like he stepped out of the 80’s, armed with a keyboard, a microphone and an arsenal of vaudeville puns that will have you cringing from ear to ear, so much that it somehow becomes smiling. Call it magic. Call it vodka. Whatever it be, it’s fun. You simply just can’t have a bad time here. I don’t know why. Because every fiber of your being would tell you otherwise. But it is the genuine nature in which it is pulled off that keeps it pure. It is the spirit and vibe of the place that keeps it light. And it is the originality and novelty of experience that makes it a fresh departure from its comparatively stuffy cohorts.

So what about the food? Well, it’s not quite up there with the best, but Sammy does have its moments. The meat, while garlicky, is still pretty good, granted you shouldn’t expect an array of beef cuts to choose from. However things like chopped liver with schmaltz, smashed potatoes with onions, stuffed cabbage and an egg cream dessert will all make up for whatever is missing with a coma-inducing chicken fat hangover. Bon appetite!

4 teeth

Old Homestead

56 9th Ave. New York, NY 10011(212) 242-9040 theoldhomesteadsteakhouse.com

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This old school NY Steakhouse is so old, you’ll to feel like you hit a wormhole when you entered through the door. Suddenly it’s as though you’re back in the 1800’s from the decor, to the staff to portion control. And once you see the size of those portions, it’s kinda hard to focus on anything else- or perhaps see around your food to look at anything else. Yes, it’s THAT big. Guess no one told them gluttony is a sin.

I had a NY Strip that was about the size of my forearm, no exaggeration. A baked potato that was about the size of a newborn baby, slight exaggeration. But thing is, it wasn’t half bad. To be honest I found the food to be much better than Smith and Wollensky’s and The Palm, but that’s not saying much. And while Homestead isn’t what I would call “great,” portions withstanding, it’s definitely worth a visit for novelty sake. After all, it’s not often that a steakhouse serves portions only slightly smaller than the animal from whence they came. Almost reminds me of the Steakhouse version of an old NYC favorite of mine from long ago, the Royal Canadian Pancake House (RIP)- also insanely massive portions – pancakes the size of manhole covers, no exaggeration- but I digress.

3 teeth

The Palm

837 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10017 • (212) 687-2953 • thepalm.com/Palm-One

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If you’ve read my review of Smith & Wollensky, The Palm isn’t much better- actually, in some cases worse, because at least they technically know how to cook a steak  at S & W. I have been to the Palm 3 times- fortunately never on my own dime, and one time the kitchen was so off their game they should’ve fired the chef on the spot.

I ordered a steak medium rare (the most common order for steak on the planet) and it took them three tries before they got it right! THREE!!! I’m sorry, but The Palm is coasting on glory long gone.  I honestly cook better steaks on my grill at home and I’m far from a grillmaster.

But here’s the irony, The Palm, while a shitty steakhouse for certain, also happens to be the greatest anomaly on my blog to date, being that they are the ONLY restaurant to ever get only one knife, while also boasting an Ultimate! Their Chicken Paillard is tops.

1 tooth