Sunday, August 2, 2009

Brooklyn, Summer 2009

Full disclosure: this post is primarily about steak. Vegans: turn back now.

Made a pilgrimage last night to the king of steakhouses - Peter Luger in Brooklyn. We were looking to experience steak in all its glory. And what can I say? This was a perfect meal.

Picture if you will: a steakhouse in operation since 1887, a building set on a corner in Brooklyn that no doubt has seen a myriad of changes in the last hundred or so years; dark, wood paneling covering the walls of the many dining rooms, a long bar right at the entryway manned by very able but not very friendly barmen, and old-world waiters who guide your dinner experience like the venerable Obi Wan (" don't really need two orders of the jumbo shrimp cocktail, sir."). Do you have that picture firmly in your mind? If so, then we can proceed.

Set not far from the Williamsburg Bridge, Peter Luger's is to steak as Julia Child was to fearless French cooking. Arriving about 30 minutes early for our reservation, we gladly took seats at the bar to enjoy a cocktail. Two burly barmen stood sentry behind it, filling various drink orders. As I mentioned above, they were not very warm or welcoming, but boy could they make a drink. And, really, do you need more than that at this kind of establishment? I think not. On to dinner.

Seated at a nice four-top, Bernard (our Obi Wan look-alike) immediately greeted us and brought a basket of heavenly breads. No focaccia here, folks. We're talking salt sticks, yeasty dinner rolls, and onion rolls. With salted butter. I could have been very happy with just my cocktail and this basket of incredibly good bread, but more sensible heads prevailed.

Our friend, Lou, who had been to Luger's several times recommended we start with three appetizers to share. The first selection was Sliced Tomato and Onions with Luger's Sauce. I thought to myself, how boring does this sound? But figuring that there must be something to it if it was a key set piece on the menu, I dove right in. Large slices of juicy tomatoes with equally large slices of onion - no seasoning, nothing else on this plate. But when you drizzled the "special sauce" over it, it became wonderful. They tell me this sauce is available in your local supermarket - it will be on my next shopping list. I don't know what's in it, I can't even tell you what makes it so special, but it took everyday tomato and onions and ramped it up a notch.

Next, Luger's Sizzling Bacon, Extra Thick. This was simply four slices of the
most incredible, mouthwatering, delicious, not-at-all salty, bacon I've ever had.
This, plus my cocktail, plus that basket of breads and I could have been happy (you notice the list of "happy with just this and that" is getting
longer...). Really, this was nothing but four slices of sizzling bacon - that's it. Fabulous.

The last appetizer was the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Extra Large Portion (6). Six gorgeous, huge shrimp - plump and delicious, thank you very much.

Finally, we get to the real reason Luger's has been in business for lo these 123 years -their Porterhouse. Prime beef, chosen only by members of the family, and then dry-aged on-site until ready for consumption.

There are not many choices provided on how to order the steak - single steak or steak for two, three, or four. Even though we were a party of four, we ordered steak for three and were quite satiated. Peter Luger's porterhouse comes out sizzling and if it's a little too rare for any members of your party, you simply place a piece on the edge of the plate where it will continue to cook (very handy). This was a fantastic piece of meat - I couldn't stop eating it - tender, juicy, marvelously crusty exterior. Creamed spinach, onion rings, and the Special German Fried Potatoes brought up the rear. The potatoes were extraordinary - small, flavorful cubes fried crisp - nary a crumb was left on the plate. Not one item on our table required salt and pepper - everything had been expertly seasoned in the kitchen (imagine that).

Luger's has several nice items on the dessert list but we had other plans. Before I get to that, we need to wrap up on the steakhouse. I've been to Ruth's Chris, I've been to Morton's, and while those are good, if you want a true, old-world, rarefied steakhouse experience supplanted with outstanding quality, you've simply got to go to Peter Luger.
Peter Luger Steak House on Urbanspoon
You know I'm all about dessert. So don't think that just because we didn't have dessert at Luger's that we were passing on it altogether. Au contraire, mon freire. Our friends had heard about an ice cream shop set underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a beautiful, warm night so why not. Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is, indeed, right underneath the bridge, but we were obviously not the only people brought out by the nice weather. A long line snaked out the door. The store offers only about six flavors and after about a 20 minute wait, we took our turn at the counter, then headed outside to enjoy our cones, all the while gazing up the East River at the Statue of Liberty, the boats sailing by, and that incredible bridge soaring above us.

While my coffee ice cream was very creamy, a bit stronger coffee flavor would have been more to my liking. But when you've got the lights of the South Street Seaport twinkling across the river, the lovely River Cafe (also set at the base of the bridge) bustling with activity, and tourists from around the globe posing for pictures at the water's edge, why complain. This is the stuff a summer evening in New York is made of.

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