Brooklyn's Peter Luger Steak House has been around since 1887, but it took only minutes for the restaurant’s reputation to take a devastating hit.
“The restaurant will always have its loyalists,” wrote New York Times critic Pete Wells this week. “They will laugh away the prices, the $16.95 sliced tomatoes that taste like 1979, the $229.80 porterhouse for four. They will say that nobody goes to Luger for the sole, nobody goes to Luger for the wine, nobody goes to Luger for the salad, nobody goes to Luger for the service."
"The list goes on, and gets harder to swallow, until you start to wonder who really needs to go to Peter Luger, and start to think the answer is nobody.” Wells gave it zero stars.
The first question everyone asked was whether the food is really that bad. The short answer is no.
The 2020 Michelin Guide, for instance, gives it one star, meaning: “a very good restaurant.” And in a short poll of a dozen friends who have eaten there recently, including chefs, financiers, and other food-media folks, the general consensus was that it’s still solid, if inconsistent.
But descriptions such as the one Wells gave to a burger (“a weird hybrid whose interior shaded from nearly perfect on one side to gray and hard on the other”) have some kernel of unhappy truth.
In their defense, the restaurant released a statement: “While the reviewers and their whims have changed... we know who we are and have always been. The best steak you can eat. Not the latest kale salad,” jibed general manager David Berson.
Still, if Luger’s magic spell on meaty New York has now been broken for you, here are six alternatives in Manhattan to try where the beef is flavorful, cooked with care, and deeply satisfying, again and again - and two aren’t even your classic steakhouse.
Cote, Flatiron District
A meal at Cote - a brilliant mashup of American steakhouse and Korean barbecue in a night club-esque space from Simon Kim – is also one of the city’s better beef bargains.
The Butcher’s Feast of American wagyu goes for US$54 and features four cuts grilled at the table, including a tender, 45-day dry-aged USDA Prime rib-eye and succulent sweet marinated short rib; it was on our list of Best Dishes of 2017.
The go-for-it steak omakase (US$165) is a multicourse extravaganza that includes nine steak courses such as Steak & Egg, American wagyu tenderloin with golden ossetra caviar. An added bonus is the encyclopedic wine list from Victoria James, with an extensive Grand Cru selection.
Smith & Wollensky, Midtown
For more than 40 years, Smith & Wollensky has anchored a corner of east Midtown with its handsome green-and-white facade. Its USDA prime beef is dry-aged for up to 28 days.
The most famous customer is Warren Buffett, whose preferred cut is sirloin (US$49); regulars call out the Cajun Rib Steak (US$59), rubbed with a mix of spices, including garlic powder and cayenne.
“It’s a great cut of meat, with good marbling and fat content that give it a robust and meaty flavor. The char is expertly all over the steak – not just a casual flame from the salamander,” says a hedge fund manager who eats there several times a month.
Bowery Meat Company, East Village
Chef and co-owner Josh Capon has strong opinions about eating steak. The menu lists unconventional selections such as the Bowery “rib-cap” steak, a creation of Capon and celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda that has been on the menu since day 1; a thick, juicy rib-eye is garnished with the lusciously fatty cap that was trimmed from it, and finished with a dollop of salsa verde.
Unlike a lot of places, there’s also a good selection of steaks for two, such as the 40-day, dry-aged Porterhouse and the attention-getting 40 oz. Tomahawk rib-eye, a gloriously funky, chewy, caveman-style cut that’s dry aged for 50 days.
Chefs and owners Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr used to run the kitchen at the meat-and-burger destination Minetta Tavern. Their 18-month-old brasserie isn’t a steakhouse – meat is a minority player on the menu (alongside snails) – but the two steaks they do offer are stellar.
The steak frites cut changes frequently; when I devoured one, it was a nicely marbled flatiron, well-seared with a satisfying bite, all doused with anchovy butter. The heroic, dry-aged New York strip is bone-in, so it’s notably juicy and beefy and serves two.
Strip House, Greenwich Village
Some steakhouses deliver especially well on atmosphere. Strip House has the feel of a time-machine Vegas steakhouse, softly lit with white tablecloths, big sexy booths, and red walls covered with black-and-white photos.
The menu is stacked with tweaked staples such as candied bacon with pickled shallots; the tuna tartare is embellished with avocado butter. Its steak offerings, meanwhile, are a checklist of classics: a buttery dry-aged New York strip (US$54); bone-in rib-eye (US$64), and a filet mignon that’s thick as a pillow and moist within. The potatoes crisped in goose fat are a mandatory side.
Porter House New York, Midtown
Tucked up several flights of escalators in the Shops at Columbus Circle, chef Michael Lomonaco’s power dining room shines with Central Park views; in fact, it has more windows than all the other New York steakhouses combined.
His USDA Prime offerings include a cowboy rib steak with garlic confit (US$70) and a double cut rib-eye Cote de Boeuf, gilded with red wine and marrow.
The fat-laced Japanese wagyu New York strip is A5 – meltingly tender. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, there’s an option of prime rib, which you don’t see often enough in the city, slow-roasted with bone marrow to put it over the top.