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Primehouse New York

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Primehouse New York

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Address: 381 Park Avenue South
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10016
Phone: (212) 824-2600
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Cuisine: Steakhouses
2nd Cuisine:
Area: Flatiron District


One of my favorite meals is quite a simple one. It’s made up of two, maybe three courses. It starts with a dozen freshly-shucked oysters and is followed up with a well-seasoned steak—charred-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside—preferably a rib eye or a NY strip. The third component might be creamed spinach, onion rings, or French fries, depending on my mood. It’s a bit decadent, but it’s not overly fussy, and that’s what I like about it. Curiously though, it’s rare that I ever have this meal. Since I’m often reviewing restaurants, my dinner choices are beyond my control. I don’t necessarily eat what I’m craving. Rather, I eat what’s on the menu that will give me the best idea of a chef’s talent and range. But once in a while, my perfect meal is actually in line with judging a chef’s talent. That’s the case at Primehouse, Steve Hanson’s cool and contemporary steakhouse in the former Park Avenue Country Club space. The restaurant is named for Prime, Hanson’s Black Angus stud bull, who lives on a farm in Kentucky, where his main job is to knock up all the cows he can find to make great beef for all of us. Thanks, Prime. Designed by Yabu Pushelberg, Primehouse is grand in scale, with triple height ceilings, and tall, smooth stone walls that reminded me of the Temple of Dendur room at the Met. The floors have a sexy La Dolce Vita vibe—oversized ovals of black tile on a contrasting background of glossy pearly white. The black and white motif extends to the tables. Extra-deep banquettes are fashioned from smooth black leather and tufted with white buttons, while cushioned armchairs are covered in crushed black fabric dotted with white. The bar area has a couple of flatscreens showing local games and high-top tables with banquettes for comfortable bar seating. While it’s a steakhouse that any guy would feel good in with his buddies—and indeed most nights the place is filled with dozens of guys with collars loosened and ties tossed back over their shoulders leaning into steaks the size of textbooks, the design is feminine enough to appeal to the ladies as well, who show equal passion for their meat. The night of my oyster-and-steak dinner at Primehouse actually took place during Passover, when Craig and I observe the Jewish version of the Atkins’ diet—no carbs, lots of protein. This is a challenge at Primehouse because dinner begins with a collection of locally baked bagel-shaped rolls threaded over the top of a silver stand with an upright spindle. It’s the kind of bread set-up that had me imagining the guys in the kitchen playing horseshoes. And if you should finish your sleeve of rolls, it will be refilled quickly and without question. As you’ll find at all of Hanson’s restaurants, the service is quick, efficient and very well-trained. But we were roll-free that night and we watched and wept as tables around us began tearing into the soft rolls and slathering them with butter, as we snacked on our Matzo. Oh the sacrifices we make for our religion. But soon we were tossing that same religion under the bus for the first course of our dinner—an icy silver tray lined with a dozen oysters—six East Coast and six West. We understand that eating oysters (and steak for that matter) while observing the rules of Passover makes little sense. But there we were anyway, slurping them down. They were plump and briny served with juicy lemon wedges and a bracing mignonette, and went well with the Chenin Blanc (kosher, of course) that Craig had brought in from a local store since at the moment the BR Guest is free of kosher selections. (The kosher stuff is getting better actually. We found some very good wine to pour at our wedding from Galil). Other than our oysters, we passed on appetizers that night to save room for our steak, which was a big boy sized slab—a Porterhouse for Two ($48pp). Dry aged so it’s tender and wildly flavorful, it weighed in at almost 40 ounces and was presented tableside for a score of Ooohs and Aaaahs, before being sliced by a skilled waiter/surgeon who plated tender ruby red slices of beautifully charred beef on our white plates like steak dominoes. The steak was terrific, with a satisfying chew and a salty meatiness that you crave from a good steak dinner. While there were a slew of steak sauces (horseradish, peppercorn, béarnaise, classic, and blue cheese, etc.) from which to choose to adorn our steak, they were unneeded and therefore went untouched. Instead, we augmented our steak with a few sides ($9 each and sized generously enough to feed ten to twelve friends)—creamed spinach and the truffle-Parmesan fries. The fries were actually steak-cut fries: skin-on wedges that were crunchy on the outside and hot and potatoey in the center, but I’m over truffle oil. (I think I was over it about 5 years ago.) I’d remake that recipe with salt and vinegar or even a nice spice rub instead. But the creamed spinach is among the best I’ve had. You can actually taste the spinach more than the cream, and it’s ramped up with a good deal of nutmeg and onions. It reminded me of a Persian dish my Bibi makes called Booroni—essentially sautéed spinach with soft scrambled eggs, onions, cinnamon and nutmeg. You should try it. It’s a great breakfast or light dinner with salad and warm pita. I returned to Primehouse again to expand my world beyond my favorite meal. Instead of oysters, this time we started with the classic Caesar salad ($11), which is prepared and served tableside in a neat little cart contraption that certainly seems to make a case for the Caesar salad making a foray into the world of street food. Our waiter explained the origin of the Caesar salad (it was invented in Tijuana, Mexico by a guy named Caesar Cardini, who was an Italian-born Mexican who created the salad from what was on hand in his pantry) as he added anchovy paste, fresh lemon juice, garlic, grated Parmesan and a stream of grassy green olive oil to a large bowl and began to whisk and whisk, and then dress the crunchy ribs of romaine. We could smell the garlic and cheese all along, to great effect. We opted to check out one of the more gimmicky items on the menu and added crab croutons ($8 extra) to our salad. While I loved the Caesar—bright, pungent, and ripe flavors—I’d skip the crabby croutons next time. They’re too dense and at room temperature they’re not particularly crisped. Instead just stick to those bagel-shaped rolls—served in two varieties: salt focaccia and black olive. They’re great slathered in butter but they also make for great bread mops for the leftover dressing in the bowl. Craig did such a good job of cleaning his bowl that I’m not sure it really needed to be washed. This visit would require me to try something other than steak, which I wasn’t all that happy about, but I felt like I had to try a fish dish, just to test the kitchen’s ability to do something other than sear and roast beef. Craig decided he had to try one of the Reserve Cuts that’s aged in the restaurant’s Himalayan Salt Room and a side of Old School Hash Browns ($9) and a white rectangular casserole of crusty mac ‘n cheese, dense with cheese and mini shells, but not as gooey and creamy as I’d have liked. While I picked at my pan-roasted halibut ($28)—a large pale filet that didn’t seem pan-roasted as much as steamed, served over slippery braised escarole dotted with pistachios and artichokes in a lackluster sage emulsion, Craig sliced into a glistening slab of beef—a 35-day aged Kansas City bone-in, and the juices swam across his plate in my direction. I couldn’t resist. I promptly abandoned my halibut and moved in closer to Craig and that steak, which we ended up sharing, with a bottle of Spanish Bierzo (Descendientes de J. Palacios, ‘Petalos’, 2006, $45 selected by sommelier Sean Josephs who's a great guy and a phenomenal wine resource), and a cast-iron skillet of browned crispy potatoes, the sort that would be welcome at brunch topped with fried eggs. And when the meat was all gone, we briefly considered gnawing at the bone to get those very last little bits. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare fish to steak, but I’d have continued eating the halibut if it were deserving, but it wasn’t. The fish was bland and uninteresting—a non-event in terms of flavor. There’s no need to delve into the Ocean Meats section (where you’ll find fish listed). I’d stick to what the kitchen does best and that is very good, if not excellent steaks. You could also focus your attention on desserts like a sloppy and delicious Bananas Foster Sundae ($10) served in an extra large glass bowl loaded up with bourbon bananas, vanilla and caramel-banana ice cream topped off with brown sugar almond crunch, and a box of doughnuts—a brown carton of doughnut holes with injectable flavors: jelly, butterscotch, and chocolate custard. But the soufflé was too eggy and was undercooked, which was disappointing. I’ll skip the soufflé next time, and the fish too, and return for nothing more than an icy tray of oysters and that Kansas City steak. A perfect meal, if I do say so myself.

Review By: Andrea Strong