Redefining the Steakhouse… But Forgetting the Steak
It seems like every modern steakhouse in New York and Chicago alike insists that they’re not simply your “classic” purveyor of seafood towers, lobster bisques, and neatly butchered filets. The establishments line up like so many women who claim they’re “not like other girls,” flaunting larger cuts of meat, more affordable wines, or perhaps a touch of British (or Mexican, or French) flair. They shed the white tablecloths for exposed brick and even pump music into the space. I’m not so cynical as to scorn these restaurants for being more approachable, more comfortable to the average diner. The steakhouse canon could indeed use reinventing, and a dedicated carnivore certainly does not need or want the pomp. Yet, I’ve noticed, as these contemporary chophouses aim for a trendier take on a familiar format, they tend to falter on the most important part.
Bowery Meat Company, like so many other “reinventions” of the steakhouse, forgets about the beef. The restaurant, helmed by executive chef Josh Capon (owner of Lure Fishbar and El Toro Blanco in NYC) does do quite a bit right. The dining room is sleek yet exudes warmth, with worn wood and lithographs lining the walls. Feel-good 90s rock and alternative hums over the sounds of the bustling, brightly lit bar and, surprisingly, resists sounding overly sentimental. The service is correspondingly casual but peppy and highly earnest even if not always attentive.
The menu is, as advertised, “diverse and market driven.” Capon hops from Japanese offerings like salmon sashimi to wagyu meatballs and zucchini carpaccio, stopping in China, Mexico, France, and Korea for inspiration along the way. However, despite the breath of influences, Bowery Meat Company stays largely focused in its fare. A dozen starters priced from $15 to $25 join three fresh oyster selections and a trio of salads at $15 each. Three pasta dishes further underline Capon’s Italian sensibility, incorporating luxurious ingredients like short rib, king crab, and duck. The meats take their rightful place in the center of the menu and include a pork ribeye, lamb chops, and veal chop alongside five cuts of steak priced from $30 to $50. Ten sides at $10 apiece accompany the entrees though show less “reinvention” than one would expect. Four steak offerings “for two” priced between $116 and $146 round out the menu alongside two fish and one chicken preparation.
My meal began with a few complimentary bites from the kitchen. First, a bacon rosemary focaccia served with a thin slice of house-cured salami. While the bare platter made for a sorry sight, the bread was nicely crusty and well herbed, the gossamer thin piece of pork impressively meaty. The second amuse bouche took the form of a basil pesto arancini–or at least that’s what I was told it was. The bite was served far too hot without any warning as to its temperature, and the shock to my palate prevented any real pause to consider the flavors at play. Though Bowery Meat Company’s list of over twenty wines by the glass is admirable and affordable, the cocktails–priced around $15–are well worth a look. The Rich Girl, a combination of aged rum, pinot noir, amaro, and sherry impressed with its balance of bitterness and dark spirits. However, the Wishbone proved to be the highlight, blending cinnamon infused bourbon with black peppercorn, lemon, egg white, and bitters for layered but refreshing drink.
The first proper dish of the evening I sampled was chef Capon’s take on foie gras and chicken liver parfait, a combination that’s incredibly dear to me and rarely executed with the care it deserves. While even some of the city’s finest restaurants put out middling torchons of duck liver, Bowery Meat Company’s displayed a richness and intensity of meaty, savory flavor that ranks among some of the finest foie preparations I’ve tasted. The parfait was superbly spreadable and paired with two tall stacks of expertly toasted brioche, a simple salad, and a scoop of dark, caramelized onion jam. The accompaniments–though in no way required to enjoy the dish–introduced layers of texture, acidity, and sweetness that cut and complemented the richness of the liver. At $21, the parfait is one of the more expensive starters on the menu, but it’s nonetheless highly shareable and deeply satisfying.
Glistening, caramel-colored Chinese BBQ pork belly arrived next and came paired with leaves of butter lettuce, pickled vegetables, and a wedge of lime. Though I think it’s rather bold to serve such an Asian-inspired pork belly preparation with Momofuku Ko just across the street, Capon’s is tangy sweet and tender throughout. While I have to gripe about the size of the lettuce “wraps” compared to the amount of pork, the pickled carrots, cucumbers, and peppers make for a crunchy, sour counterpoint to the meat. At $19, the dish is not nearly as shareable as the parfait. In fact, if the plate wasn’t dominated by the lettuce and other elements, the pork belly would look almost criminally scant. Nonetheless, the wraps did indeed burst with flavor the few fully composed bites I had.
Given my general enjoyment of the meal up to that point, I had high hopes for my chosen steak. The 40 oz. tomahawk ribeye and 40-day dry aged T-bone Florentine proved tempting, but I opted instead for all 38 oz. of Bowery Meat Company’s côte de boeuf. I’d been let down by the Clocktower’s version of the cut–but thrilled with Minetta Tavern’s take on it–so wanted to see how Capon’s stacked up. Served with Parisian potatoes and salsa verde, the steak came wonderfully charred and cooked to blushing ruby red. Though impressively thick and nicely tender, the meat was gravely underseasoned and tasted of nothing but charcoal. The salsa verde–though it certainly was drizzled on the plate–added no sort of tang or acid I could taste. The quality of the meat and temperature alone could’ve given Minetta’s preparation a real run for its money, yet the complete absence of salt and pepper meant I had an excellent steak with no real beef flavor.
Dessert offered some limited solace in the form of a rather excellent s’mores sundae. Composed of toasted marshmallow ice cream, brownie bites, chocolate covered graham crackers, roasted marshmallows, and a generous drizzle of hot fudge, the dish sounds like an overload of sugar (and truly was). Yet for those who don’t have any doctor’s appointments coming up or simply endeavor to split the easily shareable portion, you’ll find the components–as sweet as they all might have been–work brilliantly together to conjure up every good sensation from sitting by the campfire.
While Bowery Meat Company looked like it would, at the very least, satisfy, the poor preparation of such a beautiful côte de boeuf is hard to forgive in a city filled with steakhouses. It’s a little baffling to see such a lapse in one of the fundamental (and easiest) elements of a great steak, and I can only assume someone in the kitchen unwittingly forgot. Overall, however, I did enjoy my experience and the restaurant. If someone else invited me, I would perhaps make a return visit (not least of which for that spectacular parfait). Yet, in the meantime, Bowery Meat Company stands as a modern steakhouse that–in plying its guests with free bites and foreign flavors–takes its eye of the real heart and soul of the concept it aims to reinvent.
Date Visited: 1/9/16