A NYC Steakhouse Done Right: Strip House

Choosing a place for a business dinner is never an easy task. There are always so many factors to consider – dietary restrictions, cuisine preference, menu options, convenience of location, general clientele, atmosphere, etc. The decision is always complicated and there will always be more than one person who wants to give their two cents on the matter. The funny thing is, however, that no matter how long you think about such things and how many restaurants you consider you will probably come up with the same list of 10-20 restaurants that most other NYC professionals do. … Does not leave much room for creativity, but I will leave my “innovative thoughts on business dining” for another blog post. What you will also typically run into in this watered down list of options is that a business dining establishment and steakhouse are nearly synonymous. I do not think I have ever walked into a major steakhouse in New York City where there wasn’t an abundance of business men and women at large tables entertaining clients and colleagues over bottles of red wine, seafood towers and plates full of red meat and hearty side dishes. It can get a bit bland if you do a lot of these dinners, but there are a few places that do not feel stale in terms of atmosphere and serve food that is consistently solid. I put the original Strip House on East 12th Street in this category. In five or so dinners I have been to there in the past year I have yet to be let down.

Now, do not be alarmed by the restaurant’s name. I promise you will be served steak and not a burlesque show on the side. That being said, there are some remnants of the old gentleman’s club feel. Rather than the old mahogany look that many classic steakhouses in New York flaunt, Strip House takes a different approach and the entire restaurant is red. Red fluorescent signage outside, red walls, red leather banquets, red bar and the walls are lined with old black-and-whites of legendary actors, musicians, etc. Rumor has it the men’s restroom walls include some risque photographs, but there’s no such entertainment in the women’s room. The lighting is dimmed to set the mood, but sometimes they over do it to the point where it’s hard to see what you are eating. I went this past week, however, and they seemed to adjust the lights perfectly. The atmosphere is not stuffy and the experience far more relaxed than larger steak houses. The service is solid and in my experience the waitstaff always tries to engage the clientele in a jovial way.

If you have paid any attention to this blog over the past couple of months you may be asking yourself, “Why is she writing about a steakhouse. … She doesn’t even eat beef!” And to that I would say you make a valid point. But even without enjoying one of Strip House’s (or any other restaurants’) signature cut I think I can probably do a fine job evaluating the restaurant on its merits and demerits, particularly given the number of times I have landed at Strip House. One of the most tell-tale signs for me about the quality of a steak joint is the selection of side dishes. Everyone wants the meat, but it needs some other good stuff to go with it. A steakhouse without adequate, tasty sides has failed in my opinion. Strip House has some great ones and here are the highlights: Garlic Herb French Fries, Black Truffle Creamed Spinach, Mac & Cheese and Sauteed Green Beans with Garlic. What are they missing? ONION RINGS! Some thick-cut, beer-battered onion rings would be a positive adjustment to the menu. Every good steakhouse needs some of those.

The second thing to examine is the appetizer selection. There must be double-cut bacon. One of the things I look forward to most when going to a steakhouse for a business dinner is the bacon. It may sound silly, but try it and you will be hooked. I am torn between Strip House’s version and that of Wolfgang’s, but each are really tasty. The seafood tower at Strip House is also a must if you are in a large group (or if you just want to splurge). It may seem pricey, but the restaurant is generous with it’s portions and when I dined recently as part of a table of six (and I was the only petite female among some hungry men) it was a struggle to finish a tower prepared for four. It is a great selection of oysters, clams, jumbo shrimp, crab legs, lobster, scallops, tuna tartare, calamari and whatever else they are offering that evening. I always enjoy it and think it’s the right way to start a meal off at Strip House. In terms of the main course, choose your cut and it’s yours. If you are like me and looking for other options, they make a darn good Colorado Lamb Rack crusted in Dijon and served with a white bean stew. I am consistent at a steakhouse – it’s either the lamb or pork chops so I feel pretty confident in my feelings about the lamb. You can also choose from lobster, veal and other fish options as well.

After being fully stuffed from all the aforementioned food you may feel more ready to fall asleep at the table from food coma than think about dessert. But when your server comes to the table and asks if you are interested in the dessert selections, just say yes. If you like sugar, even just a little bit, you cannot leave without trying the signature Strip House 24 Layer Chocolate Cake. Remember when I said there were six of us there last week? This was the only dessert on the table and it took all of our participation to finish that one piece of cake. It’s really too bad I did not have my camera to take a photo, but the cake is massive, decadent, a chocolate lover’s dream and all around delicious.

So let’s review the highlights. The Strip House ambiance sets itself apart from other “classic” NYC steakhouses, it passes the side dish test, the bacon appetizer and seafood towers are a must, you can the meat you want and how you want it and the way to end it all is with the chocolate cake. And what can the restaurant work on? Making sure every piece of meat is cooked to the customer’s liking. The last time I was there two of the steaks were a little too rare when those in party cut into the center. For the most part Strip House is pretty good about this, but a steakhouse should always make it a priority to cut the meat right. During the week the clientele will be predominately those there for business. The suits can feel a little homogeneous at times, but on the weekends I am sure the vibe is difference. And on a sillier note, I would really like to see those onion rings! Overall, if you are a steak lover and have not checked out Strip House I think it’s time to give it a whirl. I have not yet been to the new Midtown location or the Strip House Grill, but my best advice would be to start at the original location to get the full experience.

Strip House, 13 East 12th Street, NY, NY, 10003. Phone: (212) 328-000

When To Book: Strip House accepts reservations on OpenTable. If you plan on dining with a large group during the weekend I suggest booking at least one week in advance. During the week there is usually more availability.

What to Crave @ The New Crave Fishbar

During the past couple of months I have heard quite a bit of hype about one of Midtown’s newcomers, Crave Fishbar. After reading about the place and hearing reviews from friends I decided it was time to make the trip and check out Crave for myself. A friend and I ventured over there this past weekend for a low key Sunday dinner and here’s what we decided about the new seafood joint.

Midtown East can sometimes feel flooded by restaurants designed for over-the-top business dinners that run a big tab, so when a new place pops up that goes against the grain (and actually serves good food) I am always inclined to check it out. Crave is the neighborhood’s latest attempt – in my mind the first since the Smith opened its Midtown location –  to spruce up the East 50s and add some flair to the dining selection. For those familiar with Second Avenue in the lower 50s you may agree with me when I say that there are not many restaurant fronts that pull you inside and truly appear as quality establishments. It can be very easy to walk down these blocks and not take notice of a single place because nothing really looks all that interesting. But now when you pass by the West side of 50th Street on Second Avenue it is hard to not stop and notice the new gem next to Starbucks.

Crave may appear small but the exterior draws you in with its floor-to-ceiling open glass windows and warm pale green exterior. As previously mentioned, the restaurant definitely stands out on the block. The wood-paneled walls, dimmed lighting and plaid-print banquets give the dining room a rustic, laid back feel. The bar area is the most intriguing and well-designed aspect of the restaurant. The expansive marble bar is great for those who want to eat solo or a group of two looking to have a more casual experience. It’s also great for a couple cocktails! On this Sunday excursion the bar was not “hopping” but on a busy weekend night I can imagine it being a lively scene. The glass encased wine display adds to the aesthetics as well. Parallel to the bar there are a number of high-top tables that also allow for another alternative seating option (Note: if you sit in the bar room take notice of the fixtures on the wall. These large rotund mirrors above each high-top table will make you feel like you’re inside a ship on the sea or something of that sort. … Just trying to set the mood!). The back dining room is small and intimate, which is where we were seated.

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Even though I may have set the mood for a kicked back and casual dining experience the presentation of the food reminds you that you are not just at some small-town seafood joint. The detailed preparation and presentation of the food gives as much thought to the selection of the garnish as to the dish’s main attractions. The menu consists of offerings from fish, seafood, meat and pasta varieties. The menu changes from day-to-day so if you are regular it’s probably refreshing to have new options each Crave visit. On the other hand,  the transitional menu could lead to some disappointment when that great dish someone enjoyed the last time is no longer on the menu. Being my first time at Crave I did not run into such a dilemma, but if they take away the Fresh Florida Crab I may have a bone to pick with the owner!

After surveying the menu thoroughly and gauging my level of hunger at the time (which unfortunately was not very high) I decided on two appetizers and a side for my dinner – Fresh Florida Crab, Prawns and Beets topped with Manchego Cheese. As you may have noticed earlier. … I very much enjoyed the crab. The dainty starter featured lump crab meat on top of a cylindrical medley of garbanzo, corn, squash and zucchini. I was most impressed by the fact that the chef was able to place all these ingredients together in a way that the entire thing did not topple over. Where the crab was light the prawns were rich. The two jumbo prawns were prepared with a decadent, buttery foam and served with root vegetables that seemed appropriate for the season. They were good, but the rich flavors were too overwhelming to eat all the time. I think you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the quality of their side dishes. Steakhouses usually do this right, but I have a great appreciation for restaurants that come up with inventive ways so spice up a main dish with an additional vegetable or starch. Crave’s beets were a simple but just the kind of side dish I am talking about. These were not your typical large, deep purple root vegetable but rather these beets were small, pink and succulent. Really good and even though I was hesitant about the Manchego cheese this addition enhanced the flavor and did not hurt the fresh vegetable’s taste. Aside from the meal I just described my friend chose the Seared Yellow Fin Tuna which looked awesome. The fish was cooked to her liking and the vegetable choice of brussel sprouts and baby carrots appeared to be freshly picked from the garden (and tasted that way too). That’s all for the main meal, but if you all have not gotten the joke yet from previous posts. … I can very rarely pass up dessert. Since we were feeling the Fall vibe with the seasonal menu the pumpkin cupcake with cream-cheese frosting and homemade sprinkles was the most obvious choice. I should have asked about this at the time, but I am still so curious about the homemade sprinkles. Not typically a “food” item I hear being hand-crafted, but sounded impressive on the menu nonetheless. Dessert was awesome and the cupcake was jumbo-sized – the festive pumpkin cake was perfectly moist and the icing done just how I like it. Yummy!

After experiencing Crave Fishbar for myself I would agree with those who have said that it is one of the new City restaurants to feel good about. Todd Mitgang provides inspired and diverse menu offerings complete with fresh ingredients and culinary innovation.  It is a great addition to the neighborhood and creates an environment that is lively while laid back and offers quality food.  I would caution the masters behind Crave to be wary with changing the menu too much on a day-to-day basis. Figure out what the classics should be and stick to them. My second piece of advice would be to expand the raw bar offerings. I know plenty of people who go googly-eyed when they see an extensive raw bar selection. No need to go all out with three-tiered seafood towers, but a few more options would not hurt. Other than that, think Crave is off to a solid start and am excited to see what they have in store for me the next time I pop in!

Crave Fishbar, 945 Second Avenue, NY, NY, 10022.

When to Book: Crave accepts reservations on OpenTable. You should be pretty safe booking a few days in advance for prime weekend time slots.