Dylan Prime caters largely to young office workers from Wall Street with their feet on the first rung of the corporate ladder. It’s a steakhouse, but it doesn’t look like one. The restaurant, which opened recently in a converted warehouse in Tribeca a few blocks below Canal Street, was formerly City Wine and Cigar, a Venus flytrap for smokers operated by Drew Neiporent. The humidors have gone but the decor hasn’t changed much, and the large dining room still has its slatted wood back-lit ceiling which was originally designed to absorb clouds of cigar smoke. The large, dark cocktail bar, with bottles arranged in an oversize wine barrel, looks much the same as before, and there is pulsing music in the background.
New York steakhouses are, by tradition, studiedly masculine places, both in the decor and in the trenchermen’s trough portions they serve. But Dylan Prime bills itself as a modern steakhouse that caters to women as well as men (and it’s the first such place in the city to have a woman chef, Mina Newman, who was previously at Mr. Neiporent’s Middle Eastern restaurant Layla). Forget about sawdust on the floor, hunting prints and overhead lighting that’s bright enough for an operating theater. The dining room is dark, with moss-colored walls, generous, round booths with seats you sink into, candles on the tables and velvet covers on the menus. At the back is a mahogany- and glass-paneled wine room, installed by the previous occupant, that holds over 2,500 bottles; facing it is another bar and some high cocktail tables. The picture windows in the front are hung with Venetian blinds, and at sunset you can gaze out on a tranquil New York scene: the walls and steel doors of the warehouse opposite, covered with a forest of graffiti.
The maître d’, who looks a lot like the young Oscar Wilde, showed me to a table next to a group that was busy dunking forks into a bubbling cheese fondue. There were quite a few big parties that had come straight from the office. So what better ice-breaker than fondue? You probably haven’t had fondue since Mom dug up the set from the garage and put it out in a yard sale, along with the hula hoop and the Mickey Mouse waffle iron. We ordered one for our table, and a glass of wine, before we looked at the menu.
Alas, the fondue at Dylan Prime doesn’t stir up regret for all those years without it. It’s a clumsy dish, a bland mixture of melted Appenzeller and Gruyère that could do with a good dollop of mustard and Kirschwasser to perk it up. It was served with chunks of Granny Smith apple, soft semolina croutons, diced bacon and fried shallots. After a couple of twirls, we tired of it.
The menu at Dylan Prime, while serving the traditional food you expect from a steakhouse, presents it in a new way. “Have you dined with us before?” asked our waiter on my first evening there. “Let me explain our menu.” He leaned over and I held up the candle to try to read it. “Choose your meat or fish and then pick out your chapeau . That’s the French word for ‘hat,’” he added helpfully. “The chapeau is the topping. You can also choose which sauce you’d like.”
Alain Ducasse does this sort of mix-and-match thing at his chain of Spoon restaurants, where the diner picks from different columns and may (as it says on the menu) “create the unthinkable.” At Dylan Prime you can order your steak under a blue cheese “chapeau” if you like and have it served with a bourbon sauce–if the waiter doesn’t take pity and step in. You can also take your pick of “accessories” (known in normal steakhouse parlance as “side dishes”) such as onion rings or fries to complete your main course. The big difference is that Mr. Ducasse doesn’t charge extra for each item (he’s charged enough already); but Dylan Prime is a steakhouse, and it does. Meat or fish costs between $18 and $28, the “chapeau” $3, the sauce $2. Add “accessories” such as creamed spinach or mashed potatoes at $6 apiece, and you’re up to a hefty $40 to $45. With first courses between $6 and $14, and $8 for dessert, the bill adds up.
You can begin with a delicious, perfectly seasoned frisée salad: a pile of fresh young bitter leaves tossed with caramelized pearl onions and crispy bacon bits. The mixture is topped with a soft poached egg that melts into it when you break the yolk. I loved it. It’s better than the salty crabcakes served with a flat-tasting slaw made with pickled fennel, or the flavorless tomato soup garnished with avocado. And the bread is the worst I’ve had in a restaurant of this caliber in a long time.
The Colorado rack of lamb, however, was superb–juicy, tender and nicely charred. The rib-eye was good, too. Not as outstanding as the lamb, but it had a good meaty flavor. The pork chop was tough and its “chapeau,” made with wild mushrooms, chervil and truffles, was a disaster. If there was truffle in there it was not making itself known. And whether you’re catering to a man or a woman, for $26 it should be possible to do better than the thin slab of underseasoned tuna we were served. Heads-on jumbo shrimp had a slightly mushy texture and weren’t worth $27 either.
Accessories included a whole, overcooked artichoke (which made strange eating as a side dish) and dreadful creamed spinach. But Yukon Gold mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery, and the French fries, served in a box with roasted garlic aïoli, were hot and crisp. Fresh peas with mint were a little mealy but pretty good.
Dinner ended on a surprisingly upbeat note, however, with the desserts. They included a nicely tart frozen lemon soufflé; a rich molten chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream; and a pleasant crême brûlée. The plum galette was dry but the ice cream sundae was a winner.
Dylan Prime may hope to stand out from other steakhouses by catering to women. But for this woman, at least, they’re going to have to work on the food some more before I go back.
62 Laight Street (at Greenwich Street)
Dress: Wall Street
Noise level: Background music
Wine list: Interesting, well chosen and fairly priced
Credit cards: All major cards
Price range: Dinner main courses $18 to $28
Dinner: Monday to Thursday 6:00 p.m. To midnight, Friday and Saturday to midnight
Lounge: Monday to Saturday 5 p.m. To 2 a.m.
* * Very Good
* * * Excellent
* * * * Outstanding
No Star: Poor
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