At Vongerichten’s V Steakhouse, Baroque Décor—and Cuisine

“What condiments would you like with your steak?” asked the

waitress. We looked at the list. Kumquats in syrup? Soy caramel sauce? Papaya

mustard? There are nine condiments to choose from on the menu at V Steakhouse,

including that perishing invention, the “house steak sauce.” When your

porterhouse arrives, it’s not just a slab of meat on a plate: It’s prettified

with a mound of microgreens. It’s the least you could expect for a dish that

costs $66—for one person.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s V Steakhouse is as baroque as Peter

Luger is bare. The restaurant is on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center

(part of the so-called restaurant “Collection” that includes Masa, Per Se and,

opening just last week, Cafe Gray). The windows look out over Central Park and

the Trump Tower at Columbus Circle, where the chef has his main restaurant,

Jean-Georges.

Mr. Vongerichten is a celebrity chef, with a worldwide empire of

17 restaurants and a raft of cookbooks to his name. His range is astonishing,

from haute cuisine at Jean-George to innovative Thai at Vong and Chinese at 66,

to his take on Asian street food at Spice Market. He also has another

steakhouse in Las Vegas that I haven’t yet visited. What he’s trying to do at V

is unclear.

The dining room, which seats 224, looks less like a steakhouse

than a Las Vegas casino. I’m sure the bad taste is intended as a joke: massive

gold-covered columns, a dozen gold-painted trees with gold branches sprawled

over the dark green ceiling and scarlet banquettes wrapped around the foot of

some of the tree trunks. Tiffany must be clean out of crystal chandeliers, so

many are dotted around the place, hanging from cords wrapped in red velvet. The

tables are set with squat red velvet chairs, like the ones in Cipriani, low as

a kindergartner’s. When you sit down, they throw off your perspective: Your

waitress looks enormous, and when you stand up, for a few seconds you feel as

tall as a basketball player. But aside from the chairs, it’s a comfortable

room—not too noisy, with soft lighting and tables that are set far apart.

In such a setting, no wonder the steaks are decorated with

microgreens. But the kitchen, under chef de cuisine Chris Beischer, does best

with those dishes that stick close to the conventional steakhouse genre. It

falls apart when they get over-the-top. For instance, are perfectly good, fresh

oysters improved with a thick potato-crumb crust loaded with wasabi? Does a

side order of peas and asparagus need bits of crystallized ginger to perk it

up?

The New England clam chowder, made with leeks and bacon, would’ve

been very good had it not been laced with cubes of undercooked potatoes.

“They’re not integrated into the chowder,” I complained.

“The technical haute-cuisine term is ‘mooshed,’” said my

companion.

But the heirloom tomatoes with onion rings in an airy batter were

wonderful (as they should be this time of year), and so was the crabcake.

Most of the meat served at V

comes from Niman Ranch, hormone-free, and it’s expertly cooked. But the

porterhouse had a great deal of fat and gristle. The New York strip was

first-rate, however, and the lamb T-bone was nicely charred, pink and juicy. As

for the steak sauce, when my companion took a taste of it, his expression was

like that of a man who’d just heard his bank had failed.

What is the point of this gooey, sweet brown stuff? I hated it at

Peter Luger, and I hate it here. As far I’m concerned, the only sauce worth

bothering with for steak is béarnaise—and at V, the béarnaise is very good.

For the price of $28, given

all the fuss about PCB’s and whatever, I expect to be paying for wild salmon,

not “farm-raised in Scotland,” as the waitress explained. So instead I ordered

the more ecologically sound halibut. Not a good choice: The fish, set upon a

raft of grilled asparagus and topped with chopped peppers, was devoid of taste.

Yet the baked chicken was delicious: It came with a crust made of four

different kinds of crushed cereal dipped in an egg and soy mixture, so it was

moist underneath.

In keeping with steakhouse tradition, V offers a selection of

side dishes. Potatoes call “fripps” were made with sliced Idahos, skin on,

deep-fried and coated with sea salt, pepper and grated lemon zest. They were

soft and soggy. But the truffled potatoes—no longer on the menu—were lovely, as

was the spinach with herbs and cream. Cherry tomatoes were also terrific,

roasted over wood so their flavor was intensified.

Desserts were fun. Lemon “composition” consisted of crushed

meringue scattered on the plate like pottery shards, bits of lemony crumbs

surrounding a lemon curd. The cherry pie crackled when you bit down into to it.

Another joke: The topping was made of “pop rocks.” It came with a creamy bitter

almond sorbet.

With the bill, our waitress brought a plate of truffles filled

with kirsch. I remember those dreaded things from the boxes of chocolate we

used to get at Christmas time when I was a child: We would stick our fingers

underneath each chocolate to see what the filling was and then put it back in

the box if we didn’t like it. The one that caught you in the act every time was

the dreaded cherry liqueur, which would spurt all over the carpet.

“You have to eat the truffles in one mouthful,” said the waitress.

The liqueur-filled truffles seemed to sum up the meal: They would have been so

much better just plain.

Dinner for two, with a cocktail each and one of the cheapest

wines on the list, came in at just under $300. As we paid, I looked wistfully

out of the windows and thought that for the same price, we could have eaten

across the street at Jean-Georges.