Steak House With Sex Appeal Looks Good, Lacks Consistency

QUALITY MEATS

One Star

57 West 58th Street

Dress: Casual

Noise Level: High

Lighting: Low

Wine List: 350 bottles, 25 wines by the glass

Credit Cards: All major

Price Range: Main courses, $21 to $55

Dinner: Daily, 5 to 11:30 p.m. (Lunch will be served starting Sept. 12.)

A white life-size plaster steer’s head poking through a frame greeted us as we made our way down the white-tiled hallway that sweeps round into the restaurant. The steer’s nose had been rubbed smooth by passing diners, like pilgrims paying homage to an icon at a shrine. Flossie, patron saint of beef.

“Steak as big as a kitchen sink!” exclaimed one of my companions in anticipation as we waited in the lounge for our table. He’d just come back from Florida: He’d been to a place where the names of the men who finished a 20-pounder were commemorated in bronze and hung on the wall.

Our table wasn’t ready, so we waited in the lounge, which has a bar on one side and a charcuterie counter on the other. The décor was super-cool: chocolate leather sofas, rows of jars containing bourbon mash, boxes of wheatgrass and tungsten lights hanging from meat hooks. It was hard to believe that for over two decades, this same space had housed the sleek, yacht-like Manhattan Ocean Club.

Last year, owner Allan Stillman, of the Smith & Wollensky group, and his son Michael closed the Manhattan Ocean Club down. Five months ago, they opened Quality Meats, a steakhouse with sex appeal, designed by the cutting-edge downtown firm of AvroKO (Public, Stanton Social and Sapa).

The designers stripped the place down to reveal brick walls and arched niches, steel-bracketed columns and concrete ceilings. They inlaid the steps of the central staircase connecting the two dining rooms with butcher-block wood and lined the ceiling and the walls with polished walnut panels. They fashioned the chandeliers from pulleys and large steel butcher hooks. They built walls of wine bottles and house-label water bottles ($9.50 a pop, thank you very much). In the tiled, all-white bathrooms, towels are neatly stacked in shelves from floor to ceiling.

We were led up the stairs to a table in an alcove on the landing that had leather-padded walls. Alas, they didn’t do much to absorb the noise, a lively roar from the tables below and around us. Our fellow diners were mostly very young: men in shirt sleeves, ties tucked in pockets, jackets slung over the backs of their chairs—the inevitable steakhouse denizens on expense accounts. And a great many women too, in miniskirts and slip dresses. One of the women, dressed in white shorts, a red tube top, black stockings and high heels, was entwined in long, passionate embrace with the man next to her. “They’re on their honeymoon!” called out one of the other men at her table. “In one year’s time, it won’t be like this!”

Stuffed eggs are offered when you sit down—a nice touch—and hot Parker House rolls are served in a cast-iron pan, puffed up in a circle. Wine is served in lovely glasses that have pyramid-shaped bowls.

Craig Koketsu was the chef de cuisine at Lespinasse before he took over the kitchen at the Manhattan Ocean Club. The food he now serves at Quality Meats is described as “rustic New American”; the idea is to produce dishes in a steakhouse style that will appeal to a hip younger crowd—and to women. So instead of the typical steakhouse salad—plain slices of tomato and onion—he serves baby heirloom tomatoes. These are arranged on the plate under a layer of thick, out-of-scale slices of onion and topped with a desultory sprinkling of bacon and cabrales, the blue-veined Spanish cheese. The plate was fussy and the ingredients didn’t come together. There were other salads: a farmer’s salad made with a selection of greens and tomatoes tossed in a vinegary dressing, and a bland Green Goddess chopped salad. (What, no jello mold? No pineapple tidbits?)

Chunks of crab lightly tossed in a subtle, lemony mayonnaise and placed on slices of avocado were very good. So was the crabcake (a hefty $21 for one), but you didn’t need the cloying ketchup-like sauce that was smeared artistically on the plate.

Steak tartare was terrific, hand-cut, topped with an egg yolk and served with a row of spices to mix yourself.

There are no kitchen-sink-sized steaks or bronze plaques for eating them at Quality Meats, although I think you should get your name on the wall if you can finish the 64-ounce double rib eye for two. It was served cut in thick slices and cost $55 per person. It was good, but I’ve had better.

One of the restaurant’s signature flourishes is a steak sauce made tableside. We watched as a young woman in a white shirt and black tie heaped garlic confit, thyme, rosemary, raisin molasses and tomato purée into a marble mortar and ground it up. Another nice touch, and the result is better than the glop they serve at Peter Luger—but only just. I’ve never understood the reason for steak sauce. Surely the meat should speak for itself? On another occasion, when we ordered a filet mignon, I realized later that no steak sauce had been offered. I didn’t miss it.

The best dish I had here was the veal chop, which is one of the finest I’ve tasted anywhere, nicely crusted and juicy.

Perhaps it was for the ladies: lamb with figs and mint. It sounded odd but intriguing, and it was good for the first few bites. But then the sweetness of the figs became cloying—too many figs obscuring the lamb.

Given the chef’s C.V., fish should have been one of the high points of the menu. But the halibut I tasted was overcooked and had a hard, dry crust; even the sauce, made with lemon, soy and ginger, couldn’t redeem the dish. Dover sole ($44) was dry and lacquered with a sticky sauce.

Side dishes, which always nicely pad a steakhouse bill, included a sickly sweet corn “crème brûlée,” decent sautéed spinach and a surprisingly undistinguished potato pancake.

Desserts (around $10) are mostly pies and tarts. They include a key lime pie, topped with a meringue that was so sweet I couldn’t eat it, and a pleasant rhubarb crumble.

I love the way this restaurant looks, and I like the concept. I just wish the food were more consistent. As for the price, it’s wildly expensive—in keeping with true steakhouse tradition.