Did you see those two monkeys in the Times Science section last week? The healthy, sleek and young-looking one lives on a Spartan, calorie-restricted diet. The other, a paunchy, wrinkled arthritic with matted fur who looks decades older, eats about twice as much each day. Which monkey would you choose to be? Are you ready to forgo a juicy, rare, dry-aged porterhouse in favor of vegan sausage for dinner?
Not if you’re a New Yorker, apparently. Our appetite for steak is not only undiminished— it’s on the rise. At least eight new steakhouses have opened in the city this year. Now there’s Michael Lomonaco’s Porter House New York, taking over the space that was Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ill-fated V Steakhouse on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center.
Mr. Vongerichten’s restaurant failed not just because its red-and-gilt dining room looked like a Las Vegas whorehouse, but because its deconstructed menu didn’t appeal to the average carnivore (nine condiments to choose from, among them kumquats in syrup and papaya mustard). Steak eaters don’t want to ponder and worry; they just want to get on with it.
Porter House is the antithesis of V. Jeffrey Beer’s décor, fittingly corporate, restrained and elegant, with pale gold walls, beige carpets, circular banquettes, cherrywood and big, round ceiling lampshades concealing wagon wheels of tungsten bulbs. There’s a dark wooden bar at the entrance, where, one evening, a group of young businessmen, cell phones strapped to the hip, ties loosened, were watching a game on television.
“You know how the people shopping in a 7-Eleven store all look the same?” asked one of my friends. “People in steakhouses all look the same too.”
We were seated at what must be the best table in the house, with a great view (ask for table five!). Another night, I was also seated by the window, but it was a noisier spot—a table for two that was rather wide and hard to hear across.
Michael Lomonaco was the chef at Windows on the World. He was getting his glasses fixed in the basement of the World Trade Center when the planes hit. Since then he’s done television shows and consulting work. Porter House is the first restaurant where he is not only chef but managing partner. The menu, emphasizing local and high-quality ingredients cooked simply, stays close to the classics.
Some dishes are subtly updated, beginning with the flatbread and ricotta spread in place of rolls and butter. Clams casino, lightly dusted with a layer of breadcrumbs mixed with bacon, are flavored with smoked paprika. Jumbo lump crab cakes, served with a Cajun mustard sauce, have a warm, spicy kickback. A traditional Caesar is made with crunchy pale slices of romaine hearts tossed in a dressing generously seasoned with Parmesan cheese and topped with Parmesan curls. The oyster pan roast, in a creamy sauce with tomato and tarragon laced with smoked bacon, is wonderful. The tongue salad—thin, tender slices in a sharp vinegar-horseradish dressing—is also outstanding. But steak tartare, already mixed, is surprisingly dull.
Mr. Lomonaco’s menu includes a rotating list of daily specials, such as surf ’n’ turf for two, Kobe burger and chicken pot pie. One night it was calf’s liver, and it was excellent, served with thick slices of crumbly smoked bacon and caramelized onions. Porter House offers just four cuts (not counting specials). The dry-aged porterhouse prime costs $78 for two, and it’s enough to feed four comfortably. It arrives already sliced, and while it’s nicely tender and buttery, the dry-aged prime strip steak ($39) has more flavor. Colorado lamb porterhouse chops are superb, perfectly cooked and lightly charred. If you prefer fish—and a fish that looks like a steak—get the monkfish porterhouse, which is wrapped in pancetta that keeps the flesh moist. As with the other porterhouses, there’s enough to take home for lunch and maybe even dinner the next day.
Among the sides, creamed spinach is a better choice than Tuscan kale with pancetta. The house-made potato chips are run-of-the-mill, but the pan-roasted mushrooms with hen of the woods and chanterelles are state-of-the-art.
Wayne Harley Brachman’s des-serts include one of the best cheesecakes I’ve had anywhere and a lovely trio of rice pudding, Indian pudding and chocolate pudding with banana. A butterscotch cobbler, made with pears that were a tad undercooked, was also good, served with elderflower-scented whipped cream.
Porter House’s wide-ranging, well-chosen wine list has many selections in the lower range. From California, we chose a fine Kunin Viognier and a Tensley Syrah. I looked up the latter on Robert Parker’s Web site: “impressive notes of white chocolate, loamy soil, pepper, compost, licorice, blackberries, and cassis.” Exactly. And what’s more, it contains resveratrol, which offsets the bad effects of calories and—maybe you saw the picture in another Times story—made three fat mice look very happy.
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