In classic steakhouse style, there are seven sauces ($3), listed separately. One is made with seven peppercorns and Armagnac, another called Arlington Steak Sauce is, I think, just barbecue sauce. There are others too, like a green onion-ranch and St. Pete’s blue. But if you’re putting that on a $125 steak, you’re a fucking idiot. However, the role of the menu is not to reason why but to do and die.
This meat, the center of the story, is also one of its strongest points. Though steak isn’t difficult to cook, it does require a great deal of attention. And as courtesan chefs, Mr. Tourondel and executive chef Frank Cervantes do not stint on that. An almost spherical 10-ounce filet ($42) came perfectly charred. The tender meat was a textbook case in how to cook a steak, turning from slightly pink at the edges to almost raw in the center. The bone-in rib eye could go toe-to-toe with any steak in any restaurant ever and come out with pride. So, obviously, get the steak.
Geographically, at least, the outer precincts of the menu are given over to riffs on either nostalgia (the sides), ostentation (the raw bar) or orientalism (sushi). The sushi section is a little bit apologetic, as if Mr. Tourondel knew he had to put something there for skinny trophy wives and manorexics in turtlenecks and Stubbs and Wootton loafers. But a lot of it lacks both sophistication and, well, sushiness.
Much better is the raw bar. No matter how many times one sees a plat des fruits de mer pass by, an icy graveyard for crustaceans, the Arlington Plateau ($125) still impresses. Crab claws look like skulls of lapdogs in carnival colors. Put one of those tiger shrimp on a divan and it makes a good Manet’s Olympia.
As for the sides, there is a fair amount of overlap with Dallas BBQ. That’s not a knock. Comfort cuts across class, even if quality may not, and everything here is executed perfectly. Mac and cheese ($12) is made better with a touch of smoky gouda. Mashed potatoes ($11) might as well be a butter sculpture—and actually might be. To the onion rings with ranch ($12), the creamed spinach with nutmeg and fontina ($12), and the baked potato, which is a small starchy canoe of bacon and sour cream ($11), I found myself saying: “Old friends, welcome to my arteries! Lipids, make yourself at home!”
That leaves us with the main courses, which are either steak, as previously alluded to, or what Mr. Tourondel calls “Specialties.” The latter includes a mix of fish (black bass in papillote, red snapper), poultry (roasted chicken), non-steak beef (short ribs) and one pasta (a meh cavatelli). There is a dover sole “Modern Meuniere.” I’m not sure what makes it modern except that it is presented semi-vaginally, tender white filets layered under a darker labia-like skin. But as far as the flavors go, the lemon-caper-herb combination is classical and well worth ordering.
But as vigorous as this brisk trade is—warm are the lights, packed is the house—it’s also an island on an island, and the shores of both are eroding. In 2010, New York City became a minority-majority city. In 2045, the United States will be minority-majority as well. So though the Gini coefficient gets larger, the territories shrink. Rule is consolidated but over smaller parcels.
Who better to minister to the cadre of the elite than the former chef of a French Navy admiral, he who knows something of shrinking empires and glories past? And how fitting to do so by aping the sturdiness of England, whose own dominions, protectorates and colonies have shrunk to shame and memory?
Perhaps Mr. Tourondel’s greatest coup isn’t the steak or even the sole. It’s sheltering his flock from the bare truth. As they dip their sirloins into green onion-ranch dressing and crack open the carapaces of dismembered crabs, the members of the Arlington Club are already dead meat.