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Sep 5, 2003 02:35 PM

Peter Luger's - outlying experience

  • j

I went once, only once to Luger's but didn't find what all the fuss is about their steaks. Sure, it was tender and cooked at the proper temperature, but it had almost no flavor (i.e. spicing, salting, pepper, whatever) save for some of the fattiness, which it was a little too fatty. is this the way it's supposed to be or was my experience just an outlier as in usually the steak has flavor too from spicing or whatever (best restaurant steak i had so far from the standpoint of tenderness and flavor is the Dabney Coleman 1 pounder NY steak at Dan Tana's in Los Angeles, also the most expensive at 40 bucks a pop, though comes with a side of pedestrian spahatteghi or fettucine alfredo.)

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  1. May be a simple case of a customer with a real well-developed sense of how he wants his steak prepared. I only say this because Luger's is a classic...if you dislike it, it comes down to preference.

    So two options:

    1. find a place that does the best version of the steak you're visualizing. Since Dan Tana's seems to be a top example, I"d post something on the Manhattan (or whatever) board ala "Where can i get dan tana's - style steak locally?" This site's great for that sort of thing...we excel at honing custom reccos to very specific cravings. Somewhere out there are people who also think Dan Tana's is the apotheosis, and can compare notes with you.


    2. try to widen your preferences, and appreciate Luger's for what it is (don't NEED to, it's just an option!). Here's what I wrote about them in Chow Alert; perhaps it will provide an evocative understanding of what it is folks like about them:


    In a culinary temple like Peter Luger's, one eats along a well-worn path, so to speak. I'd heard so much about the place, the last thing I ever expected was to be surprised.

    Let me start by saying that I don't often do steak. Steakhouses are expensive, and if I'm going to blow more than thirty bucks on dinner, I want a chef to WORK, and not just slap a steak on the grill. I want top ingredients cooked, manipulated, imbued with tons of value-added time and effort and painstaking attention. I want to think deep thoughts and enjoy a precisely-timed fireworks display.

    Granted, simple things can be devilishly hard to pull off, and butchering, aging, and preparation require serious--if narrow--skill. Nonetheless, steak houses have had little place in my eating life. So deem the following ingenuous observation rather than savvy steak estimation.

    I was struck again and again by how wrong the conventional wisdom about Peter Luger's seemed to be. I'd expected macho characters ingesting great big plates of manly chow, and while the characters (and wannabes) were there, all right, chortling over dirty jokes and slapping backs, the food was downright dainty. Creamed spinach tasted verdant; the flavor of fresh spinach very much intact, and it was a subtle, gentle creaminess that was not at all greasy. The german fried potatoes were more grandma-style than rugged gin mill spuds (the best example of the latter being the superb bacon fat-redolent home fries at PJ Clarke's-- 915 3rd Ave, Manhattan, NY; 212-759-1650).

    And their steak (sliced porterhouse, of course) was not by any means the chewy, rugged, thick, primal caveman affair I'd imagined. It was actually rather prissy, sliced into chunks with crunchy edges and meatier interiors more meltingly soft and tender than I'd ever imagined possible. Everybody says great steak should be al dente, but, here, all chaw comes from the char. To make the experience yet more refined and luxurious, the (doctored) juices tame any remaining fleshy, mineral cattle tang. This is no more a Flintstonian "hunk-o-meat" than a screwdriver is a bracing shot of vodka.

    But hold on--I'm not complaining. I swooned, I was transported, I wafted out of the restaurant in the sort of babbling delirium I hope for--and so rarely get--from big-ticket restaurants. I write this 36 hours after my meal, and my mind keeps drifting back longingly. Fellow potato lovers will be convinced when I state that I faced a table containing steak, creamed spinach, and fried potatoes and hardly paid any attention whatsoever to the potatoes. This is absolutely unprecedented.

    They're very good potatoes, too. If they were served anywhere else, they'd rate highly. But I wanted to keep eating steak and spinach--both of which are beyond great--forever. I couldn't, though, because the portion ran out. Which uproots conventional wisdom number two: huge, insurmountable platefuls. I was there for the 71st birthday of my mom--hardly a trencherperson--and the two of us devoured every crumb. We were quite full, to be sure, but the supposedly de rigueur doggie bags were unnecessary.

    We even had room for dessert. And here's another surprise: strudel is often recommended as the best choice, but I found it merely pretty good. Not enough apple flavor, too much lemon, and WAY too much butter (they'd stuck pats inside the bottom-most layer of pastry, giving some bites the vulgar effect of over-buttered toast). The pastry itself was reasonably flaky, but it was a cheap kind of flakiness, not many-layered. Luscious pecan pie is a far better choice. The accompanying mountain of shlag was the whipped cream of my life.

    Tomato and onion salad was fine, good for a few minutes of amazed banter about the size and quality of the tomatoes, though not something one would crave. Unfortunately, they were out of bacon that night.

    Oh, and the cheap house cabernet goes perfectly--I mean PERFECTLY--with the steak. It's like they'd co-evolved. I missed a chance to check the label.

    Most surprising of all, I was expecting a mammothly unhealthy experience; a fat-and-butter-laden cholesteroholic meal throwing all caution to the wind. And while this was not lean cuisine, neither was it particularly over the top. The steak drippings in the serving platter were far more restrained than I'd heard them described--and the platter's tilted so the steak doesn't sit in them. The potatoes weren't particularly fatty, the creamed spinach, again, was much more about spinach than cream. All in all, heavier, richer meals are eaten in the myriad less-notorious places which inject stealth fat with cynical plenitude. The strudel was the sole excessive item. Even the shlag was so stiff, so well-braced with (good, true) vanilla, that it tasted downright salubrious.

    I loved the authentic, unself-conscious Old New York atmosphere (wish there were more places like that around town) and the old pro waiters. And the tab was merely very high: $160 for two, with tip.

    There's a certain magic in the sorts of venerable, celebrated restaurants which started out not with fancy investors, designers and menu consultants but from the ground up. Peter Luger is just such an organic creation (Piccolo Venezia is another), and the pride and soul expressed in its food, service, and ambiance is evocative and compelling. So often expensive restaurants strain to flamboyantly merit their price. Peter Luger serves great food with no baloney, and it's expensive not because it's designed to aim at a particular price point, but because it's best of type.

    I guess I really LIKE least this one. And I got full bang for my buck. Like Piccolo Venezia, this is a place I'd visit as often as my budget allows.


    6 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff
      john Knoesel

      Legendary post. When people ask me about a steakhouse the first thing I ask is if they have ever been to P.L. IN BROOKLYN !
      Aside from the historical environs, can anyone reinforce my conviction that the steaks definetely taste better when cooked here than at the place in Great Neck so the experience of eating their food must be had in Brooklyn ?

      1. re: Jim Leff
        Johnson Princhot

        so jim you did talk about the tenderness and the lightness and all about the steak at luger's (and the creamed spinach sounds enticing, if i do decide to try it again, to see if it was just an off night), but i didn't get a sense from your review if the flavor was really there? because even the juices that are poured over it didn't have any flavor when i went there. the schlag is good also, but whipped cream is whipped cream, if it's fresh. thanks.

        1. re: Johnson Princhot

          "...if the flavor was really there?"

          It all depends, though on what is "there" for you!

          When you say it doesn't have any flavor, I doubt you mean that literally. Even if the kitchen had no talent and used lousy ingredients, there'd still be flavor in broiled meat doused in juices. It might not be the flavor you or I want....

          ...and Luger's isn't the flavor you want. Fair enough! As I said, it wasn't the flavor I expected, either. I just happened to deem it pray-to-the-gods delicious. But, hey, mileage varies!

          What I'd really like is to see you getting a lot more steak that you'd like. Since you know what you're looking for, and are fortunate enough to have an exemplar to point to, please use Chowhound to suss out like places. Post about what you like, in great detail, on the regional board of interest. Reap great tips. Eat well and be happy (and maybe every once in a while try a place with a different "take", to perhaps add new styles to your crave profile).


          1. re: Jim Leff

            It sounds like Johnson is looking for a highly seasoned steak, whereas Peter Luger's tends to showcase the flavor of the beef itself.

            PJ, did you think that the beef itself was flavorless, or just that it hadn't been sufficiently seasoned?

            1. re: Lindsay B.
              Johnson Princhot

              i just couldn't taste any seasoning whatsover, light at least a dash of salt or pepper would be nice (i'm not saying i'm a sodium fiend), the steak just truly felt, in a word: bland.

            2. re: Jim Leff

              good post.

              Jim, have you been to Peter Luger's recently ? Past few months ?

              Any personal knowledge of the current downhill notices ???????