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Oct 28, 2007 04:48 PM

Peter Luger: Not as great as the hype

Just had lunch there. First time there in 15 years. The service was good, the onion buns great, the beer cold, the German potatoes ok, the tomato and onion salad, ordinary, the spinach good, and the STEAK: ORDINARY. I have as good a steak in my own house, bought at local butcher shops. Yes it was soft, buttery, well grilled, I like my steak rare to medium rare, but taste wise:Bland. To those that think this is the best steak in the country, well meat is not as good as it used to be, but this is not the best steak in the U.S. I bought meat at Costco that was more flavorful.

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  1. Did you have reservations (e.g. were you eating the porterhouse)?

    7 Replies
    1. re: CalJack

      I had a reservation and a$150 gift certificate, which is what the meal cost. I had a t-bone that was good, but far from outstanding.I also know what great prime meat tastes like since I have been eating it my entire life. The t-bone has pale taste compared to an aged prime first cut rib steak. Being that P.L. is known for their t-bone, I opted for it. The beef did not have the "tangy" taste that I expected. Like many an institution, P.L. has a great reputation that makes it the premium steakhouse. It can only be as good as the beef that is available to them.

      1. re: CalJack

        CalJack: Can you explain your question? Do you mean that people with reservations are entitled to order that cut and people without are not??

        1. re: erica

          Yes, that is the case (at least it was two months ago, and I haven't read about any change). They are having problems getting enough Porterhouse steaks to meet their needs, so that have rationed them only to clients who get a reservation. They have added a rib eye steak to their menu to compensate.

          1. re: bobjbkln

            Thanks! I take it porterhouse and t-bone are one and the same, so the OP ordered correctly??

              1. re: bobjbkln

                I believe T-bone and Porterhouse are opposite ends of the same primal cut. Porterhouse is on the end with the larger piece of tenderloin, and T bone has bigger sirloin piece: but as my butcher friend used to say "God played a trick on us": the Porterhouse has a tough vein running through the middle of the sirloin part. So you should pick according to whether you prefer sirloin or tenderloin more, if given the choice. I have seen restaurants where they offer both, obviously they have a saw to cut their own steaks!

                1. re: coll

                  Correct. Different cut from the same area. Porterhouse has more tenderloin, which is the same meat as filet mignon.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. Our family went to “Peter Luger’s” for dinner for the first time about ten years ago for a celebration and had a similar experience. Our family was treated courteously by the service staff, the porterhouse steaks were very juicy, tender, and cooked to perfection (medium rare), but similar to your post, the steaks we had also lacked sufficient flavor.

          We rarely go to steak houses and do not have much experience with “prime” graded beef, hence after our experience at “Peter Luger’s,” we thought maybe all one obtains in eating “prime” graded beef is more tenderness and juiciness, but no better taste than good “choice” grades, or possibly our taste buds are sorely deficient. Hence we are glad to read from your post that our taste buds may not have been deficient.

          In reading the reviews about “Peter Luger,” there have been a number of less than positive reviews with the similar result as your and our experiences in stating that the steaks lacked sufficient flavor. This leads to our query whether Peter Lugar personnel can tell from just looking at the steak while in an uncooked state, whether the steak will have great flavor or not, even though all of the steaks are “prime” graded and all should have flecks of fat throughout the meat? Another interesting question is if “Peter Lugar” can indeed tell that a steak will have great taste, do they favor their regular customers and celebrities with these great steaks while lesser lights will receive the lesser steaks?

          Years ago, the former food critic of the New York Times, Ms. Ruth Reichl, wrote a very funny and disquieting review of “Le Cirque,” where she described going to “Le Cirque” during the summer disguised and unrecognized and subsequently receiving brusque treatment by the waiters and while the food was very good, the dishes overall were not considered up to the standards of the earlier “4 Star” ratings given to “Le Cirque” by the NYT. When Ms. Reichl was finally recognized as the NYT’s food critic during a fall visit, her experience at “Le Cirque” was a night and day experience from earlier visits in both the service and especially the food, where after the fabulous sublime meal, Ms. Reichl ends the review with the sentence:

          “I walk reluctantly out into the cool evening air, sorry to leave this fabulous circus. Life in the real world has never been this good.”

          If indeed “Peter Lugar’s” has the same policy as the “Le Cirque” restaurant in the treatment of “no bodies” as most people are who lack the wealth to be regulars at fine dining establishments, this would explain the lack of consistency in receiving great steaks when dining at “Peter Luger’s,” since the really great cuts would be reserved for more favored customers.

          Or of course, “Peter Luger” treats all customers alike and it may just be the nature of beef that there will be a certain percentage of less than great tasting beef no matter how careful “Peter Luger” is in selecting their beef, and someone on a random basis must receive these less than great cuts.

          Do you think it is “nature or nurture” that sometimes one will receive great tasting steaks and sometimes one will receive less than great tasting steaks at “Peter Luger’s?”

          14 Replies
          1. re: lwong

            Interesting post, but there is a fundamental fallacy in your reasoning -- there is no reason why it has to be one way or the other. In fact, the likelihood is that it is more of a combination of both.

            I think it is safe to assume that, even among all cuts of beef in a given grade, some will yield better results than others. That is just the nature of the beast.

            And I also think it is safe to assume that a well known celebrity or beloved customer will get better service and the best cuts of meat available. However, that is not to say that you ONLY get these good cuts if you are a celeb. Among the rest of the "masses", it is the random proposition that some will get the better cuts while others will get the cuts that do not yield the best.

            So, in reality -- I would expect it is a combination for both of your theories.

            1. re: elecsheep9

              It is true that prime meat is in short supply. Having been in the meat business for over 50 years, my father and I did go to the wholesaler that Peter Luger buys their meat from. It is also true that P.L. gets the first pick of the beef in the "box"(refrigerator) This is known as cherry picking in the butcher business. Meats are graded and numbered. A number 4 prime is the fattiest and hence tastiest and most wasteful. Since a good deal of the flavor comes from fat and the aging process, great steak comes from fatty beef.

              There are many reasons that the steaks of today are no match to the ones of many years ago. From the type and methods of feeding and plumping up the cattle for slaughter, to the profit that goes into putting a steak on a table, shortcuts that have affected poor quality have resulted.A great looking prime piece of meat that is hanging in the box, does not always equate to great taste and texture. As I have stated before, most of the excellent flavor of meats are in the rib, That goes for rib steaks, veal chops and baby lamb chops.

              1. re: son of a butcher

                Well said, Son of a Butcher. You've hit the nail on the head.

                1. re: son of a butcher

                  Thanks to “Elecsheep9” and “SOAB” for your responses to our question. We agree with “Elecsheep9” that the truth probably lies somewhere in between “nature and nurture,” but according to the last response by you that “A great looking prime piece of meat that is hanging in the box, does not always equate to great taste and texture,” this would tend to tilt the equation toward the “nature” side of the house, since even when “Peter Luger’s” wants to favor someone, there is no guarantee that even the most favored customers will receive a great tasting steak.

                  Hence, there is some “luck of the draw” aspect to dining at “Peter Luger’s,” and it is unknown what the probability is for an ordinary diner going to “Peter Luger’s” to receive a great tasting steak. Our guess is the probability must be reasonably high, otherwise “Peter Luger” would not be able to continue maintaining it’s reputation as a great steak house.

                  1. re: lwong

                    "Our guess is the probability must be reasonably high, otherwise “Peter Luger” would not be able to continue maintaining it’s reputation as a great steak house."

                    i'm going for the first time tomorrow evening. i sure hope you are right! :-)

                    1. re: TBird

                      a few mere hours from what i've heard, the wine sitchuation is dismal at best?

                      1. re: TBird

                        the porterhouse last night was EXCELLENT! the bacon was AWESOME. could care less for creamed spinach....

                    2. re: lwong

                      Luger also doesn't season their meat much, if at all, before cooking. A lot of other steakhouses go pretty heavy on the salt and create a lot of extra flavor that way. I often find that the addition of just a little salt to a Luger steak can liven things up quite a bit. I think that this lack of seasoning, which should reveal the distinctive mineral-y flavor of well fed and aged beef, has probably become more of a problem as the quality of available meat in the U.S. has declined, as described in SOAB's post above.

                      It may just be that this flavor of the old days - like good tasting tomatoes or watermelons - is now a thing of the past. But unlike those things, most of us can't raise a steer on our balcony or in our backyard.

                      1. re: Woodside Al

                        Al, When I went to P.L. the other day, I told my wife I wanted to taste the steak as is with no salt, pepper or sauce. I wanted to taste the true flavor or the beef, which I found to be quite flavorless. I prefer no sauce at all or salt and pepper on a good tasting steak. I save the salt for the condiments. I might be in the minority, but I don't like seasonings on steak. It has it's own natural taste if it has quality. I'll stick to my favorite: first cut rib steak.

                        1. re: son of a butcher

                          Dear Butcher's Son,

                          Aside from Costco, where have you experienced steak recently that meets your discerning standards for flavor?

                          1. re: CalJack

                            This may sound funny...but I never ate steak until about 10 years ago. For some reason I hated it as a kid. I grew up in Brooklyn, and my parents worshipped Peter Luger's, and used to go there frequently. That was the only restaurant I refused to go to, because it only had steak. I jumped for joy when my parents took me to Gage and Tollner's (a very sorely missed restaurant...I'm just glad my oldest son was able to go there when he was very young.....) So....I finally made it to Luger's for the first time last spring, for my 2nd son's graduation. The steak was excellent...fantastic flavor, and astounded my whole family. I'm (heretically) not a fan of steak on the bone or rarer than medium, but this porterhouse was excellent even medium-rare. The rest of the Service was great...not at all like the stories I'd heard. But the rest of the food didn't impress me. My martini was small and unimpressive...the wine list is limited...but I found something halfway decent by the glass. Personally, I'm a fan of the Old everything on that menu, I can get great oysters before my steak...and the martini....!!!! certainly can't order more than one glass of wine...and they have good selections by the glass...(my wife barely drinks) and the whole bottles are really expensive anyway.

                            1. re: CalJack

                              CalJack, I'm glad you asked that question. Most people go to a butcher shop or supermarket to get their steak. That's quite understandable. However, the most fun and exciting way is to get top quality at the wholesale price. Because my dad was in the meat business, and I worked with him for many years, I learned at first how to buy sides of beef by going to the 14th street market when I was much younger. When I got good enough to pick out meat, I went to the market myself and let my old man sleep a couple of hours longer. All that ended when my dad retired 20 years ago. Now, whenever I want a good cut of beef, we go back to the 14th Street market and go to a wholesaler who lets us pick out a whole rib and age it properly in his box. Not everyone wants to go through this ordeal. The cost is about 50% of retail and the quality is as good as it gets. New York is a wholesale buyers paradise, but that is another thread at another time.

                              1. re: son of a butcher

                                So I, as a normal consumer, can just go to a wholesaler and pick up some cuts of beef?

                                1. re: elecsheep9

                                  Anyone can go up to Hunts Point market, Canarsie market, Acme Fish, 14th Street meat market, First Ave in Brookyn. But as far as meatsgo, you need a white coat for any meat market and a hat. You also don't want to go to any market and be a thorn in the side of a busy wholesaler. Be diplomatic and go for it.

                2. Just to counter this data point for archival purposes, I have eaten at Peter Lugers about five times in my life, spread out over about 4-5 years. Been about 3 years or so since my last visit.

                  Five best steaks of my life, and everyone I've gone with has agreed. Never tasted a more luscious, beefy, flavorful cut of meat.

                  Couldn't care less about service (which was fine), atmosphere, or, frankly, anything else on the menu (though the fried pertater dishes are decent). I go for the steak.

                  Finally getting a chance to return in a few days. Reading a lot of the anti-hype on these boards has me a little nervous. But, you know, it's just food. If the sixth time is not a charm, I still have five amazing meals to remember.

                  It's impossible to say that someone else's taste experience is "wrong", but people who get "bland" steaks at Lugers must be so unlucky, I'd look eight ways before crossing the street.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: thebordella

                    As Thebordella says, I've been hearing the "Lugers is over" thing for years, have gone to other places (and had some good steaks in those places), but my experience is that I'm more likely to be disappointed somewhere else than Lugers. A meal like this is an anticipated investment in money, expectations, and cardiac damage, so I can't do it too often. Because I need to gamble on consistency and play the best odds, I'll stick with Lugers.

                  2. On my last visit, the staff warned us that due to shortages the porterhouse was in short supply. They even went so far as to recommend the Ribeye, which had been introduced to the menu because of the shortage.

                    I agree that both Porterhouses and Burgers I've had on recent visits haven't been quite as good as they've been in the past. But even sliding a bit, it's among the best meat I've ever had.

                    Personally, I'm psyched about the recent backlash to Luger's. Maybe it'll be easier to get a res now.


                    9 Replies
                    1. re: ultraclay

                      The Costco statement in the opening comment is just rubbish.
                      I am no slave to Lugers, but I have had steaks all over NY and there is still no better steak than the steak at Lugers. There are lots of great steaks, and even better steakhouse experiences, but when it comes to the actual meat, well its still the best.

                      this whole backlash is getting a bit ridiculous. Lugers is over is a common refrain that has been put out there forever....I find it funny that someone can claim to eat somewhere for 15 years, and then all of a sudden you may get a steak not as great as you've had for 15 years and you feel the need to trash the place. to me it smacks of having an agenda or of not being a completely truthful statement.

                      1. re: jvish

                        The Costco statement is true. If you know how to spot good meat, it's there to be had. After paying $150 for a meal at P.L., and walking out saying the steaks I eat at home are better, I have no agenda, I just won't go back there.That be the truth. Don't look too deep into the comment. Let's move on

                        1. re: son of a butcher

                          The Costco remark seemed odd to me as well. I do not shop at Costco but a few years ago I took my mother in law to Costco to buy brisket for her holiday meal. She insisted that the brisket was at least a third less than even the supermarket let alone the local kosher butcher. When I saw that she was right I asked the guy running the meat section and he said the meat was choice, not prime. Now that is fine for meat that is long braised, but not for steaks. Does Costco sell prime beef? Perhaps you don't want us to look too deeply into the statement because it is wrong, foolish and indefensible. It is not about one steak one time.Over time and many visits I think you will do better at Peter Luger the Costco.

                          1. re: son of a butcher

                            son of a butcher
                            Your handle pretty much says it all. I believe that your postings throughout this thread have made a lot of sense. You have not sounded a bit "foolish" nor is there any sense in implying you have some sort of "agenda."
                            You have simply given your opinion based on many years in the business.
                            I'm not in the business but I have had better steak at other restaurants and sometimes, in other people's homes. Most of the time, PL's steaks are excellent, Sometimes, not that great. Cattle are individual animals. They are raised, not manufactured and there will be some differences from animal to animal. Some people are just ..."Lugerized". Why they sound so defensive is a mystery.
                            There is no doubt that PL's serves a good steak, but not every steak is the be all and end all of beef.

                            1. re: Tay

                              Tay, Quite true. For those of us who love food, we can all learn a lot from this board. I just want to say some things about meat that some people can appreciate. Just because meat is USDA labeled, that does not necessarily mean prime is better than choce. On the contrary, a top choice cut is as good as a prime cut, and I have eaten many prime steaks in my life that were not as good as a top choice. I never bought sides of beef based on grade. Butchers don't make any money on prime meat when they get 3 cents a pound for the fat. Prime meat is based on the amount of fat and that should also enhance the flavor and quality. The beef industry has changed over the years thus reducing quality. I have gone into Costco and have also gone into Lobel. I have gone through lots of cuts of beef that Costco puts out, and indeed bought some excellent flavored beef. I am fortunate to own a commercial gas range circa 1960 that has a salamander broiler, which makes a steak char better. That being said, I stick to my original statement. Good eating to all!.

                              1. re: Tay

                                It is foolish to think that anyone other then the son of a butcher could walk into Costco and pick out a USDA graded choice cut, cook it at home and have it taste better then what they would get at Luger.

                                1. re: stuartlafonda

                                  Perhaps I was just very fortunate in my selection but I've done it, and there is nothing even remotely foolish about me so apparently it can, and has been done.

                                  1. re: stuartlafonda

                                    Let's not get sarcastic! The fact is that the meal cost me a buck fifty. Not cheap and also not great. If you have read my posts, I was honest in my words that the meal was no great shakes, just a soft steak. P.L. will not lose any business from my posting and certainly not lose their dedicated customers. Can you tell the difference between a choice that tastes like a prime and a prime that tastes like a choice? And how do we know that the steak at P.L. is truly a prime? I know only that their price is prime rated.

                                    1. re: son of a butcher

                                      You buy sides of meat wholesale, based on a career of selecting meat, you have them aged by, and I'm assuming cut by a professional butcher and you have a home range that has a salamander as good as a commericial kitchen/ steakhouse. How many people do you think have those resources? The point is that for those of us without such resources perhaps your judgment as to the quality and taste of the steak would not be that of the typical hound who is deciding what steakhouse to celebrate at. Comparing P.L. to other steakhouses is the only fair comparison. If you want to question whether P.L. is buying choice and charging prime that is a whole different issue. You claimed that they get first pick of cuts,cherrypicking, but anything is possible. Perhaps you could answer the question posed by "CalJack", where do you find steak that meets your "discerning standards of flavor?" As this is not the home cooking board maybe you could suggest a restaurant. I ate at Benjamin's on Monday with a table of 12 and while the steak was very good it was on that night no match for the typical Luger steak. It was however my only experience at Benjamin's so I won't form an iron clad opinion.