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Aug 8, 2009 12:05 PM

Minetta Tavern Last Night (In depth review!!)

If you have been reading my posts lately I have been craving a great burger. After hearing all of the rave reviews about the burger at Minetta, I figured I would see if I could get a table. Everyone says it is impossible to get reservations, but for some reason I usually have decent luck at these type of places. Called on a whim on Friday afternoon to see if they had anything for me and luckily they did! So that was it I was going to Minetta Tavern. Let me just preface the review by saying I think it is somehwat unfair for these places to live up to the hype that is bestowed upon them by restaurant critics, reviewers, and food bloggers. After reading all of the rants and raves, as a diner you go in with such high expectations and any little blemish makes you feel disappointed. That is why I always try to go into these experiences with an objective mindset, as if I did not hear about the hype in the first place (even though we know this is almost impossible to do). Alas, I guess if it wasn’t for such glaring reviews and publicity us foodies would never even hear about these dishes in the first place, so all in all I guess we need them. Anyway, back to the review.

I arrived for my 5:30 reservation and was told to wait at the bar until they were ready to seat me. There were lots of other parties waiting there too, which assured me that this place was definitely on everyone’s radar. The stories you hear about certain people getting preferential treatment are true. After I arrived, a party of three came in and without hesitation the hostess said “Take them to table 12”. Oh well, I guess it just comes with the territory. I waited around 15 minutes or so and wasn’t in a hurry so whatever I didn’t care. The service was incredible, my waitress was very informative and attentive throughout the meal, water was constantly refilled, and tablecloths replenished after each course. I was kinda disappointed in the bread because it wasn’t hot, but I liked the sea salt and of course the butter. Whatever, I was here for thegood stuff. Now onto the real food.

Going in the gameplan was to get that Black Label burger and nothing was going to stop me. Right? Well, as many of you know I am a steak fanatic. In addition to the burger, their cote de beouf has received much praise. So there I was staring down at my menu and that cote de beouf was staring me in the face screaming “order me, order me!”. And I won’t lie…. It crossed my mind several times in a span of about 10 minutes and I found myself waffling as usual as that devil on my shoulder was telling me to go for it. However, I vowed to myself after being disappointed by the cote at Momofuku that I would not order this high-priced of a steak in a non-steakhouse while dining alone. If I had someone else with me I probably would have ordered it because it would have cost me half as much, therefore alleviating a lot of the possible (inevitable?) disappointment that could occur. So after that mini-battle with myself I proceeded to order the lobster salad ($24), Black Label burger with cheddar cheese cooked rare($26), and a side of sauteed wild mushrooms ($8).
Lobster salad- It came out within 5 minutes of me ordering it. The lobster was delicious and very fresh- 2 chunky claws and a nice piece of tail about 5 oz overall. It came served over some nice lettuce and a refreshing light lemony dressing. While delicious, would I order it again for $24? No. For 12, I would say definitely. But this salad was more than most of their entrees and ironically only 2 bucks less than the”vaunted” Black Label burger.

Black Label burger- So here it was making its way towards me from the kitchen… the main event. Th brioche bun was nice and soft and lightly toasted. My first thought about the burger was that it wasn’t that large… I would say about 7 ounces or so, which was abit of a drawback for me (but it was good in a way which I will get to later). I grabbed the burger and took my first nibble without any ketchup just to taste the burger on its own. Right away you are hit with the funky smell and taste of that muskiness that all meat lovers like myself look for in a great dry aged steak. You can really taste the quality of the meat even with the cheddar cheese on it. I absolutely loved the caramelized onions and wish they actually gave me more. After the first bite, I proceeded to construct the burger to my liking and added my ketchup because hey I HAVE to have ketchup on my burgers.. tough. I also always cut my burgers in half to make sure they are cooked properly, and this was cooked to my requested rare (although it could have even been a tad more so). This for me was a big plus, that’s the number one obstacle when winning me over. If my meat is not cooked to my requested temperature, I have no interest in continuing to eat it. The first few bites of the burger were really delicious. However, after awhile I kind of felt like my tastebuds were getting used to the taste. I ate half the burger with the bun intact, which actually got soggy on the bottom which was a little disappointing. For the other half, I separated it from the bun which is what I usually do with my burgers because I just wanted to eat the meat sans the bread. No question, the quality of meat in this burger is top notch. Would I say it is worth the $26 price tag? No, but then again I don’t think any burger could be worth that. I mean.. it’s a burger.. comfort food not haute cuisine. When I go out to a nice restaurant such as this I actually like to order something that is more of an entrée (steak, duck, fish, lamb, you get it). I would usually never order a burger at a place like this, because I feel you can get a great burger in a more casual spot for much less. But, the reason it is so much is because of the quality of the meat that is put into the burger. For me I believe that prime dry aged steak should be used in its natural and intended form= STEAK, not ground into a burger patty. For some reason, it just loses something. When I go to a place and have a signature dish I always think of that show “The Best thing I ever ate”. And I ask myself is this the best (burger in this case) I ever ate? And I cannot say emphatically yes that it was. Actually, I think the burger I had at Rare Bar and Grill and the kobe burger at Uncle Jack’s may have been better. Still, there is no question this is one delicious burger and I glad that I ate it as it hit the spot for my burger craving. I haven't had to opportunity to sample many of the top burgers in the city (like I have steakhouses), so this is kind of like the start of a new project for me. Next stop Spotted Pig.

Fries- One really huge let down for me was the fries! I was really looking forward to them since they are supposedly the same ones used at Balthazar which is supposed to have some of the best fries in the city (never been). But they were nothing special at all and after a few I totally lost interest in them. But then again I am not a fan of thin fries anyway. Gimme thick steak cut fries. So overall, the black label was delicious and a great burger. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t larger which would have definitely given it more points in my book. But the good thing was you can eat this whole burger and not feel like you have a bowling ball in your stomach. It is definitely not a gut bomb, leaving you room for dessert. Life altering? No. But if you are big into burgers, I think everyone should go at least once just to experience it.

Mushrooms- At first bite the mushrooms were kinda bland and underseasoned. But it was nothing a little salt, pepper, and copious amounts of butter couldn’t fix. Once I added these condiments they were great. I actually wound up eating most of them. I like to play with my food and make my own flavor combinations, so I actually spooned some of the mushrooms on a bite of my burger and they went great together.

Dessert- Now this may have been the best part of my meal. I love souffles and when executed right it is one of my favorite desserts. Like I said, the good thing about the burger not being offensively huge is it leaves you room for dessert and for me when dining out I need dessert. We came this far and if you’re gunna do it do it right. So I got the grand marnier souffle ($18), side of strawberry ice cream, and whipped cream which the waitress assured me was whipped in house. This thing was incredible and HUGE! Yeah it is 18 bucks but it is really meant for two and could easily satisfy three sweet tooths (or one of mine ha)). The top had a nice browned crust, giving way to that perfectly eggy interior that wasn’t too liquidy where it was undercooked and not to cakey that it was overcooked. It was the perfect balance between the two. Dig into the souffle, dip your spoon into the ice cream, then the whipped cream and all of these flavors together were magical. The tartness from the citrusy souffle, sweetness from the strawberry, and the creaminess from the whipped cream was flawless. If you come here get the damn souffle. A couple of tables down from me a couple got the chocolate one and I could smell it from my table so needless to say I know what I am getting next time!

Drawbacks- One thing that was annoying was how cramped the place is. I was dining alone and basically was sandwiched between two parties of two, which led to me feeling like I was eavesdropping on their conversations. This caused some awkwardness when I made eye contact with them because I obviously could hear everything being said haha. But whatever, were all there for the same
Atmosphere- Definitely a great atmosphere. This place was buzzing from the time I got there til the time I left. Usually when I dine that early, places are empty but not Minetta. It was packed and yes you will be surrounded by some characters and personalities there. Some people from the village really are weirdos haha, but that adds to the fun. Didn’t see any celebrities, but there were definitely some characters there- maybe from Broadway or something. I loved how it was bustling, the pictures on the walls, dim lighting, red leather booths. You really do feel like you are in some kind of exclusive club. Reminds me of Strip House, which is one of my favorite restaurants, instead with pictures of caricatures instead of..strippers lol.

Verdict- Ok, so there is my usually long-winded and detailed review. I really enjoyed my meal at Minetta Tavern. Food was delicious, service was top notch, great atmosphere. I saw some other diners chowing on the cote, the bone-in strip steak, and a special pork rib chop and they all looked fabulous. So it definitely warrants a return trip. Would I run back for that Black Label burger for that price? No, I wouldn’t but I recommend you go and try it once as it’s a good experience and a mighty tasty burger. Minetta Tavern is definitely a fine restaurant. I will however definitely be back to try that ribeye for two and I assure you I will have someone with me when I do.

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  1. Your review makes me nostalgic for the old Minetta, where you could get a fine martini at the bar anytime, and all you'd have to deal with was a few "pro's" who literally lived there...
    Oh, the food? Well at least you never were sandwiched between "characters and personalities" (they were perched at the bar) and you could look at old Joe Gould as long as you'd like...

    8 Replies
    1. re: penthouse pup

      Never was at the old one, but from what I have read the new revamped one in light years better. Who knows? Personal opinions differ you know.

      1. re: steakrules85

        Thanks so much for your detailed report - the souffle sounds fabulous, and I've been wanting to try one in a restaurant again after having made a couple recently at home.

        Oh - and I had fries at Balthazar at a late lunch on Friday, so they are fresh in my mind (delicious) and I'll try to remember so that I can compare when I get to Minetta Tavern.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I haven't been to Balthazar yet but I want to try it. I am fearful now of ordering the fries though.

          1. re: steakrules85

            Steak - I LOVE reading your reviews!!

            I don't understand all the rave reviews for Balthazars fries!! I have ben 2x and while they were good - they are certainly nothing to write home about!
            And I have to add that the fries were the best thing there - so you can guess that I am not a fan.

            Nine hours and counting!!!!!!

            1. re: NellyNel

              Thanks so much for the props Nel! I am glad you enjoy reading my posts. I enjoy writing them so it is great to know they are a good read for some people. Yeah I don't know those fries were the big let down for me.. oh well.

              Yep nine more hours.. I can't wait.. not like you seem excited or anything~!!

              1. re: steakrules85

                I, too, enjoy reading your reviews, steak. This one, as always, is choc-a-bloc with interesting details told in your humorous "voice."

                This evening, I get to put a face to that "voice"! :)

                Btw, we had dinner at Scarpetta last night. It totally lived up to the hype. Delizioso!!


                We finally made it to Balthazar a few weeks ago. We did not have the fries, but the food we did have was excellent. We will be going back there with friends next weekend for brunch, so it will be interesting to see how it holds up the second time around. However, as of now, I'm a new Balthazar fan.

                Looking forward to meeting you. :)

                1. re: RGR

                  When I was there for lunch on Friday, we had six oysters (West Coast), six Little Neck clams, two orders of steak tartare, one frites and a carafe of white wine. The tab was exactly $100 before tip. The steak tartare was excellent, as were the oysters. I suspect that Balthazar is one of those places that suffers from hype and, as a result, unreasonable expectations. I've never had a bad meal there - always quite a good one. That said, I tend to order pretty much the same things every time.

                  And - I've always had good service, as was the case on Friday. In this case, we called as we were heading downtown and got a lunch reservation for 2pm. Traffic meant we were running late, so I called again and the reservationist relayed the information to the restaurant. We did have to wait about ten minutes for a table, and I don't particularly enjoy the loitering in the vestibule bit, but the bar was packed.

                  1. re: RGR

                    Thank you thank you RGR, same to you! I get to put a face to the person I owe recommending one of the most memorable experiences of my life (EMP). And we do share a lot of similar opinions on our favorites in the city.

                    Glad to hear about Scarpetta and Balthazar as they're on my list to try. Can't wait to meet everyone tonight and discuss all this great food that you had....if we actually do have time to talk since we will be stuffing our faces with that great Bo Ssam haha.

                    Only a few more hours guys.. getting hungry??? (Do I really have to ask I know)

      2. Nice review...i'll check it out soon...

        1. Thanks for the rewiew!! I'll be in NYC for the week of Sept. 2-9th and already secured a table @ Minetta (my one and only planned dinner...). Now I have to decide between a burger and ? Tough call, but there'll be 4 of us so maybe we'll have to do some sharing. That souffle sounds delicious.... adam

          5 Replies
          1. re: adamshoe


            If you are looking to share some things I highly recommend the lobster salad which was huge and delicious--definitely large enough for two people. The cote de boeuf for two was out of this world. Otherwise, I agree with everything steakrules (great review) wrote about the service and atmosphere.

            1. re: ChemWork

              Thanks Chemwork... you guys are giving me a big head with all these great compliments.

              1. re: steakrules85


                I also have to agree with you about RGR and Eleven Madison Park. I had the most memorable meal of my life there (the Gourmand Tasting Menu with wine pairings) in June. The food, atmosphere, and service were truly exceptional. I still need to post about it. She is an outstanding advocate for the restaurant and I weighed her opinion heavily before going there. You should go to Scarpetta--I had a great meal there two nights before Minetta and five nights before EMP.

                1. re: ChemWork

                  Ooh, another swelled head here, ChemWork! lol Seriously, though, I'm honored that my advocacy for EMP played a major role in your decision to go there. But what is most heartwarming is that you had an outstanding experience there. I look forward to reading your review. :)

                  1. re: RGR

                    RGR- You've also inspired me to make a reservation at EMP for my 5 yr wedding anniversary (in 3 weeks). I also just found out that my husband made lunch reservations for my birthday (this wed)- so that's 2 visits to EMP this month. I'm so looking forward to it!
                    I do have a backup reservation at Scarpetta though. Not as special as EMP, but at 6 months pregnant, I have serious pasta cravings.

          2. Went back tonight and must say everything was awesome. Minetta is fast becoming one of my favorite restaurants in the city. The only big negative is that I HATE their reservation system and find their reservationists to be somewhat nasty. I tried the black label on my first visit and truly enjoyed it. This time I cant with my family for my dad's birthday.

            We started with the pasta za za for the table which was really delicious. The pancetta reminded me of Peter Luger bacon and the egg was a great addition to the dish.

            We decided to go with the main event the Cote De Boeuf. As someone who considers himself asteak conoisseur and eaten in every top steakhouse in the city, I must say this is one of the best steaks I have ever had. It was cooked perfectly rare as I liked and accompanied with delicious marrow bones. We also shared sides of the pommes anna, aligot, mushrooms, and carrots. All were delicious, especially the potatoes.

            My mother and sister's bf went with the black label which they both said was the best burger they ever had. I tried my mom's and it was as good as I had the first time. But seriously, the best thing on the menu is that cote. What a terrific meal.

            My sister had the filet mignon au roquefort which is wrapped in bacon and topped with roquefort (french blue cheese). Usually, she isn't much of a steak eater but she enjoyed that much so.

            For dessert this time we went with the chocolate souffle, coconut layer cake, and a scoop each of vanilla and caramel ice creams. Everything was terrific. Came out to $460 which is pricy but we thorougly enjoyed our meal and had a great time, great service, in a true treasure. We will be back.

            8 Replies
            1. re: steakrules85

              Great update Steak! (You truly do live up to your name!)

              1. re: steakrules85

                steakrules FTW. Did the cote de boeuf have that steakhouse char? and is it bone in?

                1. re: daffyduck

                  Yeah it had a nice char but not overly so where it overpowered the taste of the beef. It was cooked extremely well.

                  Of course it is bone in. Cote de Boeuf literally means rib of beef.

                  1. re: steakrules85

                    ohh, haha i didnt know that! (and i just took two terms of french) massive fail on my part lol.

                2. re: steakrules85

                  I wonder if maybe trying to reserve on the way out, they'd be nicer to you...

                  1. re: kathryn

                    I eat there as a walk-in A LOT, and they have never once let me do this.

                    The reservations function and the front desk function are kept entirely separate.

                      1. re: Sneakeater

                        I called on Sunday just a little after two to ask for a table for two for brunch, and they said as long as we got there by 2:45 when the kitchen closes, they could accomodate us. However, traffic was terrible so we hopped out of the cab at 5th & 60th, knowing that we couldn't make the cut-off time. They did say that once we ordered we would be able to have leisurely meal, not be rushed etc.

                  2. "Reminds me of Strip House, which is one of my favorite restaurants, instead with pictures of caricatures instead of..strippers "

                    Funny, the last time I was at Strip House I noticed they had replaced most of those photos with more family oriented ones, or relegated them to the corners of the room where they were less noticeable.

                    Thanks for the reviews.