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Not too keen on Keens

Or I could have titled this post, "Kitchen Not Very Keen at Keens."

Was excited to go to what sounded like a very old-school steakhouse serving wonderful steaks on par with the best in the city (the list, of course, is up to you). The old-school part of that is certainly true - dark, wooden, retro-fancy surroundings with old newspaper clippings framed on the walls and simple pipes covering the ceiling. Loved the creaky wooden steps covered in thick carpet, like someone's old mansion.

We already planned to get an order of the mutton chop and the NY sirloin to split among the two of us. A mention of the french fries being fried in beef fat on this board was good enough a reason for an order. Otherwise, I couldn't stomach paying $10.50 for sliced tomatoes or $8.50 for a few cooked carrots. Luckily, they serve a few cold carrot and celery sticks, a pickle and some olives along with blue cheese dressing at the beginning of the meal with the bread. Call us cheapskates, but hey, veggie side - for free! Also, this may be a minor quibble to some, but the butter slab was cold and thus unspreadable on the rolls. When we're paying $45+ for a plate of meat (and hell, $10 for some simply cooked veggies??), I would expect a higher end restaurant experience.

Too bad the execution at Keens was off, and off again. We ordered glasses of wine to start. When my Gamay came, it had particles floating on the surface. Cork? Whatever it was, it was all over the surface, clear to the eye even before I took a sip. We debated whether we should get a new glass or if we should somehow fish the particles out. But hey, I thought, if we're paying this much for a meal, they should be able to serve me a nice, clean glass of wine. Oh, also about the wine, we ordered two different ones by the glass. I thought it was unusual that the waiter just brought us two glasses of wine on a platter... shouldn't they bring us the wine bottles themselves, show us the labels, let us whiff and taste, then pour??

So I informed the waiter about the cork particles when he came to take our order. He says ok and proceeds to take our order. We ordered mutton and sirloin, both rare to medium-rare, with a side of fries. I like my meat pretty rare, but steakhouses have such varying standards, so I don't want a literally raw piece of meat served to me. Later on, he brings back my Gamay, this time all clean, thankfully. No real apology anywhere.

We wait a little, and our meal comes out pretty quickly. The mutton chop looks enormous, but that's mostly because there are two "wings" of gristle that spread out, making it look large. But they're still big and meaty with a big bone in the middle. Compared to the filet mignon, etc I saw on others' tables, the sirloin looked small (though of course it's probably still 3x the recommended amount of meat daily). Oh well, as long as it's good. I cut the sirloin in half so we could split it, but was shocked at how .... not-rare?... it was. It was pink in the middle, but still fully cooked through. This was what I would consider medium? I had even told the waiter the reasoning behind this strange "rare to medium-rare" order was because I was afraid of the kitchen overcooking a medium-rare. But there it was.

Taste-wise, the sirloin was good, but I couldn't help wishing it were at least a step or so less cooked. For background, I like my meat rare, but the bf wants medium-rare. This tasted a little too dry for MY tastes, which was super disappointing. Towards the end of the filet, I couldn't finish it because at that point, it was nearly medium-well.

The mutton chop was good, but not gamy. I guess I like gaminess, who doesn't want lamb that tastes like lamb??? What I'm saying is the taste wasn't strong. The bf thought it wasn't even that different from the beef. Now this was cooked properly, the pink mixing into a nice reddishness towards the middle. Too bad it wasn't so for the sirloin.

The fries were... a small plate of fries. Worth $8? Not so much, but I guess you need something with all that meat. Could have used more actual fries and fewer stubby crunchy pieces. I didn't really taste anything special about them though.

We ate everything clean and passed on the dessert, none of which sounded that interesting. The waiter said something like "not surprised you pass on dessert" or "wouldn't have expected you to order dessert.'' What does that mean? Because we ate everything? I guess most people take home doggybags? But still, I can't help but think he was implying we were pigs.

So we paid up and left, neither of us thrilled with the meal. We're probably never going to go back there again, as nothing really was so good that it is compelling. I guess the mutton chop is good but that's partially because, where else would you be able to get that? But the taste is more subtle than I expected, which could be a plus for some. All in all, was pretty disappointed because I wanted to like this place! So with all the errors I wouldn't expect at a more expensive place like this, I'll stick to places where I get more bang for my buck.

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Keens
72 West 36th St., New York, NY 10018

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  1. wow this turned out way longer than i expected.

    1. Sorry to hear you did not like Keens. It is one of my favorite restaurants and I have never ever ever had a bad plate let alone experience there. I would have ordered the porterhouse for two or prime rib instead of the sirloin. Also I love their fries and have always gotten a nice portion. You also should have splurged on some more sides... the creamed spinach, carrots in brown butter, and sauteed mushrooms, and roasted cauliflower are delicious.

      For dessert, the hot fudge sundae and coffee cantata are not to be missed. Hopefully you give it another shot but since you did not enjoy it this time I can't fault you for not wanting to try again.

      1 Reply
      1. re: steakrules85

        As I reported here, my last visit to Keen's was disappointing. And I have been there many, many times.

      2. janethepain:

        I had an almost identical reaction to yours to the mutton chop. A lot of inedible parts and not much taste. I was disappointed in the sides (hash browns and brown butter carrots)--nothing really that distinctive. My companion really enjoyed the prime rib and we had great desserts: red berry bibble and fudge sundae. The porterhouse for two looked really great so maybe next time.

        7 Replies
        1. re: ChemWork

          It pays to be a regular at some restaurants; you get to know their style of cooking; and at Keens, a place that has been in business siness since 1885 and serves Prime Beef only, their Mutton Chop is many a carnivores dream. How do you compare this delight to other Mutton Chops you have had in NYC?
          What is your opinion of Peter Luger, I find a similiar simplicity and directness in their side dishes as well. I think it adds to the exaltation of the featured hunk of flesh that we all savor.

          1. re: ospreycove

            There are no other mutton chops in NYC - and in fact what Keens serves isn't really mutton either.

            1. re: gutsofsteel

              Correct of course. The "mutton" chop is all show, and although it sounds like a nice idea best avoided.

              1. re: gutsofsteel

                My point; there is very little market in U.S. for mature mutton.

                1. re: ospreycove

                  And you won't get it at Keens. The reason the "mutton" chop tastes like lamb is because it is lamb. The name is just a piece of branding. It isn't that there are no other mutton chops in the city - there are no mutton chops in the city period (in restaurants anyway).

                  http://events.nytimes.com/2005/12/14/...

              2. re: ospreycove

                Well as I mentioned, there probably aren't other mutton chops in the city, making this by default "the best," but for what it was, it just wasn't that great. I like the taste of lamb, so if you're calling it a "mutton" chop, hit me with it! Don't give me some mild-tasting flesh that appeals to those who avoid gaminess like the plague. Normal lamb chops at any other restaurant had a stronger flavor than this.

                Is Keens' "style of cooking" overcooking?

                1. re: janethepain

                  "Is Keens' "style of cooking" overcooking?"

                  I've been there several times and never had this problem. Sounds like an off night unfortunately. In fact, they are one of the most consistent steakhouses in my book and one of my faves.

            2. Jane,

              Out of curiosity, were you there last night? I have been to Keen'smany times and when I go to a steakhouse, I usuually choose Keens.

              That being said, I had an extermely disappointing meal there last night. My prime rib, though ordered medium-rare was cooked through and fairly tough. Worst of all, it really lacked any discernible meaty flavor or seasoning, for that matter.. Had the creamed spinach, which was good as always and enjoyed the carrots. Fries and hash browns were nothing special.

              But, when you're paying close to $50 for your entree and you are disappointed, I can understand why you wouldn't want to return.

              3 Replies
              1. re: jdf

                YES, I was!! I was in the Lillie Langtry room. Was it really an off-night? Besides the steak, how can you serve a glass of wine with plainly-visible cork bits in it??

                And I doubt the porterhouse or prime rib would have been that much of a better choice had they still been overcooked. We couldn't order the porterhouse since it was for two people and we already were planning on ordering the mutton chop.

                1. re: jdf

                  I'm not a Keens regular; been there just a half dozen times. But one thing I observed on every visit was that the meat was cooked spot on as ordered (I'm a sirloin or T-bone guy, rare or med-rare). How did the staff respond when you told them your prime rib was overdone?

                  I've shared your experience with some of the sides, by the way. Excellent, not-too-creamy creamed spinach. Great carrots, and I'm not even a carrot lover. (Never had those two potato dishes, though. And now I'm less likely to.)

                  1. re: squid kun

                    I didn't. It was one of those delas where a friend was treating, all the sides had already come out and it wasn't worth waiting for a new prime rib to be cooked.

                    Truthfully, though it probably was cooked medium (there was still pink), I don't know that a new order would have been better seasoned, less tough or have a more meaty flavor. May have been the beef selected for that day.

                    As I said, I've been there before and always enjoyed (though I usually get the porterhouse), so I guess I'm chalking this one up to a bad night.

                2. If you just ordered two glasses of wine by the glass you shouldn't expect the waiter the bring the bottle over for you to inspect. I suspect the glass with the floating bits in it was the last of the bottle and what you saw was probably sediment. It's not that uncommon but it shouldn't have been served to you.

                  27 Replies
                  1. re: bookhound

                    Agreed. If you want bottle service, you should order a bottle.
                    Sediment sinks, though. It was probably cork, which floats.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      You're certainly more expert on this topic than I but isn't there some sediment that appear on the top of the glass when you pour out the dregs? It will settle but initially it's visible on top of the wine.

                      1. re: bookhound

                        No, not really.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          Ok, thanks.

                      2. re: invinotheresverde

                        I nearly always order wines by the glass, and each time, they at least pour it tableside. It just makes more sense that way; why bother coming back with filled wine glasses balancing on a tray when you can just bring two empty glasses and one bottle at a time? It struck me as strange because I'm so used to wines being poured in front of me.

                        1. re: janethepain

                          "I'm so used to wines being poured in front of me."

                          Not at Keens.

                          While I’m with you such that I’ve never found Keens food to live up to what some here make them out to be, wine sevice over there is not their primary intent and purpose

                          First, given their pedestrian wine list, I seriously doubt it if they know how a true wine service should be. As a matter of fact, the 2 times I was there, even the die-hard oenophile that I am, both times I ordered single-malt scotch whiskies and beers to eat with my meals. Secondly, given that their by –the-glass list being close to horrendous, I certainly didn’t expect pour-from-the-bottle wine service over there. Given my somewhat longish response, imho and my point is, wine service is not what they are selling there.

                          1. re: RCC

                            Maybe the best selection of single-malts in Manhattan.

                            1. re: steve h.

                              Agree, especially given my novice knowledge on fine Scotch whiskies. I did enjoy the ones that I drank then

                              But, even then, the food really wasn't much to write home about.

                          2. re: janethepain

                            Their is a very good reason why the waiter wouldn't bring the whole bottle. Say you order wine x and the waiter brings over a freshly opened bottle to your table and simultaneously another table orders the same wine, the bartender would have to open up another bottle of wine that is already open for that customer. If no one else orders the same wine by the glass that night the restaurant now owns two opened bottles. I don't know what kind of service you are use to but I think it's too much to expect to get bottle service when you order by the glass.

                            1. re: bookhound

                              It's definitely not too much to ask to get bottle service when ordering by the glass, in fact I see this all the time and it's becoming more and more common. I certainly don't expect it, but many fine restaurants do it and it' s a nice touch. It need not be a freshly opened bottle, it's merely a means to show you that you're getting what you asked for, and typically, they allow you to taste it first to make sure you like it. I've seen it at some steakhouses such as Morton's.

                              1. re: grouchomarx

                                There's a reason they call it bottle service. ;)

                                Also, tasting the wine is not to see if one "likes" it, it's to detect a flawed wine.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  I agree with you that the tasting is to see if the wine is flawed, but on a few occasions I've had a waiter say, if you don't like it, we can try something else. But in general, most places don't really do that.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    On a bottle yes, if it's for a glass, and the waiter suggested it, and pours it by offering it to the customers liking, that could include suiting personal tastes.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Who said the waiter suggested it?

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        i'm suggesting that *if* the waiter has suggested it, by the way they phrase "a taste for your liking" or something similar, it infers they're offering a taste for approval, not just to make sure it's not rancid.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          Again, it's not for approval of the flavor, it's to make sure the wine isn't contaminated with brett, sulphur, tca, cooked, served at the wrong temperature, etc. I'm unaware of "rancid" wines.

                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                            That's for a bottle. If you're getting a taste from an open bottle, you're allowed to judge the the wine's flavor if you like. It's not just ritual.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              Um, I'm the wine director, and former sommelier, of a four star hotel. I'm pretty sure I know how things work, and that you're incorrect.

                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                I'm pretty sure I'm incorrect for your very 4 star hotel at the time you worked there, yes. Otherwise it depends on the establishment, and more importantly, the server, who is rarely a licensed sommelier. Even then, a sommelier is not about to recommend a glass they do not stand by. If the customer feels the flavors were paired wrong, or a glass isn't as described, it can be sent back. Few people are ever going to send it back,but it's a courtesy made available all through NY dining establishments that offer a by the glass wine. Bastardized tradition or not.

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  Current wine director, former somm.

                                  2. re: grouchomarx

                                    Yes, that's what I mean. I typically order by the glass since I'm not about to drink a whole bottle by myself (physically or financially), but MOST of the time I'm out to a "nice" restaurant with a real wine list, they'll pour it from the bottle.

                                    And no, I'm not suggesting that the waiter carry three different bottles at a time. And I don't see why anyone ordering by the glass would expect a fresh bottle each time.

                                    1. re: janethepain

                                      So then the waiter should carry one bottle, fill a glass, go get the second bottle, fill a glass, go get the third bottle and fill a glass, etc.? Seems like a ridiculous waste of time to me.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        Well I'm usually only dining with one other person, but do I normally get this "special" bottle service at restaurants I spend at least $75 a head? Yes, I do. And yes, they do go back and get another bottle (or have another waiter pour) if my dining partner orders a different bottle. And this is what I have expected at Keens. I don't have that much of a problem with it, I was just pointing out that I thought it was unusual given my experience, and wonder if that would have prevented me from getting crap in my wine.

                                  3. re: bookhound

                                    That's absurd. They could simply bring the bottle to one table, pour, and then bring it to the other table.

                                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                                      What if the tables have different waiters?

                                  4. re: janethepain

                                    Really? I've never once seen this, but then again, I never order by the glass.

                                    1. re: janethepain

                                      There are many good restaurants where they do NOT pour wines by the glass tableside.

                                2. The defrosted butter got me too. Never a good sign. I also had the overcooked meat experience...but this was several years ago. It's not a new development.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    I hate cold butter at restaurants too, and I see it EVERYWHERE. I don't understand what's so hard about keeping a few butter dishes out in advance! I have had good meals at restaurants who served cold butter, but it's certainly not the best first impression.

                                    I took my parents to Keens last year. I remember we ordered prime rib, porterhouse, mutton chop. I have to say the mutton chop fell short of my expectations too, it was not nearly lamb-y and gamey as I expected it to be (which would've been a good thing.) But then again since I was with my parents who are not used to eating lamb, maybe for the better. I'm not dying to go back, except maybe to eat at the pub room when I'm stranded in Midtown.

                                    1. re: uwsister

                                      It's a health code violation to leave butter out. Blame the NYCDOH.

                                      1. re: bookhound

                                        I guess I shouldn't name the restaurant but anyway I have a friend who's a waiter at a fine dining restaurant and they definitely have a few butter dishes laying out - he actually taught me about the practice. I'm not saying everybody should break the law - well, maybe I am saying that ;)

                                      2. re: uwsister

                                        Not just cold butter. My memory is of foil wrapped butter cubes with melting watery ice chips.

                                    2. What I don't understand is why you didn't immediately send back your steak and asked for a new one. It's a freaking steak house, ferchrissakes, so if they should get anything right, it's the bloody steak (literally).

                                      If I'm paying those prices, the steak better be perfect.

                                      15 Replies
                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        I guess This thread is a vote for Peter Luger. Where rare is rare!

                                        1. re: ospreycove

                                          I've only been to Keen's three times, but every time the beef was cooked as ordered. The last time we got a porterhouse for two that was fabulous...one of the best steaks of my life. Skip the baked clams though... very mediocre. Also, each time I've been the butter has been ice cold. Oh well...

                                        2. re: linguafood

                                          As someone who has sent a steak back there, I can tell you, it doesn't always go so well.

                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                            Hmph. 'nother reason for me not to go.

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              Keens is pretty special. Awhile back, I mentioned to the waiter that my prime rib was a little overcooked. Next thing I knew, the meat was taken away, a fresh table setting was expertly placed and a properly-cooked prime rib delivered. Fresh sides appeared, waiter, manager and one other appeared table-side to make sure everything was to my liking. It was. I didn't want to make a fuss but I was impressed by the house response to a casual comment to a waiter.

                                              Keens is far from perfect but I'll keep on going.

                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                So..... they DO react professionally? Not sure how to read sugartoof's comment, then.

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  Polar opposite experiences. I had a waiter, and manager arrive to tell me there was nothing wrong with our steaks, and proceed to tell us Keens history as if to shame us.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    Ugh.

                                                2. re: steve h.

                                                  steve h. - Are you a regular, or at least enough of a repeat customer that they recognize you? A lot of these places consciously or unconsciously change service level depending on whether they think you are a mere tourist/ a one-time-only customer or are recognized. I doubt that what they did for you would have happened to Mr. and Mrs. Des Moines. (No offense meant to Iowans, I'm married to one.)

                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                    Ah Ha....you have uncovered the beauty of having a few regular restaurants that you frequent. Hey, it applies to all levels of dining; my fav coffee shop has my coffee steaming and on the table when I come in the door, not that I am "picky", but they know that I like a cup that is prewarmed with near boiling water dumped out, then the black coffee no sugar is poured. Extra hot and it stays that way longer. Overtipping the breakfast waitress is always a good thing too.

                                                    My prefered dinner house makes sure they have a few bottles of my usual red wine properly cooled to about 50*F when I plan ahead and make a reservation for a group of us. In Florida, nothing worse than "warm" red wine

                                                    1. re: ospreycove

                                                      Of course, we all do. But blatant mishandling of others in such a restaurant doesn't refelct well on the house.

                                                      1. re: ospreycove

                                                        ospreycove - That's wonderful once you have found an establishment worthy of such devotion, but we're talking about first visits, or sporadic visits. Asking for the one item they specialize in, meat, to be cooked properly, is not a special accommodation.

                                                      2. re: buttertart

                                                        Howdy, buttertart.
                                                        Deb and I pop in once or twice a year. I may be in their reservations data base but I don't know that for a fact.
                                                        I've had similar (pleasant) experiences recently at San Francisco's SPQR and Stamford's Barcelona.

                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                    Yeah, I'm always a bit wary of sending things back unless there's something horribly wrong; I guess I keep expecting spit in my food or the same food just cooked carelessly and sent back. As I said with the wine, I thought about just picking out the cork pieces with my fork but realized that probably wouldn't work too well.

                                                    Another thing - I don't think the waiter ever asked how everything was. Service was there but just not at the level of a nice restaurant.

                                                    1. re: janethepain

                                                      Typically the finer Steakhouses are accustomed to taking food back without question, as they like to give the illusion that everything out of the kitchen is perfect, and theatrically act as if anything misfired is as much an afront to them as it is to you. I was actually scolded at one place for not telling them until the meal was over, and not allowing them the chance to fix it. They still brought me a free dessert.

                                                      The problem at Keens were far beyond just timing the meat.

                                                3. Been to Keens only once. I guess all the talk and build-up to actually eating there had my expectations high.
                                                  I was let down and found it to be (to me) just an ordinary steakhouse with a lot of history.

                                                  1. That sounds like a lousy experience and I would never go back to a place that treated me like that. Unfortunately, a lot of the "old school" steakhouses think they can ride on their reputation and skimp on service. Personally I avoid these places because there are too many better places to get a great steak AND great service (and ambience). Plenty of fish in the sea!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: grouchomarx

                                                      You know.....Not all restaurants are right for all people.......

                                                    2. You had me a bit worried as I have always enjoyed Keens but I must say that my dinner there tonight was just as good as it has always been. The porterhouse was perfectly cooked and full of flavor. The hash browns were not exciting but the mushrooms were great.