The sexiness of a steakhouse depends, as do so many things, on the eye of the beholder. To some, these temples devoted to the preparation of meat stand at the pinnacle of erotic provocation, what will all the juiciness and pinkness and so forth. To others, steak houses evoke decidedly unsexy things, dedicated as they are to flesh. Ricardo Steak House in East Harlem wants to fall squarely into the first camp. And for us, it did, managing the rare feat of creating mood lighting while the sun is still high in the sky, and offering potency and virility via its entrees.
To start, a basket of garlic bread, crimped, ridged, and ribbed to maximize the infusion of butter, parsley, and garlic. We didn't order it, but the Ricardo salad with shrimp ($12) seemed to be the most popular appetizer, given the number being eaten around us. Eaters appeared satisfied.
Instead, we tried the fried calamari ($10). This appetizer avoided the rubberiness that sometimes occurs with versions of this common dish. We got good chew within a nicely salted batter. Best of all, a few fried zucchini had been buried among the squid, leading to a very savory scavenger hunt.
Upon later reflection, we realized that the Kobe beef burger ($18) averaged, approximately, $3.32 per bite. But, man, were those bites good, even if they did arrive a shade more well than medium. It's served on a gently toasted English muffin with slices of red pepper, and creamy, young Gruyère matched the crumbly, juicy meat bite for bite.
Equally full of testosterone was the Ricardo special platter ($22). True to the name, the food was special, thanks to the skirt steak and rice and beans. The platter also featured a hefty pork chop, sweet plantains, and mashed potatoes. Of the two meats, the skirt steak took top honors, especially after a dash or two of salt; the pork chop was just too well done to compete.
Ricardo's brother-owners wanted their restaurant to combine the entertainment of an open kitchen with the sensuality of a nightclub. Candles flickered, and hip hop, both classic and contemporary, thumped. And yet, there were children seated beneath paintings of women dancing languidly. Ricardo sits on the line where a kiss goes from chaste to gasp. With its hedonic aesthetic and strong takes on steakhouse standards, Ricardo is best for a date with a carnivore.