The Art of the Lunch Deal: Primehouse NY

"The $24 lunch special surely ranks as one of the top steak bargains in the city."

20100323-PH-tlede.jpg

Photos: Nick Solares

Primehouse NY

381 Park Avenue South, New York NY 10016; map); 212-824-2600; brguestrestaurants.com
Service: Excellent, far friendlier than your average steakhouse
Setting: A room in transition—the austere, monolithic stone is being replaced by wood
Compare to: Dylan Prime, STK, Luger
Cost: $24 for a 7 ounce steak with a side of potato; $19 ribeye sandwich

When Primehouse opened a few years back, it was a gleaming, thoroughly modern restaurant decked out in marble and glass, and boasting a menu that was more ambitious and artful than your run-of-the-mill chophouse. It was a fine example of the nouveau steakhouse—a genre that sought to redefine the venerable New York institution by blowing the dust of the wood paneling, and doing the same thing to the service. The gruff, cantankerous waiters that throw plates of steak at you have been replaced by far friendlier (and even female!) servers.

The genre found some currency in the years preceding the economic crash that made hamburger of our steak economy. Primehouse NY was just one of the restaurants that sought to modernize the genre. Many are gone—Kobe Club, Craftsteak and Center Cut being prime (pun intended) examples—unable to persuade people to part with their own money when the expense accounts dried up in the wake of economic turmoil.

20100323-PH-ChefBO.jpg

Chef Brian O'Donohoe

Primehouse has survived partly because it has adapted. The once-stark room has been softened with wood paneling over much of the interior. But it's also survived because it has always gotten the most essential component right—fantastic steak, along with a commendable supporting menu crafted by Chef Brian O'Donohoe. They were an early proponent of Creekstone Farms beef, which has risen to such prominence that just this week the New York Timesfeatured the producer . Of course, great meat—like the USDA prime cuts that Primehouse still sources from Creekstone—is only the start. Primehouse NY has an ultra-modern Himalayan salt-lined dry aging room that does a masterful job of tenderizing and imbuing the flesh with a funky, steely flavor.

20100323-PH-dryageroom.jpg

A rack in the dry age room at Porterhouse NY

Dry-aged beef generally costs more than "wet-aged" beef, because as it sits on the shelves, literally decaying, it loses mass—up to 20% of its weight in the first month alone. That is the reason dry-aged steaks can cost as much as they do. A 14oz USDA Prime, 28-day dry-aged strip at Primehouse NY, for example, cost $42.

20100323-PH-raw.jpg

On Left: The 14 and 7 ounce portions of NY Strip

But go at lunch and you can get a 7 ounce portion of the same steak for only $24—even better it comes served with a choice of potatoes. The beautifully marbled beef is seared in a 1800 degree broiler that puts an impressive crust even when the meat is ordered rare. In fact, Primehouse NY is one of the few steakhouses that really gets black and blue steaks right. The cut is ethereally tender, with a buttery finish and a salty, steely character that defines the classic steakhouse experience. When steak is this good it doesn't really need any additions, not even the steak sauce—a tangy affair laced with anchovies—that divides the plate.

20100323-PH-topview.jpg

The potato options are an appropriately named "old school hash browns" that are cooked in duck fat....

20100323-PH-steak-n-fries.jpg

...and some wonderful steak fries. Both are superb.

Although steakhouses are essentially restaurants that are defined by a single dish, and the NY strip lunch special is enough to warrant a visit, I can recommend the lunch sandwiches as good bargains. On a relative scale, of course—you can buy $2 burgers and $5 steak sandwiches, but they won't compare favorably to Primehouse NY's versions, both of which I have previously reported on (here and here).

20100317-PH-Sandwich.jpg

The rib eye sandwich contains sliced dry-aged steak piled onto a French roll with smoked mozzarella and sautéed mushrooms and onions, with a side of steak fries. It is probably the cheapest entry way into the world of dry-aged beef that isn't a hamburger at $19. Because the steaks are taken from the end caps of the rib eye, the dry-aged flavor is pleasingly pronounced.

Speaking of hamburgers (although unfortunately not dry aged ones), the ones that are a staple of the bar room are also present on the dining room lunch menu. They are fine examples of steakhouse burgers.

20081014-primehouse-classic3.jpg

The classic: 10 ounce La Frieda blend of brisket, skirt, and shoulder clod.

20081014-primehouse-steakhouse2.jpg

The Steakhouse Burger adds housemade steak sauce, sautéed mushrooms and onions to the familiar architecture of the classic.

Primehouse NY has adapted to the new realities of marketplace, and the $24 lunch special surely ranks as one of the top steak bargains in the city.The rib eye sandwich and burgers offer even more bang for the buck, if quantity is what you are after. The revamped room is also an improvement, especially during the day, when the sun streams in through the windows. It used to be like dining in a prism, but now the wood adds a warmer, more comforting feel. The evocation is, of course, that of a more traditional steakhouse—ironically, the very wood-paneled institution that the upstart nouveau chophouses sought to usurp.

But the glittery, modern steakhouse is essentially passe, an anachronism even. What people want in a steakhouse, beyond great steak of course, is familiarity and comfort and, perhaps most of all a sense, of tradition. Primehouse has gone a long way towards fulfilling these virtues—and if you go at lunch, you can add value as well.