Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of origin: France
Locations worldwide: Six in Bahrain, Barcelona, London, NYC, and Paris
NYC locations: One, in Midtown
When Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote, a bargain-rate Parisian bistro that only serves one entree, opened in Midtown last June, I wondered if there would be steak-loving mobs crowding the sidewalks, a common scene at the original 17th arrondissement location.
So far, this has yet to happen. I've never seen the Lexington Avenue branch more than half-full, and the eatery frequently employs discounts and promotions to lure hesitant New Yorkers. Neutral like a mid-range hotel restaurant, save the murals depicting Venetian gondolas and clowns, the large corner restaurant is often occupied by a disproportionate number of tourists who seem to know something we don't.
This is simplicity at its finest. Your waitress, clad in a French maid's uniform—yes, they are all women—will only ask one question: "How do you like your steak?" Blue, rare, medium, and well are the choices. Medium-rare? You are out of luck, though medium is close.
The prices are reasonable, $24 for the set meal, and the service is efficient—so much so, that you could breeze through a dinner in 30 minutes, if you were so inclined. Courses are brought in rapid succession, but there is clearly no rush. Something about the no-nonsense approach makes ordering a bottle of inexpensive house wine seem like the thing to do. You won't feel miserly picking the fruity and highly drinkable Côtes de Bordeaux ($21.95).
In an instant, a simple green salad lightly dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette and sprinkled with a handful of chopped walnuts shows up.
Anyone expecting a Peter Luger experience will be sorely disappointed. The strip steak is tiny by American standards, a model for the dietary guidelines that use a pack of cards to illustrate a recommended serving size. Lacking crusty char and sliced thinly, the mildly flavored meat is almost a vehicle for the sauce, a secret recipe that's buttery and rife with... well, no one knows. Chicken livers and thyme are suspected ingredients, but I swear I can taste tarragon. It also reminds me of non-spicy green curry, even though I know that's impossible. What I do know is that it's exponentially tastier than A1.
As you might expect, the frites are first rate with a good ratio of softness to crunch. Don't even bother asking for ketchup (you won't get it) when the steak sauce can perform double duty. And you'll get quite a pile, since steak and fries are served in two installments. While eating your first batch, your remainders are kept warm atop candlelit trays stationed throughout the room. Your emptying plate will be replenished the second you get down to your last slice of meat.
The dessert menu is voluminous, considering the rest of the meal is choice-free. The seventeen options include a cheese plate, crème brulee and popular vanilla ice cream-filled profiteroles smothered in sweet chocolate sauce ($6.50).
The staid neighborhood, low on evening foot traffic, is probably the biggest hindrance to Le Relais de Venise's success. If transported to a more youthful part of town, the prix-fixe steak concept would make an attractive cheap date destination.
Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote
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