July 9, 2012 | BITE: My Journal
New Stakes for Strip House
My friend the Don Juan says a corner two at Strip House can be prelude to a hot night.
I see Girls Nights Out all around me in buzzy restaurants, mostly millennials and even their younger sisters, dressed for stalking, bathed in a reflected blue glow as they track their texts while sipping. But this was my first girls night out in years. We were a savvy foursome, I couldn’t help thinking. I could say “heavyweight,” except that would be misleading, since at least three of us were trim, if not near-perfect.
We discovered we all hated the new HBO series “Girls.” “Girls,” we agreed, was only for people with lives as pathetic as those in the show. We were definitely “Sex in the City,” maybe 15 or 20 years later, still gossip fodder, still creative, still competing. We congratulated ourselves.
I am eager to explore the casual style and burgers at new Strip House Grill.
I had let my friends decide where to go so it wouldn’t be my fault if it didn’t work out. Cassandra reported recently discovering Strip House Grill, the small annex Steve Hanson opened when he bought Strip House on West 12th Street from The Glazier Group. “It’s small and cozy” she said. “You can get a burger or order from the regular menu,” she said.
Forced to move upstairs to escape a noisy party at the Grill, I stop by late to find it empty.
I was early. There was a boisterous huddle of young suits nursing drinks at the bar and a duo at a table shouting over dinner. Amazing how loud the echo. Amazing how the low ceiling amplified everything. No one greeted me. I approached a man who did not seem to be in charge about our reservation. He looked at a computer. “I don’t see a name anywhere,” he said. “We don’t take reservations,” he said.
“No reservations” means nothing to the endlessly well-connected Cassandra. “I think we are expected,” she announces on arrival. An executive type has rushed downstairs from Strip House proper. “Your table is definitely next door,” he said. “We’re expecting a party of twelve here at any moment, and it will definitely be too noisy for you.”
Cassandra surveys the situation. “I guess we better move upstairs.”
You’ll probably skip Gorgonzola bread at a Girls Night Out dinner, but not bibb salad.
I never used to need a drink. But lately I’ve noticed I often do. We started out catty, with a few rapier bites at each other, then got our Girls Night Out mojo back and relaxed, blaming it all on Men, and debated how to order so we could taste everything. I ordered a Margarita straight up without salt.
I imagined the staff had picked up some B. R. Guest personality tweaks since the takeover. Then I recalled that Strip House style was always accommodating, just a few degrees less than Happy Camper. One manager who had worked for both companies seemed comfortable in his new identity. (“Ninety-five per cent of the kitchen and dining room crews were there from our day one,” Hanson says, “And many from the Glazier’s day one.”)
The cliché tomato and onions has gentrified here with heirlooms and goat cheese toasts.
The thrill of tomatoes and onions, a classic New York steakhouse tradition, has always eluded me. Raw onions and not great tomatoes. I didn’t get it at The Palm or Peter Luger’s in the ‘60s and I would not have ordered it now. But Nora insisted that would be her starter. It had grown up to be a stunner: a rich Technicolor of heirloom tomatoes, a few of them even ripe, with delicate slivers of onion and toasts slathered with goat cheese. Enough for the table to share.
I thought my Caesar lacked essential oomph — hints of anchovy in the dressing, a certain eggy thickness. And why paprika croutons? Everyone else thought it was perfect. (At that point I decided to stop asking.) Cassandra, always a challenge to the kitchen, had redesigned her chopped salad and asked for dressing on the side, so it was impossible to judge.
For several years Strip House’s sirloin has been my favorite steak in town.
For a long time I’ve been sending friends and readers to Strip House for my favorite New York steak. Now I didn’t know what to expect. Hanson had switched suppliers, I’d heard. “Dry aged, grain and corn-fed,” the waiter chanted. The Glazier’s corporate executive chef John Schenk was still in charge. The in-house executive toque John Vignola still called the shots on 12th Street. Yet I didn’t anticipate such perfection.
The Road Food Warrior prefers the fattier rib eye, a perfection of aging and cooking.
Both the 16 oz. strip and the 20 oz. bone-in rib eye — naked on a bare plate, except for a roasted half globe of garlic — are top-notch, complex flavor, perfectly cooked, beautifully caramelized, rare and meaty. Normally one slice of each would tell the tale for me. But now I’m craving a second from that rib eye.
A friend and I split the rib eye one night. It was a thicker cut than tonight’s.
Before Cassandra sends back the crisp-skinned Scottish salmon because she doesn’t like salmon rare, I taste. Even wild salmon needs flavor enhancement so I’m wowed by the bluster of flavor in this farmed fish ringed with artichokes, pancetta and fingerling potatoes in basil sauce. I hide my eyes not to witness the overcooked fish that returns — first degree murder in my book.
My Grill Burger is first-rate too: it’s big, a rich short-rib grind layered with bacon and Vermont cheddar — perfectly made — on a decent roll served with exceptional fries, crisp, full of potato flavor. It’s unusual to get good or bad fries anywhere that are not very salty or over-salted. Amazingly, these are just-salted enough…although given the improvisational nature of salting, it could be an aberration. I dip mine into the béarnaise, one of the $2 a la carte sauces for steak — a not very impressive béarnaise, thin and slightly wimpy — but good enough for the fries. The mac‘n’ cheese balanced the evening by being too salty under its crusty topping, but still compelling.
I took a mac’n’cheese home for my guy. It was richer than Mom’s, but irresistible.
Each of us has ordered a favorite side. Nora offers the steamed asparagus to all.
Nicole finds the truffled creamed spinach “not what it used to be.” In pre-truffle oil times, I suppose. Cassandra sends back her baked potato (sour cream, bacon and cheddar on the side) because the color looks odd to her. Agreed, the potato flesh is strangely beige. Too long on hold, perhaps.
I’m torn between twice-baked potato gratin (delicious excess) and the crisp goose fat potatoes, an homage to L’Ami Louis in Paris (more delicious excess). In Paris, ask for pommes béarnaises and brace for its chopped raw garlic and parsley garnish. Does the confetti of garlic seem timid at Strip House? I think so.
The house’s signature chocolate monster cake is 24 layers if you count the filling separately.
Surely no new regime would dare to tinker with the Glazier’s iconic chocolate cake, 24 layers, if you count the luscious chocolate sludge holding the cake together, and thick fudgy chocolate frosting. It’s huge — a taller triangle than the Flatiron building — enough for six or eight to share. Tonight it’s as I remember it. And the baked Alaska with pistachio and chocolate ice cream sent as a gift by the kitchen is tempting too.
The Glaziers in recent years have become my new friends, almost family. Steve Hanson has been a friend for 20 years, an early champion and collector of my guy, the Road Food Warrior, Steven Richter’s photographs. It was painful for the Glaziers to sell their first-born Strip House with its sexy red and black design by David Rockwell. But they needed the money to emerge from bankruptcy after the economy tanked. There were other bids. “We’re happy it’s Steve because we know he’ll do a great job,” Peter Glazier said.
“I didn’t want to change anything because the Glaziers did a great job to develop a terrific brand,” Hanson says, honoring the symbiosis of it all. The Glaziers had talked about selling burgers in the nook next door. Hanson is doing it.
They are family now, in an unusual dynamic. Hanson owns the Strip House in Las Vegas too. The Glaziers have Houston, Livingston, New Jersey, Key West and Naples, Florida. They need each other to excel. How well each tends the brand reflects on the Strip House image. “It’s unfortunate that I got my good fortune from the Glazier’s misfortune,” Hanson says.
13 East 12th Street. Between Fifth Avenue and University Place. 212 328 0000. Dinner only Sunday and Monday 5 to 10 pm. Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 11 pm. Friday and Saturday 5:11:30, Strip House Grill will be open for $24.07 lunch during Restaurant Week as well as evenings with its regular menu. Call 212 838 9197 to reserve.