January 26, 2015 | BITE: My Journal

Bowery Meat Company: Dinner at Animal Farm

This juicy pork ribeye is layered with flavor from its Korean barbecue bath.
This juicy pork ribeye is layered with flavor from its Korean barbecue bath.

           We’re here for the meat. If we were panting for sushi or craving chicken or trying to impress a vegan pal, we wouldn’t be here. It’s called Bowery Meat Company. John McDonald and his chef partner Josh Capon proved themselves aquatic at Lure, and run with the cows at Burger and Barrel. Now the duo’s full immersion into flesh has our town’s predacious fatalists vying for tables. Fat, char, salt. Attach it to meat. You cannot miss. As James Beard once complained to me when his doctor ordered him to cut down, “Life isn’t worth living if you can’t eat what you want.”

How to characterize the crowd? People seem to be serious about meat.

           Just when we’ve discovered what gifted chefs can do with vegetables and grains and have conceded the planet’s need for sustainability and sworn to make plants the center of our plate, another steakhouse opens. It’s a carnivorous backlash. No way a restaurant critic can keep up with the contagion of grill shops. Given the provenance of Bowery Meat, it’s impossible to get in. I try to book anonymously. Who do you know? I asked my restaurant- junkie pals. No way.

Partner John McDonald, sidles through the room, dapper as Fred Astaire, but better-looking.

           I give up and email John McDonald. Reservation confirmed. So this (confession) will be about how good Animal Farm can be early in the evening when the house is really trying to impress. As if that weren’t enough, it seems my companion organized Josh’s wedding. “It was perfect,” the chef tells her.

I’d prefer to be anonymous but it can be lark when I’m not, like eggs on the house

           That’s why we get four halves of deviled egg topped with Northern Lights caviar (two for $25 if you order), along with the usual amuses: bacon and rosemary focaccia flanked by a lineup of tangy sausage rounds, and a bowl of slightly uptight arancini of oxtail and marrow. Meat and meat and meat.

           Capon stands by to advise us. He’s a blend of a sideshow barker and a Jewish mother all in one, each diluting the other. The menu bows a bit to steakhouse tradition, but then it flies off the radar. And of course there is swordfish, lobster, and a roasted chicken for heretics who aren’t clear why they spent 45 minutes in traffic to get here. The four of us are having difficulties deciding.  As for me, I want everything.

Chef-partner Josh Capon totes his collection of flesh to the table and does meat till you’re dizzy.

           The chef lumbers up with a collection of red meat. It reminds me of the show and tell at Morton’s of Chicago except, the meat isn’t wrapped in Saran. He shows us the 14 oz. dry-aged strip at $55. He fondles the Bowery steak – a house original meatopian Pat LaFreida fashioned out of the fatty deckle or ribeye cap. It gets rolled, tied, grilled and served with salsa verde and whipped potatoes for $54 – it looks like a burger with a PhD.

Flame-grizzled veal chop comes out for ohs and ahs. The chef squeezes a grilled orange on top.

           My friends and I debate the Fiorentina for $144. We eye the Chateaubriand, a 20 oz. center cut filet mignon for $110, but only to reject it. We never eat filet mignon. Besides, Capon is high on his 38 oz. Côte de boeuf for $138. His growly passion is hard to resist. We decide to toss in the $52 veal chop with Moorish spices.

Spread some foie gras and chicken liver parfait on toasted brioche, then dab on onion jam.

           McDonald arrives, dapper in a fedora he does not remove, stopping by to make sure we’re happy. I could tell him he is Fred Astaire only handsome. But clearly, he knows it.  Contemplating his third Hanky Panky (a gin classic invented by a woman bartender at the London Savoy), at least one of my companions is near giddy already. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it’s a lark being treated like I’m still Gael Greene and not just that I used to be. 

Our Chinese barbeque pork belly sits on gem lettuce ready to be rolled.

           Meanwhile dishes arrive unbidden. Delicious little rectangles of mushroom ragout on crispy polenta cakes with Parmesan shavings, and marvelous foie gras and chicken liver mouse parfait to spread on toasted brioche and mound with onion jam. Chinese barbeque pork belly wraps arrive – already portioned out just for us. (You might have to roll your own.)

Little gem wedges sprinkled with nuts and seeds can make you forget Mom’s classic iceberg.

           And it’s not all meat. Slices of raw sea scallop under radish thins with bits of apple zing with the brisk wakeup of yuzu. Wedges of little gem lettuces are luscious sprinkled with the crunch of nuts and seeds in a yogurt dressing.

Chef Capon gives Drago's of New Orleans oyster singe credit for inspiring his own.

           Now the singed garlic butter and Romano cheese perfume of crusty broiled oysters hits our noses and we cry out as if we’ve never seen a slightly over-broiled oyster before. The chef-tummeler makes sure we all know they are inspired by Drago's Seafood restaurant in New Orleans.

After a classic Gin Hanky Panky cocktails, you don’t care how dark or somber the room looks.

           I look around the room, wondering how to characterize it. It’s mostly the colors of men’s suits. There are small shaded lamps and modest white orchids fluttering like birds. The tabletop is made of wood wedges like butcher block. Near us a table of six kicks back tequila shots. As the crowd builds, I watch the chef toting his butcherings to other tables – holding up the veal chop, caressing the strip, jousting with a rib bone, explaining and advising.

It’s not all meat. There’s scallop crudo too, fresh and citric with radish, apple and yuzu,

           At some point it gets darker and the music – ‘90s and ‘00s R&B -- gets louder. The women arriving now seem taller and pouty. They trail behind men who look like Woody Allen, whispering as if plotting an immediate escape to the powder room. It’s too busy now for Capon to do the lamb and veal chop show. The waiters – mostly grownup and hip to the theme -- are on their own.

Josh stops by to make sure we taste the whipped potatoes which alas, do not rival Jöel Robuchon’s.

           But Josh himself delivers our cow. He studies the thick fire-grizzled veal chop  – a 16 oz. Amish rib -- and looks pleased. “May I?” he asks, and not waiting for the answer, squeezes the broiled half orange all over the meat where it mingles with the charred cumin, coriander, paprika and fennel seed. “Shall we slice this for you?” The waiter whisks it away.

I like the Moroccan spicing but this veal chop could be juicier. Maybe another squeeze of orange.

           Now a surge of servers covers our table with chef-selected sides. There are carrots the kitchen forgot to glaze, spinach (no sense going for healthy at this point) and Capon’s favorite potato fondant. I hear him muttering about butter but I’m already lost in the crunch of hash brown shreds, topped with melted onion and a swath of sour cream.

Maybe a $42 duck lasagna seems a little larcenous but it’s actually enough for six to share.

           It’s true we discussed the $42 duck lasagna for two. It struck me as an outright bill padder. “I don’t suppose we could have half a lasagna,” I whimper. But here it is –a beached whale of a casserole with a thatch of last minute cheese in its orange enamelware baking dish. Easily enough for four. (Actually, make that six. The leftovers I took home were enough for two dinners.)

           Anyway, it’s not just your mom’s lasagna. It’s compelling, a distraction as I find myself wishing the veal had more of its own natural juiciness and the beef was not so chewy. “Don’t you find this awfully tough?” I ask my pals who are eating it anyway.

On the second outing, the chewy cote de boeuf of a week earlier, is perfect.

           I had intended to write a first impression last week, but it didn’t seem right. It would tell of a wallow in the heat of Animal Farm, fun, except for the flesh. I return with new tasters a week later. I feel uncomfortable denying these first timers the parfait, the crispy polenta, the zucchini rollups, the gem salad, so I do a repeat on the broiled oysters – even better this time.

In an era of mostly boring cauliflower steaks, this one is remarkable.

           I hope they like the roasted cauliflower steak with almonds, capers and raisins as much I do. Chefs across town are trying to pretend cauliflower is a substitute for meat, but this one has a certain sensuous oomph. In most other places it’s too cooked or over-done or under-dressed.

The potato of choice here: the julienne hash browns with softened onions and sour cream.

           Again we debate animals. A friend who normally disdains filet had raved about the bone-in filet mignon. I’m curious about charred hanger steak and the house top cap invention. What about pork? Should we try the chicken? I try not to be too pushy since we’re sharing the bill. I think we agreed on the pork rib eye. “Rare,” I tell the waiter who blinks.

           “You didn’t order my favorite, the côte de boeuf,” Capon chides. I decide to tell him how chewy the last one was. “It’s your fault for insisting we cook it rare,” he tells me. “It needs to be medium rare so the fat melts and it softens,” he says. “I’m going to send you one.” We agree it will be his gift.

The cheeseburger is layered with griddles onions, raceltte and tomato aioli but it’s the fries you’ll love.

           Is it the cow itself? Or is it the cooking? The big double steak looks just as rare to me but tonight it’s perfect, properly meaty and rich. Swathed in Korean barbeque sauce with softened onions and bok choy, the pork ribeye is excellent too. I don’t detect much taste from raclette and tomato aioli on my fourth of the burger, but the fries are first-rate and there’s mayo as well as ketchup to dunk them in.

Desserts, like the peanut butter mousse with strawberry cereal crunch, evoke childhood memories.

           It’s even darker now. And Cat Stevens sings an ode to “bad girl” from the days when being bad was good.  My team agrees that only a stiff would pass up the “Brookies,” melting walnut and white chocolate fudge cookies served with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Roly poly cinnamon and sugar donuts come with really luscious mocha pudding under a float of warm coffee cream.  I’m no donut lover but I could be a mocha pudding fan.

What works best for me are the Brookies – melting walnut and white chocolate fudge cookies.

          I don’t really want “Pie in a Cake” but desserts are just $10 and we have to at least see it. “Not tonight,” says Josh. People didn’t like it. He checks to be sure we haven’t forgotten to order Brookies. No one I’ve been here with will ever forget to ask for Brookies – as craven as the nursery name is.

          Of course Bowery Meat is on your must list. Stop by earlyish for a drink and maybe they’ll give you a menu.

9 East lst Street between Bowery and Second Avenue. 212 460 5255.  Dinner Sunday 5 to 10 pm Monday through Thursday till 11 pm, Friday and Saturday till Midnight.


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