Restaurant week. It’s an NYC tradition, right? It’s a good deal, right? Well, one of two isn’t bad, I guess. You see, astonishingly, not every restaurant that participates in the $35 dinner prix fixe is actually a good deal. The ones that are – I’m thinking maybe the main room at the Modern, but that price class isn’t exactly my forte – are always booked solid months in advance by people far more anal-compulsive than I. When the e-mail went around earlier this week (“Restaurant week! We must take advantage! Someone organize this!”), there were precious few reservations to go around. So I kept checking and finally came up with Steak Frites, on the same block as the Union Square Café. I’m sorry to say that Steak Frites fell into the category of “not that great a deal” – partially because of the food, and partially because of the price.
First of all, I should disclose that I planned poorly; the prix fixe is always better if you’re starving. I walked in still somewhat full from a lunch at DeMarco’s pizza and decided to have a ‘light’ meal: no appetizer and dessert if I felt like it. I didn’t feel bad about skipping it, either, because the moules frites were $18.50, a little more than half the set menu (and, of course, not offered in the set, either). Given that most of the desserts were in the $7-8 range, it was unlikely that I’d exceed $35.
Three of the other four at the table opted for the prix fixe – two endive salads with beets and a jumbo scallop with risotto to begin, two steaks and a mini-rack of lamb for the mains, and two molten chocolate cakes and a crème brulee for dessert. I should note that I tasted none of it, but I had some observations:
- The steak in the prix fixe meal differed from the regular steak frites: a different and, I’m guessing, inferior cut of meat, smothered in a peppercorn sauce. Nothing says “lesser cut” like smothering a steak. A friend who ordered the steak frites a la carte had it served with béarnaise on the side, which she passed to me. It makes a great frites-dipping sauce, as long as you don’t want to live past age 35.
- The “jumbo scallop” – anyone who’s spent time in a coastal region will tell you that the smaller the scallop, the better the flavor. My medical-student buddy proclaimed the risotto to be superior to the scallop, which should never, ever happen. By the way, has anyone ever been served ONE scallop on a plate before? (Tapas doesn’t count.)
Thankfully, the moules were generous, if not the best-flavored (I opted for the preparation with tomatoes, sweet garlic, and herbs, one of four possible), and everyone’s frites were actually quite good – double-fried from fresh taters, and perfectly crunchy and greasy. I heard no complaints about the lamb ribs, either.
The final indignity came on the dessert menu, which I found to be entirely mediocre. I was prepared to lord over my cohorts some amazing option unavailable with the prix fixe, but THERE WASN’T ONE. I ended up with profiteroles when I should have opted for the molten chocolate, and both of these were available with the prix fixe. Seriously, I was a little sad.
A word of advice on profiteroles, which seem to be a popular dessert in mediocre restaurants of the aspirational upper-middle class: we know the ice cream is going to taste good, dummy. Why don’t you spend some time making sure the pastry doesn’t taste like it was made yesterday on the Stop & Shop assembly line? Dousing them in chocolate sauce may fool some, but not me.
Anyway, it was good to have dinner with everyone, but the food was far from amazing. That’s it for restaurant week – I’m going to Aquavit Café on Saturday, but the $35 prix fixe there is always available. Look for me to skip it in favor of the Swedish meatballs.