Saturday, February 21, 2009


4 out of 5 stars

Has Peter Luger grown tired of us, or have some of us simply grown tired of it? This venerated and venerable New York institution opened in 1887, and visits to the steakhouse around its 120th birthday suggested an inconsistency at odds with its legend. When Peter Luger is on its game, the gruffness of its waiters is pitch-perfect — more amiable than obnoxious — and the charred, sizzling, butter-doused porterhouse is a steak more breathtaking than any in the city. But sometimes the service is just plain chilly, and the steak misses its mark, and that's when you notice the flaws in other menu items and wonder why you shouldn't just visit one of Luger's rapidly expanding number of clones, which are less brutally illuminated, more consistently courteous and, unlike Luger, take credit cards.
---Frank Bruni

I begin the review by a passage from Frank Bruni, one of my all-time favorite food critics. Apparently, most of the reviews on it in the NY Times has been written by him, who maintains a love-hate relationship with Luger’s.

And I can understand why. Service can be pretty erratic at times, efficient the next; steak can taste breathtaking at one visit, the meat not so great the next, masked by a truckload of butter for its sauce.

I heard a lot about Luger’s ever since I was a child. Bar none, the steak place of choice would be Luger’s. Sure, we may have up-and-comers Craftsteak and BLT Steak, and even similary old and established places like the Strip House or Keens Steakhouse, but nothing comes close to the porterhouse whose taste has been imitated even by Wolfgang. In own country, the prized steaks of Mamou copy their technique, serving the platter on top of inverted plates, with the steak cut into long strips, drowning in butter.

Upon entering, you’re confronted with a bar up front, the dining rooms dividing into two at the corner of the bar. Lots of traffic up front, waiters talking loudly, moving through crowds impenitently. The place has rich wooden accents, the place brutally lit, the dining rooms even brighter with its light-colored walls.

We reserved a table weeks ahead, but we still weren’t able to get one within 30 minutes. The service is brusque and slightly peevish, to the point that you feel apprehensive on inquiring about the table duly reserved for you.

Regardless, the food is supposed to make you forget everything. But before we get to the steak, maybe it would be best to elaborate on the ritual that is Luger’s. My friend told me in all seriousness not to order from the menu…in fact, not to even ask for the menu. I looked at her in a weird way. No, it’s really like that, she assures. It is standard to get the porterhouse, calling it steak for 2, 3 or 4. That was the only choice that made sense, along with the creamed spinach (of course) and the German potatoes (naturally). If one ordered off the menu, you’d get sneers from the staff and people coughing out “tourist.”

Not wanting to be made fun of, we did exactly as was told. Some of us still took a chance and tried asking the waiter what pair of side dishes would be good with our steak for 4. With a suggestion that sounded more like an order, he barked “German potatoes” and the “creamed spinach.” And yes, we’re back where we started! Adding only a slab of bacon as appetizer, we were set for our dinner. Before the waiter placed our orders, he brought two breadbaskets, containing various white and wheat bread, some with oats, rye or salt. They were huge and hearty, much like how the rest of their food would be, with the only complaint that they weren’t hot and probably have been out of the oven for the past hour.

The slab of Canadian bacon came way before the steak did, and it was literally just a big slab of bacon. More of a fatty teaser, the four of us merrily picked on it while we ate our bread and chit-chatted on their NY moments. And after probably ten minutes, our steak came, along with the spinach and the potatoes.
Canadian Bacon

The waiter put two inverted plates in front of us. Then he set the steak on top of it. It was already sliced, ready for serving,. He then put some of the strips of meat on each of our plate, then scooped up the juice and butter and drizzled it over our steaks.
(after the waiter served out steak)

(our half-eaten steak for 4)

What left us awestruck though was the size of the meat. My picture (with my point and shoot camera) could do it no justice, as it was of more gigantic portions in real life. My closest estimation would probably be thirty inches in diameter. Yes, thirty inches of sizzling meat, charred on the outside, and medium-rare on the inside, with its own cattle flag proudly stuck in front of the meat. It was USDA Prime Beef, family selected and dry aged in their very own aging box.

up close and personal

Porterhouse is similar to the T-bone, both containing two valued portions called the tenderloin and the short loin found on the middle-rear back of the cattle. Between the two, the tenderloin is the better area of beef, which the porterhouse contains compared to its T-bone counterpart. Because of this, an extra muscle is located in its center on the upper side. Needless to say, it is a choice cut of beef.

(picture off of the NY Times)

As much as the presentation was great, beef gigantic and its magnificent appearance, there was something off about it. The meat wasn’t as tender, with a big chewy part due to the muscle in the middle. Perhaps it wasn’t properly aged, and the meat was slightly overdone in the tenderloin area (it cooks faster than the short loin). Our friend apologized for the visit, and said that it wasn’t like the last time she ate here: where the beef was luxuriously rich, crunchy on the edges, but tender near the bone, its intense meaty taste melting in your mouth and giving in to the slightest movement of her knife. Also, I read a later review which said that “If you have more than 2 people in your party, order multiples of steak for 2. If you order the steak for 3 or 4 you won't get the same cut and you'll miss out.” I wished I got to read this before going there and blowing off around a hundred dollars.

I liked its steak sauce, though. It was very tangy, with strong hints of tomatoes, onions, horseradish and molasses; slightly sweet, but with a zesty kick at the end. My friends loved the creamed spinach, but detested the Germen potatoes, saying that the latter was overcooked. On the other hand, I preferred the German potatoes to the spinach, because the latter had this aftertaste that didn’t match the flavor of the steak sauce. Besides, I liked crispy potatoes, and even if it was slightly dry, the steak’s sauce compensated for it. Oh well, each had their own preferences, but the consensus was that steak looked better than it tasted.
Steak Sauce

Creamed Spinach

German Potatoes

All in all, Peter Luger’s was an experience that I wouldn’t mind trying again for a better steak experience. It might have been off because there were too many people at that time, with nary a chair empty in both dining halls.

Bring cash and leave your sensitivities at the door. This is an institution that one HAS to go for that great NY steakhouse experience.

ate in:
Brooklyn, NY
Peter Luger, Inc.
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
(718) 387-7400

other branch:
Great Neck, LI
Peter Luger of Long Island, Inc.
255 Northern Blvd.
Great Neck, N.Y. 11021
(516) 487-8800


mr. said...

hi. great blog! we're looking for a place to eat for my mum's birthday. the budget is P5-6k for 8 people (4 eat like birds; 1, like a normal person; the other 3, don't so much eat as lamon hoho) this steak place looks great - mukhang marami kaya mabubusog yung mga masisiba, at mukhang masarap kaya matutuwa lahat. maybe you'd know a similar place here in manila? actually, kahit hindi steak place. thanks!

graey eats said...

Hi, Mr.! :)

If you want to stick to steak places, there are a lot to choose from with that budget.

Mamou (Serendra, Fort) -> what's good here is the steak, since they even copy Peter Luger's technique. It's a little pricey, but one could share the steak since it's big.

Myron's (Greenbelt 5) -> They also have another branch in Powerplant basement, but I prefer this one since the ambience is better. They have really good steaks also :)

Here are other alternatives just in case:
O'sonho (jupiter) -> Portuguese fusion. Very reasonable prices, yet very fun to eat in.

Little Tokyo (Mile Long) -> Any of the restaurants inside the Little Tokyo compound are as authentic Japanese as you can get.

Nihonbashitei (Arnaiz, Makati) -> A Japanese resto with 2 floors, one being a teppan floor.

Aubergine (Fort) -> One of my favorite French restaurants. Try the duck confit, where the skin is perfectly crispy, or the stuffed chicken with truffles and cheese.

Je Suis Gourmand (Fort) - It's co-neighborhood French resto, which is another favorite since they serve comfort French food in big servings, like the lamb shanks :)

Hope this helps! Advanced happy birthday to your mom!

mr. said...

thank you! i'll check your recommendations out. btw, i'm also a u.p law student. i'm in my 3rd year; going fourth this june, hopefully. i believe you just graduated, so kudos are in order: congratulations!!! :) and God bless you in your bar review!

A. M. said...

After a few disappointments at Peter Luger's (I've never quite had the experience your friend was talking about) I decided to cross it off my list. I try to eat at as many different restaurants as possible around New York, but lately I keep going back to Uncle Jack's Steakhouse on West 56th. It's a bit of a hike, but it gave me the kind of experience I wish I had gotten at Peter Luger's--the porterhouse not only looked perfect but was perfect, the inside was rich and buttery and outside just crispy enough. I've also tried their crabcakes and oysters, and neither disappoint...which leads me to believe that all of the items on their menu are good, not just a few. AND, great service. Friendly, outgoing, knowledgeable. This would be my bet for an authentic and enjoyable New York steakhouse.

graey eats said...

Mr. : Actually, a lot have crossed Peter Luger's off their lists. My friend, for instance, would rather take me next to Wolfgang's, this up-and-coming steakhouse which recently received a Michelin star, than Peter Luger's any day on Sunday.

But thank you for your Uncle Jack's suggestion :) I'll try it when I visit NY this Christmas

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