Steak Frites, June 28, 2005 - Restaurant Week
9 E. 16th Street
My co-waiters during the summers of my youth at the Jersey Shore were mostly 20/30-something women who grew up in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. So, when we had the occasional gay couple or group of gay men show up at the diner it was assumed that I, a young and fit (yes, its true, there was a time) male from "the city" (I actually grew up in Bergen County, but that was close enough for my "southern" coworkers), would be their waiter -- even if my tables were in another room. It was a simple business practice that has probably been used in many establishments over the course of modern dining. I bring this up only because I feel that sometimes, maybe not today, but sometimes, when I dine alone, I am served by a young, attractive woman or someone who looks like someone the management thinks I might find unique/attractive, have a similar quality or whatever. My waitress today, Meaghan F. (according to the check), was, by all accounts, kinda cute and without trying to sound lame, funky. She also happened to have the majority of her tables in another section of the room.
I am at Steak Frites for pretty much one reason. Okay two reasons. One, is to take part in Restaurant Week. Sort of a rite of the seasons for me. The second, is to try the Union Square eatery's namesake to see if it lives up to it.
But since I take a look at everything, I'll describe the decor first. Its a typical French brasserie in the same vein as Les Halles, slightly more beat up, and far less refined than say Park Bistro and with double the ceiling height and space between tables than L'Express. The artwork on the lengthwise wall was a cross between Toulouse Lutrec and Dali and had sad, almost ostracized-looking, empty magnums of champagne above the server station closest to the door. It looked like they were going to be thrown out, but a case of guilt came over management, so they were put there to (misguidingly) provide more ambience.
My table was fine, sturdy, and at the near center of the room - not usually my favorite place to be when dining alone ("hey, look at the guy eating by himself") but no big deal. My waitress was quick to provide the regular and Restaurant Week menus.
The menu. Hmmm. It was clear (if it wasn't already) that the patrons this restaurant seeks to retain are not the same people that its neighbor, Union Square Cafe, wishes to retain. And if that's not true, than the folks at Steak Frites need to stop insulting its patrons. For example, the first dish on the Restaurant Week menu was "Chilled Wild Mushrooms Vichyssoise". Chilled Vichyssoise? Um...yeah! I should hope so. That's nearly as bad as having tomato bisque (without the seafood) on your menu.
Other discrepencies in the menu include "Eastern Shores Crab Cakes" (though you only get one) and "Steak Frites "A La Florentine"" that don't come with frites! That'll cost you a supplemental (which they don't list on the menu) $6. And let me tell you -- the frites were lousy. Blech! More on that later. The same dish, according to the menu, comes with "Melted" Spinach and "Chianti" Reduction. I should have steered clear of any French restaurant's steak frites dish that melts their spinach and uses Italian wine to make their reductions. But I didn't just so that you, faithful readers of this dining guide, will know what's what.
To start, I had the frisee salad with lardons and Roquefort Cheese. I opted for the suggested wine pairing, a glass of Pinot Gris, Bethel Heights, Oregon, 2002 ($9). Both the salad and the wine were perfect. Truly. A great start.
The steak frites, as I mentioned above, didn't come with frites. At Meaghan's cheerful suggestion and head's up, I went ahead and ordered them. They must be great, right? After all, the place is named Steak Frites. Well, the steak that arrived was short of anything special, having very little flavor and cooked more medium than medium rare. The frites were bland, barely salted and not even attractive looking. The silly holder that they come in didn't help matters - although it could have been a lot gaudier. If anything, it reminded me...you paid $6 for this. Not something you want to be reminded of. The "melted" spinach, was actually very good though the chianti reduction did nothing for me. It couldn't even revive the bland fries. The steak was presented as a slab, different than (and far inferior to) the steak frites that you get at Artisanal which is neatly sliced. I would strongly suggest to the management to change the name of the restaurant to Moules Frites as I hear that their mussels are excellent. I was tempted to order them today (they came in a hearty lobster jus) but resisted the dish with the highest profit margin.
The gap between salad and entree was perfect. The gap between entree and dessert was much longer. Meaghan only had one flub - well maybe two - the first being that she forgot that I ordered the profiteroles at the beginning of the meal and had to later (7 minutes after my entree was cleared) ask if I wanted the profiteroles or the lemon pudding cake. The other flub was more of an overagressive mistake. She asked if I wanted more wine when I still had half a glass left. A bit pushy, but I can sympathize with having to serve the RW menu and all. She was doing her job.
The profiteroles, which did come two per order, were rich and chocalaty but otherwise stale and bland. They are light years away from the profiteroles at Gascogne, for example, and tasted like they were baked slightly longer ago than would be recommended to serve. Also, why not offer vanilla and chocolate varieties? Couldn't cost much more.
All in all, I found the dining experience passable but nothing more. I won't return, simply because I can tell, at least from the effort put into several of the dishes and the overall feel of the place, can better be had elsewhere in the city for probably the same price or less. My recommendation would be to visit Park Bistro or Artisanal before going here. But if you are more of a Les Halles or L'Express person, you might find yourself comfortable here. I just won't be sitting at the table next to you.