Cuisine: Steakhouses , American
Menu Details: Seared Yellowfin Tuna, Fried Rabbit, Crispy Roast Duck, Pomme Souffle, Beignets
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A waiter approached. He was quite tall and thin, but broad, with gray hair combed sensibly into a side part. He wore a crisp white shirt, a dark tie, and a long waist to ankle apron. He pushed a long silver-wheeled rectangular cart, topped with a smooth white cloth, a wide wooden bowl, and a tray containing a half a lemon, anchovy paste, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. He stopped at our table, put on his reading glasses, and got to work. And as the five of us—Craig and I were having dinner with his brother Adam, their Cousin (well, he’s kinda their cousin) Mike, and Josh—sipped our cocktails in the lean, cool light of Patroon, this silent, focused gentlemen (he barely looked up) proceeded to mash and chop, grate and drizzle, whisk and season, possibly the greatest Caesar salad of my life. It filled the air with the sharp fragrance of garlic and a pungent whiff of cheese and was the perfect beginning of my first meal at Patroon in many years, almost since it opened 10 years ago under the care of Franck Deletrain (who was followed by Geoffrey Zakarian, and John Villa).Review By: Andrea Strong
Today, the restaurant has evolved, unbeknownst to many, from a heavy, testosterone steakhouse, to a gentler, softer classic New York restaurant serving American fare, a flawless Caesar, and yes, steaks too.
In early 2007, Ken Aretsky bought out his partners, renaming it Aretsky’s Patroon. He renovated the space, spiffing up the dining room, and adding The Gibson Room—a second floor club and lounge decorated with black and white stills of legendary sports figures and starlets of the ‘30s and ‘40s. On the wide open top floor roofdeck, he installed a burger chef who turns out sliders and pressed sandwiches, lobster kabobs, spiced wonton chips with guacamole, and platters of canapés, to a heavily lubricated crowd of suits—lawyers, ad execs, publicists, accountants—assorted mini titans of industry—who gather at the stroke of six to revel (with cigars, beer, wine, and cocktails sweating in the sticky summer heat) under the glow of office buildings and paper lantern lighting.
Downstairs, in the kitchen of the main dining room, he brought in executive chef Bill Peet, a veteran of this city’s finest kitchens who honed his skills for 15 years under Andre Soltner at Lutece, rising to sous chef, and then moved on as executive chef at Café des Artistes, Asia de Cuba and “44” at the Royalton.
I’d been hearing about Peet for sometime from young chefs who’d worked under him and spoke of him with some amount of reverence. And when I learned he has taken to the stoves at Patroon, after a mismanaged fiasco at the now shuttered Pair of 8s, I decided to return and see what was happening.
I was surprised to find that the menu contained quite a bit of seafood, and that in fact, there was only one steak on the menu, a 28-day dry aged sirloin ($49), other than the special of porterhouse for two ($96). Indeed, Peet has changed things quite a bit, adding a solid roster of fish dishes that, for this writer at least, were even more impressive than the steak. To start, the Dover sole was incredible. It was filleted tableside with surgical precision by a young, very tan gentleman in a dark suit, matched with a deep purple shirt and jewel-toned tie, who informed us that he had been to medical school. “This is what you get for a med school dropout.” Yes, nice work. And from the kitchen, you get a glistening slab of silky fish, buttery and rich, moist and creamy, yet still bright with the salty punch of capers, and the tart pinch of lemon. To boot, it is served with a crowd of thin, snappy haricot verts, and shower of sweet as sugar cherry tomatoes ($46).
Fish hit the mark again and again. Meaty Portuguese sardines were filleted and broiled and served in a nice acidic roasted pepper piperade and a parsley salad in a red wine vinaigrette ($15). Fat scallops were seared and caramelized so they left just a slip of sweet burnt sugar on the tongue. They were served on a mound of melted leeks, and drizzled with a bell pepper vinaigrette ($15) that was just a nudge of flavor, nothing jarring or competing with the scallops’ delicate sweetness. The crab cake ($16), too, was terrific. I imagine the recipe might read like this: pull fresh lump crab meat from the claws of the king-sized creatures, pick it through until clean. Season with salt and white pepper, add a bit of egg, and fashion into a thin (almost pancake thin) cake, and dredge in freshly ground and well-seasoned breadcrumbs. Pan fry and serve with lemony mayo (aioli), and a sweet corn salad from roasted kernels scraped from the cob. Voila! Yeah, it’s a simple one, but a darn good one.
But an issue arrived with the oysters. Craig, Adam and I went for a dozen Kumamotos ($46). The lovely little gems from the West Coast were served on a silver tray filled with crushed ice, quite petite but plump and brackish, tucked inside intricately fluted shells. Craig and I quickly slurped down our share—four each—though I know I could’ve easily eaten at least four more. Then, as we passed the tray over to Adam, I realized there were only three left, one short of the required four. “Who ate my oyster?” Adam asked, examining the oysters, clearly bereft over the unexplained loss of his final mollusk. Craig shook his head, “Not me man, I only had four,” and turned to me. (Damn! Sold out by the boyfriend!) “Well, I think I only ate four,” I said, in my sweetest voice. I felt awful. I guess I ate it. Sometimes I do get away from myself. Sorry, Adam.
The only fish dish that didn’t work for me was a plate of grilled smoked prawns served with roasted tomato vinaigrette ($16). The prawns, large and whiskered like cats, were overwhelmed by smoke. When I passed the prawns to Josh, he gave them a taste (“Not for me,” he said), but honestly he could’ve cared less about anything else on the table. He was practically making love to his foie gras, a seared lobe served with juicy briny pickled grapes and a vivid verjus reduction ($24).
Now, let’s talk about that steak. We skipped with sirloin and instead went for the Porterhouse for two, wheeled out with ceremony and displayed like a newborn before a Bris, then carved and sliced into thick ruby red slices, and plated with hunks of bone marrow and a watercress salad. The steak was heavily charred, and perfectly cooked to medium rare, tender with a good amount of chew. It’s not a buttery steak, it’s one with some weight and heft, one that you can sink your teeth into. It was passed around and around until nothing remained on the plate but the stain of meaty juice.
The chicken ($100 for two)—brined, and spit-roasted on the rotisserie with truffles snuggled under the thin buttery skin—was also wheeled in on a cart and carved tableside by the med school drop out. This heritage Poulet Rouge breed of organic chicken was a surprise. It looks like any ordinary chicken, but it was as flavorful as a steak, as moist and as delicate as that Sole. If you want to guild the lily, you can drizzle its accompanying foie gras sauce over the top, but it doesn’t need it. What curiously disappointed was the pan-roasted veal chop ($42), a nice, big, juicy cut, but one that kinda cousin Mike accurately pointed out could’ve been a pork chop. Josh also thought it had identity issues. I’d have to agree. It didn’t have much veal personality, though the brown butter summer spaghetti squash it was served with was so good, it inspired Josh to ask Peet for the recipe.
Speaking of sides ($10 each), there would be no shame in returning for a smorgasbord of the supporting cast if it included the creamed spinach (the right balance between leafy verdant spinach and cream), a plate of jumbo grilled asparagus, and a serving of crunchy breaded onion rings the size of wrist bangles. I’d leave out the lobster mashed potatoes, but it’s more of a personal thing. Peet serves super smooth whipped potatoes studded with generous chunks of lobster meat ($20). I’m not a lover of smooth mashed potatoes (I like ‘em rustic and lumpy) and I also don’t care for lobster in mashed potatoes. I was in the minority though, as a sentence that echoed at the table was “Pass those potatoes.”
It was at dessert that the boys settled into a certain rhythmic groove of conversation (read: time for sports talk). Adam and Craig, Red Sox fans, got into it a bit with their kinda cousin Mike who’s a Yankee man. I let them debate, and happily devoured a bowl filled with sorbets ($8)—mango, guava and lime—tart and refreshing. We had also ordered chocolate fondue ($23), a massive dessert to share that, as it turned out, would reveal a lot to me about the culinary geniuses seated at the table with me.
As Adam took a first go, he wondered out loud why the peaches tasted funny. I looked at the “peaches” and turned to Adam. “Adam, I think they taste funny because they are not peaches,” I said, picking up a firm little oval cake known to most as a Madeline. “Oh, I thought those were little batty shaped peaches,” he said, laughing at himself. “I guess that’s why they tasted off. They’re cakes.” “Batty shaped peaches? I thought. Oh, dear.
As I reached for one of those batty shaped peaches to dip in the molten chocolate bath, another genius piped up. “And this tofu tastes sort of odd, too,” Mike offered. I turned to him. “You’re kidding, right?” I asked, a smile growing on my lips. “No, I mean, taste this,” he said, handing me a marshmallow. “Mike, this is a marshmallow!” I said, now amazed at this group’s culinary IQ. Adam jumped in then, in Mike’s defense. “Hey, everyone knows that if it’s rounded on the edges it’s a marshmallow, that’s how they’re grown!” He was cracking himself up. “This one’s square on the edge, so to me, it’s tofu!” “Of course,” I said, now laughing out loud. “Why wouldn’t you be confused by that? The shape is very tricky.”
At this point, I felt it might be necessary to go through all of the sliced up fruits and cakes served with the fondue just to make sure we were all on the same page—banana, strawberry, brownie, pineapple—but the boys were skewering and dunking, and back to the Yankees and the Sox, and seemed unfazed by the rest of the rare fondue foods.
After dinner, we headed upstairs for some air, and found the roof littered with the drunken remains of happy hour, men in suits hovering over tables and catching the last of the game, and a few newly formed couples minting their interest in each other on the banquettes. Mike was taking a turn on Josh’s new iPhone, and noticed one couple in particular getting to know each other very well. We all followed his gaze to the far corner of the room, and gasped. Whoa, they seemed moments away from something that might require, shall we say, a room? “Hey, you come for the steak, stay for the sizzle,” Mike said, running his fingers over the sleek screen of the iPhone. Well, yes. But as for me, I’ll come for the steak, and the Sole.
Neighborhood: East 40s
Chef: Bill Peet
Hours: Lunch: noon-2:30pm Mon-Fri.
Dinner: 5:30pm-11pm Mon-Sat
Entree Price: $25-30
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