Even though I am, I think, much less of a steakhouse person than Messrs. G Wiv and SteveZ, I was cajoled into joining them at Primehouse for their second go-round, and finally gave into their wheedling and whining. (Okay, actually I whined until they gave in, but details, details.) As you enter the bar from the hotel lobby the vibe is much more hipster nightspot than Gene & Georgetti's rival, techno throbbing on the soundtrack, beautiful and formerly-beautiful-now-scary people around us, and a Manhattan made not with a cherry, but with a glob of deconstructed cherry stuff squirted from a squeeze bottle like ketchup. Call me old-fashioned... in fact make
me an Old-Fashioned... but I liked the old, actual-cherry kind of cherry. (And it wasn't until I saw the special drink menu inside that I learned I could have had a Manhattan with leather-infused Maker's Mark. That's what I want in a high end jernt-- a drink that tastes like a Coach wallet!)
For snacks in this area, there was... pretzels, which you could dip in a large bar of Neutrogena soap. Actually that's the legendary Himalayan salt with which the dry-aging cave is lined, and the pretzel rest in a curry oil, which was pungent and could clear out sinuses you never knew you had.
G Wiv being a memorable sort of guy from last week's visit, David Burke himself and sommelier Eben Klemm both came by while we were at the bar and chatted us up, glad to see repeat customers. (It's too bad that the staff weren't giving us attitude for not being hip enough when that happened, but tragically, for such a cutting-edge place they were shockingly friendly.) Klemm is actually about to go back to his desk job for the company, but Burke told us he's committed to staying here for 6 months and really working the kinks out (not that there were many on display, except among some of the Beautiful People) before, presumably, the next Primehouses open in other places.
Actually, if there's one place I think Primehouse is at a disadvantage relative to Smith & Wollensky and other spots, it's in terms of the overall atmosphere. S&W of course has the primo river location and the brand-new-building-that-feels-like-it's-been-there-80-years thing, which would be hard to duplicate, but the room's low ceiling, somewhat unsubtle lighting (you're either spotlit or plunged in darkness) and basic square shape with tables arranged in a simple grid doesn't have the variety of settings and table atmospherics that I think make a restaurant seem interesting and partly mysterious. (Maybe they should borrow Suhail for just one
undulating wall.) And that night, instead of white tablecloths, they were using red leather table covers which, as the photo shows, were very attractive close up, but made the whole room look sort of like the hippest Western Sizzlin' you've ever been to.
That, incidentally, is the big bread puffball with which dinner starts. It was gone in about 20 seconds.
Okay, I seem to have gotten off to a somewhat negative note, atmosphere wise, which is not meant to be a reflection on the food. We started with an ungodly number of appetizers, which is, incidentally, where my decent pics pretty much run out. For me the standout, though as with the salumi at Avec you just have to not think about the price per pound, was Kobe beef sashimi with a truffle mousse. I recently
complained about truffle oil being overused to the point of being a universal solvent for other flavors; this was perfect, ethereally funky on the delicately beefy beef. (And if you saved the truffle mousse, as we did, you didn't have to buy another crock of it later to go with your steak. Smart Diner's Val-U Tip!™)
Another very good one was the crab cake, below, though I don't agree that it's the best crab cake I've ever had, simply because it's so unlike other crab cakes. But the whole pretzel-crust-crab thing is excellent. I really liked some big shrimp that came in a grapefruit sort of sauce as well; some dumplings on a stick, however, did less for me.
Caesar's salad has been justly praised, so on to steak. I take it as my lot in life that I will always wish I'd ordered what someone else ordered, so even hedging my bet by ordering the porterhouse, with its portion of both filet and strip and its maximum bone exposure area, all of which was fine, I was more impressed by a bite I was kindly offered of Ms. Wiv's bone-in filet. Filet is not dry-aged as long as other meats (in fact it usually isn't at all) but that one bite had a perfect combination, for me, of tender texture, a little dry-age tang, and char-outside-fuschia-meat inside. (She actually ordered the surf and turf and I have to say the lobster was extremely well prepared, simple as could be but spot on, too.) In retrospect I realize that the porterhouse was too thin to get that char crust I really like without cooking the inside too far; the filet, with its Flintstonian hunk of bone hanging off the softball of meat, is the way to go.
We also ordered every sauce they offered and came to some further conclusions. Most of the sauces and mousses were too much; I would not use the house steak sauces at all, and while G Wiv thought the red miso was disastrously overpowering, I thought if you used a tiny dab of it, particularly on the strip, it sharpened it up nicely. If you don't want to invest a small fortune in sauces, however, the choice is very simple. The truffle mousse or the truffle butter will dial up your steak on the lushness scale just a notch without wrestling your steak to the ground and making it cry uncle. Order one of those, use it sparingly, and you'll be very happy. Oh, and as noted, the Walla Walla wine mentioned above, unimpressive on its own, blossomed beautifully with the steak for whatever reason, a really terrific combination.
I'd talk about sides, except they're still an afterthought (the tempura green beans were good, though, for the first few minutes they sat on the table), or desserts (the lollipop cheesecake thing is a really fun presentatation and is small enough to get over the fact that no one needs cheesecake, of all things, after a meal like this). But I don't have pictures and it'd be kind of a shame to spoil some of the surprise of the desserts. Anyway, Primehouse is an impressive place and there's some excellent advice in this thread about how to go and get the very best of it for your (by no means small) cash outlay here. If you're a steak kinda person, it's a serious contender.