SA Prime serves a plain plate of meat
The reasons for reviewing restaurants are to promote food awareness, to chart society’s gastronomic progress from the primal to the profound, to provide a primer of restaurants, to establish primacy in various categories, and, oh yes, to occasionally write about that most primeval of foods, red meat. That an unadorned slab of beef can still excite diners’ passions suggests that reviewers may be deluding themselves, but with the opening of each new steak house we continue to pray that this one will dare to stray from the steak-on-the-plate-with-side-of-spuds format.
|SA Prime’s 16-ounce rib-eye steak served here with lumpy Parmesan potatoes and Parmesan broccoli. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
Initial impressions of SA Prime were promising. Considering that many steak houses lavish more attention on decor than on the plate, it’s unusual to find one with the degree of low-key sophistication exhibited by this newcomer to The Collection, a retail complex on Broadway. The black, taupe, and off-white palette is enlivened with strategically placed mirrors, while massively scaled wood tables and chairs add gravity to the mix.
The major partners Kimberly Krider, James Dusek, and Raul Soria, who cut his steak teeth at J. Alexander’s and Ruth’s Chris, also had the vision to hire sommelier Janet Easterling, herself formerly of Ruth’s Chris, to create the wine list. Despite an almost parochial emphasis on American red wines (whites are more global in scope), the selection is a prime example of how to achieve the illusion of choice and variety within a limited format.
As usual, I wished for more wines by the glass, but Easterling has provided several half-bottle selections, and seizing the day, we picked a 2003 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett to accompany the appetizers, most of which read as white-wine friendly. Exhibiting its usual flexibility, the apricot- and honeysuckle-scented Reisling was lovely with a generous plate of house-smoked salmon, a model of silken restraint. The pan-seared oysters, served over rice with a “mushroom demi glaze,” should have matched the wine, too, but a funny thing happened between menu and manifestation: a total bastardization. Chicken-fried oysters over white rice with a clumsy mushroom-and-onion gravy. Deciding to make lemonade out of the situation, we asked for a side dish of the remoulade that had been mentioned with an appetizer special, throwing our waitress, who had no idea what remoulade was, for a loop. When the sauce arrived, it and the oysters were fine together, the slightly tart sauce balancing the buttery crunch of oysters. The appetizer list is one place steak houses can exhibit a little creativity, but save yourself the frustration and stick with salmon.
In defiance of the usual relentlessly a-la-carte approach of most steak houses, SA Prime provides soup or salad with entrées. Sliced tomatoes with Roquefort are a knee-jerk offering, but the kitchen goes the extra inch by adding a chiffonade of fresh basil and chopped red onion. The cheese gets lost in a very ranch-like matrix, but in all, the attempt is admirable. Even more effort is exhibited in the presentation of French onion soup in a baby boule of bread, but its beauty is only skin deep: The cheese-capped soup was thin, salty and strident, and even the resilient Riesling couldn’t save the day.
SA Prime reverts to the steak house stereotype in its listing of plural potatoes and creamed spinach as separate sides. Mushrooms zinfandel stood out, and they proved to be earthily flavorful and nicely al dente. Lumpy Parmesan potatoes were selected by dint of their honesty, and though truth in advertising didn’t extend to the Parmesan, the spuds were perfectly acceptable, lumps and all, tasting just like genuine potatoes should.
| SA Prime |
Price range $15-46
Which inevitably brings us to the meat. I don’t recall a tenderloin, but all other expected cuts are offered, including prime rib. And it should be noted that, given the range of available portion sizes with some cuts, the pricing is quite fair. Our 16-ounce New York Strip, for example, was $21. But, that’s all there was on a very plain, very white plate. On the plus side, the steak had been cooked to a platonically perfect medium rare, as requested. In the debit column, it was decently flavored, but needed salt and frankly didn’t shout well-aged prime beef in either texture or on the palate.
A few escaping juices filled some space on the steak’s plate, but the rack of veal chop had no such softening factors to mitigate the wham-bam presentation. The chop ($23—a prime number, by the way) was also thinner than we had hoped, a little dry, and tasted mostly of butter and the rosemary-dominated herb coating. Fortunately, the herbs and butter tasted great with a half bottle of Frog’s Leap 2002 Merlot, showing the usual cedar-menthol nose and loads of black cherry on the palate. Here, the wine did save the day, making more of each entrée than either could achieve alone.
Desserts, alas, are a work in progress. We had asked for a seven-chocolate extravaganza only to be told they had decided not to serve it. A chocolate mousse cake, on trial from Nadler’s, was presented as a substitute; we returned it three-quarters intact. In line with the well-meaning service, the dessert was removed from the bill, but it’s going to take more than good intentions to pull this one off. You are now primed for this: At SA Prime, the spirit may be willing but the, er, flesh is weak. It’s back to primary school, in other words. •