V Steakhouse is part of the much-ballyhooed “restaurant collection” at the Time-Warner Center. With Masa ($300 prix fixe) and Per Se ($125-150 prix fixe) as neighbors, V Steakhouse with its $66 steaks starts to look like bargain-basement dining. Actually, you can order the chicken entrée at V for $19, and dine at the world’s most expensive food court without spending a monthly rent payment. But it’s no accident that V is called a steakhouse, and it’s as a steakhouse that it must succeed or fail.
The Time-Warner restaurant collection was designed to be three and four-star restaurants, one and all. The nominal chef of the eponymous V, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, was none too pleased to get just one star from the Times’s Frank Bruni. Bruni’s review seemed an anomaly (three stars from the Post’s Steve Cuozzo; a rave in Newsday) till New York Magazine came along with a review titled Steak, Not Well Done.
Vongerichten told New York Magazine, “Eighteen years in New York, and I never had a one-star review; I don’t even know how to do a one-star restaurant. The hardest part is the staff. Nobody wants to work in a one-star place.” Maybe it would help if they sometimes saw the boss. As Vongerichten has over half-a-dozen restaurants in New York alone, to say nothing of his global empire, you can rest assured he’s seldom there.
I had a business dinner at V Steakhouse last night. The décor has been much written about. You love it or you hate it. It reminded me of the interior of the Metropolitan Opera House, with its plush velvet reds and shimmering chandeliers. To that, V adds a grove of gold-painted aluminum trees. To some, it resembles an upscale whorehouse. I found it charming, and so did my companions, who are from Boston.
They pamper you at V. Jean-Georges may not know how to do three-star steak, but he certainly knows how to deliver three-star service. It is a large dining room, but the tables are generously spaced. By the end of our evening, it was about 90% full, but not at all noisy. Most of the tables had parties of four or more. There are hardly any two-seaters at V.
One of my companions had a foie gras appetizer, which he loved, while two of us shared steak tartare, which was wonderful. However, a steakhouse must be judged mainly on the quality of its steaks, and V fails to deliver the goods. My porterhouse was unevenly charred, had an unacceptably high fat and gristle content, and offered a flimsy and under-sized filet on the smaller side of the cut. It was done correctly to the medium-rare temperature I had ordered, but it was otherwise a porterhouse no restaurant of this purported calibre should serve. The other porterhouse at our table was a bit better, but we quickly agreed: this was not a $66 steak. At half that price, I would have considered myself over-charged.
I went to the men’s room, and a couple of guys asked me about my steak. I shared my experience. “Mine sucked,” one fellow said. “So did mine,” said another. To be fair, I should report that my other table companion ordered the Waygu, which he said was the best steak he’d ever had in his life. Undoubtedly V has the equipment to put out great steak on occasion, but they must be accepting whatever wildly inconsistent inventory appears on their loading dock every morning.
V has an ample selection of side dishes. I ordered the “fripps,” which are like large potato chips prepared in a tempura batter. These are superb, but it’s a problem when they utterly out-class the steak. A selection of complimentary sauces came with our meal. These added a little spice to an otherwise humdrum steak, but in my view the best steaks shouldn’t need them.
For dessert, I ordered the berry cheesecake. Like so many of the V desserts, the kitchen hasn’t assembled the pieces. You have a small slice of cheesecake, and a berry goo in an accompanying glass, which you’re encouraged to sip through a straw. How this is supposed to be superior to a traditional cheesecake utterly eludes me. Try the assorted cheese platter instead.
The NY Times doesn’t give separate ratings for service, décor, and food. But if it did, I’d say that three stars is appropriate for the first two categories, but that one star is awfully generous for the third. The kitchen desperately needs a wake-up call.
V Steakhouse (Fourth Floor, Time-Warner Center, Columbus Circle)