The Restaurant Collection at the Time-Warner Center was meant to be the most luminous assemblage of chefs ever gathered under one roof. Each of its five restaurants was considered a New York Times three or four-star candidate. Some, like Masa and Per Se, lived up to their promise. Café Gray has had its problems initially, but now seems to be flourishing, with a Michelin star to its credit. Charlie Trotter’s restaurant never opened, and a clone of TriBeCa standout Landmarc is to replace it.
Then there was V Steakhouse. With cuisine by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, it should have been a sure thing. But it never recovered from a devastating one-star review by Frank Bruni and a menu featuring $70 steaks. It was the first Time-Warner restaurant to fail, and also Vongerichten’s first failure. Replacing it is—guess what? Another steakhouse.
Porter House New York is run by chef Michael Lomonaco, formerly of Windows on the World. Luckily he had a pair of eyeglasses to pick up on September 11, 2001, or he would have been at work, and would have perished along with 3,000 other people. He’s a popular guy, and he has a lot of folks rooting for him.
Porter House opened over the October 1st weekend. In a show of goodwill, the restaurant offered 20% off the bill for the first week of operation. It would be nice to see a few more restaurants do that while they work out the inevitable early kinks. Plenty of people had heard about it. I had trouble getting a prime time reservation, and the restaurant was packed when we arrived at 8:30 on Friday night.
It used to be that Manhattan steakhouses were so predictable you could write the menu in your sleep. In recent years, a breed of haute steakhouses has emerged, led by such standouts as BLT Steak, BLT Prime, Quality Meats, Craftsteak, and alas, V Steakhouse. These restaurants have the usual steakhouse staples, but more creative menus and a less “clubby” atmosphere.
Like these haute steakhouses, Porter House aims at a broader audience. On Friday night, one of the tables near ours was a family of seven celebrating a birthday. Another was a family of three, including a young child, out for a casual dinner. Neither group would have chosen Sparks or Peter Luger. Porter House has a cool elegance that makes it suitable for a fancy night out, but without V Steakhouse’s gilded trappings that scared away families and casual diners. A buzzing bar area with two wide-screen TVs is another signal that Porter House doesn’t want to be taken too seriously.
The menu, however, is not all that creative. There are a few more seafood entrées than you see at some steakhouses, but for style points it has nothing on BLT Steak or Quality Meats. I ordered the smoked salmon to start, my friend the clams casino—both standard steakhouse dishes. The salmon came with a clever garnish of tomato, avocado and chickpeas.
My friend is partial to the ribeye ($36), so we both had that. It was served off the bone, and although cooked to the correct temperature and nicely charred, the marbling was uneven. Overall, it was well off the pace of the city’s better ribeye steaks. Side dishes were priced mostly at $9. I enjoyed creamed spinach with bacon, but my friend thought that french fries had been left under a heat lamp for too long.
Service was not unfriendly, but has a long way to go. Food took a long time to come out. At the table of seven next to us, one diner got his steak long after everyone else. Two side dishes came out (with profuse apologies) after the meal was almost concluded. At our table, the lemon from my friend’s appetizer course was left behind after the other plates had been cleared. The spinach came without a serving spoon. Mid-way through the meal, our waiter just disappeared for about half an hour.
The wine list is mostly American. It is about as expensive as you’d expect for this kind of restaurant. We were able to find a red that pleased us for around $60, in a peculiar category called “Interesting.” I didn’t know there was a grape by that name.
I think Porter House will do well, as its informality serves a definite need. Judging by the crowds, it has already caught on. But judged in the cold light of day, Porter House is not the creative tour de force of a BLT Steak or BLT Prime, and as a classic steakhouse it’s not preferable to either Wolfgang’s or Strip House.
Porter House New York (Time-Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, 4th floor)