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Rolling the Dice: Peter Luger Steakhouse

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Peter Luger Steakhouse. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 10-1
One Star: 4-1
Two Stars: 2-1
Three Stars: 12-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: Despite occasional reports that it has gone downhill, Peter Luger remains the gold standard of NYC steakhouses. As of today, it carries a three-star rating from the Times (per Ruth Reichl in 1997), the only steakhouse so honored. It also carries a Michelin star, the only one given to a steakhouse.

There are two main data points from Frank Bruni. In June 2004, he awarded two stars to Wolfgang’s Steakhouse (a Luger clone). As part of his research, he also tried the Luger porterhouse, which he found superior. In February 2005, he made the trip out to Williamsburg for Luger’s burgers (which are served only at lunch), and was not impressed. It got another mention, albeit briefly, in his one-star review of Robert’s Steakhouse. This time, he found “real depth, along with the muskiness and mineral quality that often come with dry aging, but on this occasion the meat lacked its usual char.”

There are now a good half-dozen Luger clones in New York City, most of them doing pretty much what Peter Luger does, in a more pleasant atmosphere, with better service, and with a more varied menu. Ultimately, they all rely on the same raw material—aged prime beef. Luger could not go on forever getting the best specimens, and preparing them better than anyone else. If Luger has an edge in that department, at this point it is probably microscopic. Against that are the well known drawbacks: the beer hall décor, the limited menu, the brusque service, the refusal to take credit cards, the trip out to Williamsburg, and the difficulty of scoring a table.

Given that this is a re-review, the overwhelming likelihood is that Luger will not keep all three of its stars. Even allowing for Bruni’s love of steakhouses, it would be hard to justify the re-review just to re-affirm its current rating. The only question is how low Bruni will go. My sense is that he will accept the conclusion of every past critic, which is that Luger is all about the porterhouse. And given his past enthusiastic comments, I suspect he will grudgingly award two stars for the one thing Luger does well, even if the restaurant has lost a step.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Peter Luger Steakhouse.

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