Note: After a failed Department of Health inspection, Country gave up the ghost. Plans for Country Steak, described below, were quietly abandoned. The downstairs café persisted a while longer, before it closed too. The upstairs space re-opened as Chef Laurent Manrique’s Millesime, while the downstairs is now known as Salon Millesime.
Yesterday brought the depressing news that Country will close at the end of the summer. Chef/owner Geoffrey Zakarian will replace it with a steakhouse, Country Steak. What a creative name!
We adored Country. I awarded four stars to my first visit there, and over three subsequent visits we continued to find it enchanting. Unfortunately, it was in a slow but steady decline. After our most recent visit, about two months ago, we thought the food barely merited three stars. The new chef de cuisine, Willis Loughhead, had turned the formerly exciting menu into an uneven lineup of mostly snoozers. But Loughhead was still in transition after the departure of the former chef de cuisine, Doug Psaltis. We hoped the downturn was temporary.
The market, alas, decided otherwise. About a month ago, Eater put Country on Deathwatch, after the restaurant offered a summer “Pay What We Pay” wine list promotion, among other distress signals. Zakarian retorted that reservations were up, and that they “look forward to business as usual in the dining room.” Readers were right to be skeptical, when the restaurant was giving away its wine list at wholesale prices—clearly not a show of strength.
We now learn that Zakarian was lying through his teeth. Here’s the explanation for the new steakhouse idea:
I’ve been trying to do a steakhouse concept for a while… I was looking for a location, and we’re already doing a lot of head-to-tail cooking at Country. So we’re just going to do it here. I’m installing a wood grill, and we’re going to open after our usual summer hiatus in September… We’re still looking at different woods, different methods.
Yeah, right. And when he denied the restaurant was in trouble—just four weeks ago—the steakhouse concept wasn’t already in the works?
The shift was enough to awaken Frank Bruni from his blogging slumber. He wonders why steakhouses — as if we didn’t have enough of them already — have been immune to the economic downturn. It’s the only populist restaurant genre where à la carte entrées routinely hover at $40 or higher; yet, you hardly ever see a steakhouse fail. Most of them, in fact, are routinely full, despite a steakhouse glut over the last few years.
It remains to be seen how far Zakarian will wander from the traditional steakhouse model. BLT Steak, Quality Meats, and Craftsteak are all examples of successful re-imaginings of the genre. V Steakhouse was perhaps the most conspicuous failure of that kind. One wonders whether Zakarian will leave the dining room’s refined elegance intact, or if he’ll try to make it “look” more like a steakhouse.
One hopes, as Bruni put it, that “the food at the forthcoming Country Steak will be more imaginative and surprising than that name.”