Every chef wants a steakhouse. What’s not to like? Steakhouses are expensive, popular, and predictable.
Once they’ve sourced the beef, there’s not that much difference in what two properly-equipped kitchens will do with it. And yet, people flock to designer steakhouses as if the chef’s name mattered.
Mind you, I don’t deny that there’s room at the margins for a chef’s personality to shine. But a great steakhouse is mostly about the steak. There’s hardly any other restaurant with entrées in the $50s and $60s that is so likely to succeed, and where that success depends so little on the chef’s contribution.
So that’s why we’ve had such establishments as Arlington Club (Laurent Tourondel), Craftsteak (Tom Colicchio), V Steakhouse (Jean-Georges Vongerichten), Charlie Palmer Steak NY, American Cut (Marc Forgione), and now Josh Capon’s Bowery Meat Company.
These places aren’t fool-proof, as Colicchio and Vongerichten learned. But you’ve got to try really hard to foul up a steakhouse. Craftsteak and V Steakhouse failed because the two chefs over-thought them. If they’d just opened normal steakhouses, those establishments would probably still be with us today.
Josh Capon has made no such mistake. Bowery Meat Company is straight out of the celebrity-chef steakhouse playbook, with enough creativity to distinguish it from the national chains and Luger clones, but enough of the familiar features that meat-&-potatoes carnivores will expect. The comfortable décor features low lighting and plenty of dark wood trim: if Capon fails, Wolfgang could take it over, and he wouldn’t need to change a thing.
Capon made his name with seafood at the Soho standout Lure Fishbar, where he also serves a killer burger so successful that it morphed into its own restaurant, Burger & Barrel. There’s nothing that screams “steak savant” in his background. He’s doing it because the market will bear it.
For a designer-label New York steakhouse, the prices are surprisingly sane, though still not cheap. Steaks and chops will set you back anywhere between $29 (hanger steak) and $55 (NY strip) for one, $110 and $144 for two. There’s a small selection of pastas ($19–24) and non-steak mains ($29–34). Starters and salads are $15–21, side dishes $10. The one constant across Capon’s restaurants, the burger, is $22.
The staff treated me well both times that I visited (once at a table, another at the bar). But I must register one mild annoyance. At some tables—only some—Capon marched out of the kitchen with a heavy cutting board stacked with raw steaks for the patrons to examine before they ordered. At our table, we had to make due with a server’s verbal description.
A lot of Page Six names have visited Bowery Meat Company in its early days. I didn’t spot any, but I suspect they’re the ones who get the raw beef show with a visit from the chef. I don’t so much care whether Capon personally visits my table. But there are more subtle ways to give something extra to your A-list guests. Once you’ve put on a show in front of the whole room, and done it repeatedly, it looks cheap when the other guests who’ve spent $150+ per head are made to feel like second-class citizens.
Both times I visited, there was a trio of amuses bouches (above): a slice of house-cured beef, a narrow rectangle of focaccia, and the best of the bunch, hot arancini.
We tried two starters, both of which were well prepared but unmemorable: Wagyu meatballs ($16; above left) and Chinese BBQ Pork Belly ($19; above right) with lettuce wraps and pickled vegetables.
One normally thinks of the T-Bone as the porterhouse’s poor cousin, but this specimen for two ($148; above) was terrific, with a nice char and a beefy mineral tang from a 40-day dry aging process.
Every cut of beef has probably appeared on a menu somewhere, but I don’t recall this one. Capon’s Bowery Steak ($54; above) is a ribeye cap, rolled into a spiral, served on a bed of mashed potatoes and topped with salsa verde.
The ribeye cap is the outer deckle that many steak lovers find the most flavorful. On a typical ribeye cut, the deckle tends to cook faster than the rest of the steak. By separating the cap, Capon can cook it evenly to a perfect medium rare. (Grub Street has an article on how the dish was created.) It’s a ribeye-lover’s dream.
I tried only one of the side dishes. The Sour Cream & Onion Hashed Browns ($10; above left) were disappointing, as the potatoes had been cooked as dry as a hockey puck. The only dessert we tried was unadventurous: a trio of sorbets ($9; above middle). Frozen chocolate ice cream balls (above right) are served at the end of every meal.
The online wine list is a currently a broken link, but as I recall there is a strong selection, as you’d expect at a steakhouse. We were pleased with the 2009 Fourcas-Dupré Listrac–Medoc for $56 (label at the top of this post). We also tried several cocktails, which were excellent, and at $14 each, have to be considered a bargain for a restaurant this expensive.
Of the appetizers, side dishes, or desserts we tried—admittedly a small sample—none really wowed us. The two steaks we tried were excellent, but you don’t really need Bowery Meat Company for that.
Bowery Meat Company (9 E. 1st Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, East Village)
Food: Steakhouse standards with a few creative touches
Service: Generally good, with an extra gear for celebrities
Ambiance: Like other upscale steakhouses