Entries in Le Relais de Venise (3)


Le Relais de Venise

Le Relais de Venise “L’Entrecôte” garnered a bit of press—only a little—when it opened last summer in East Midtown— oddly enough, on the same block as the Four Seasons. The few reviews it got told of a “meh” steak in a “meh” sauce, and that was that.

Then Sam Sifton shocked us all by choosing the place for his fourth review, pronouncing it “terrific,” and awarding one star.

The concept at L’Entrecôte is simple enough. There is only one order: salad and steak frites for $24. Across the street, at the Four Seasons, you can’t even get an appetizer for that.

Desserts are extra, but not exorbitant, at around $5–7 each. A glass of the house Bordeaux is just $5.75. None of that is expensive by Manhattan standards, where at most top steakhouses the steak alone is around $40—more at some places.

Still, even if you skip dessert (as I did) and drink just one glass of the wine, you’ll approach $40 with tax and tip. There are plenty of cheap eats at that price, and when only one item is served, it ought to be great. It is not.

What’s served here is better called “nourishment” than cuisine. As Sifton noted, you could be out in twenty minutes, and there is no reason to linger any longer. The space is cavernous, and neither warm nor especially inviting. I wonder how often they’ll fill it?

Despite all that space, there is no coat check.

The menu announces, “Today, trimmed Entrecôte Steak [i.e. rib steak] ‘Porte Maillo’ with its famous sauce, French fries and Green salad with walnuts.” I love that word Today, as if you could get something different tomorrow. You can’t.

A waitress dressed in a French maid’s uniform asks if you’ll have your steak blue, rare, medium, or well. I choose rare, and she writes a big “R” in magic marker on the white mat that covers the table. With so little to keep track of, do they really need an aide memoire?

That house wine arrives. It is certainly not over-priced, at $5.75. But one glass of it will be enough.

The salad (below left) comes within minutes— fast enough to make me suspect a bunch of them are made up in advance. After a few bites of the soggy lettuce, my fears are confirmed.

In contrast, the steak seems to be prepared to order. The waitress serves about half of it onto your plate, and ladles on the sauce. The other half is left on a warming tray at a serving station nearby. When you’ve finished your first helping, she’ll bring over the tray and serve the rest. It’s a gimmick, as the portion is not so large that it would get cold if it were all served at once.

The meat, as you’d expect, is not the best, but it is certainly edible, and cooked correctly to the rare I had asked for. The fries are decent. The sauce is a secret, but the consensus is that it includes chicken livers, mustard, and pepper. I thought I tasted mushrooms, too. It is good enough to conceal the fact that the beef is nothing special.

The servers are plenty attentive. You could argue that the place is over-staffed, given how little is expected of them. The restaurant fulfills its modest aims acceptably, but I’m sure you can find more interesting ways to spend $40.

Le Relais de Venise (590 Lexington Avenue at 52nd Street, East Midtown)

Food: Acceptable
Service: Decent
Ambiance: Acceptable
Overall: Satisfactory


Review Recap: Le Relais de Venise

Sam Sifton has been the New York Times restaurant critic for just four weeks, and already he is full of surprises. We have correctly predicted his rating just once—and that was for the rather obvious Marea.

We did not believe that this restaurant would get one star, based on the “meh” reviews we’ve read elsewhere. But we are glad that when Sifton gives a star, the restaurant is actually good—a contrast from the Frank Bruni era.

LE RELAIS DE VENISE L’ENTRECÔTE is a mouthful of a restaurant that opened a few months ago in a canyon at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, convenient mostly to hotel guests and hamsters on the Midtown professional wheel. It has no real menu to speak of. There is only salad and steak frites. Some wine to drink and a dessert after. Women in French maid outfits serve the stuff as if they were characters in an early Preston Sturges film. And you know what? It’s terrific.

We still don’t quite understand why a restaurant that serves only one salad and one entrée required a review to itself.

Record to date: 71–28 (71%)


Review Preview: Le Relais de Venise

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton reviews the utterly irrelevant Le Relais de Venise. The utterly disgusted Eater oddsmakers have declined to establish a betting line.

Nevertheless, we forecast zero stars, because: A) No one yet has said this place is especially good. B) If you give one star to a place that actually has some decent food (i.e., Imperial Palace), where else is there to go, but down?