Entries in Peter Luger (3)


Peter Luger Steakhouse

To write a review of Peter Luger Steakhouse seems absurd. All that’s worth saying has been said, right?

There’s only two ways this review can go, and you already know them. Either it’s the best steakhouse in the city, or it’s criminally overrated. Both views have ample support, from carnivores more knowledgeable than I.

Let me trianguate. It ain’t bad. I’d happily go again, if asked. But I wouldn’t recommend it either. The quality of New York steakhouses has risen markedly since Ruth Reichl awarded three stars in The Times in 1995. The city’s best porterhouses are no longer a Luger exclusive. If you want to traipse over the Williamsburg Bridge, to say you’ve done it, then go ahead. But you don’t have to. There is really no need.

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The Payoff: Peter Luger Steakhouse

Today, as expected, Frank Bruni awarded a weak two stars to Peter Luger Steakhouse, a downgrade from its former rating of three stars. The review practically wrote itself. Simply put, the restaurant doesn’t deliver excellence as consistently as it used to. With a multitude of Luger clones in Manhattan that are as good or better, one can no longer turn a blind eye to the restaurant’s many faults. Indeed, from the text of the review, Bruni could easily have justified just one star, rather than the two he gave.

Bruni’s timing is certainly open to question. The review mentioned that renovations are in progress. As there was no particular urgency for this review, would it not have been better to wait until the remodeling was complete? The only thing that has really changed since Ruth Reichl’s 1997 review is the addition of a rib steak to the menu (which Bruni loved both times he tried it).

With Luger’s demotion, New York is now without a three-star steakhouse. Given Bruni’s obvious affection for the format, I have to wonder if he’s looking for an excuse to award the third star to his own personal favorite of the bunch. I’m not sure which steakhouse it would be, as there is no obvious front-runner for the title. I also know that some people feel that steakhouses are too formulaic, and shouldn’t qualify for three stars no matter how good they are, but I don’t buy that argument.

Eater and I both took the two-star bet at 2–1 odds. We both win $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $42.50   $46.67
Gain/Loss +2.00   +2.00
Total $44.50   $48.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 18–5   17–6

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.