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Let Them Eat Steakby Gael Greene | Manhattan magazine | January 8, 2013
Chef Laurent Tourondel is back in town, and overnight Arlington Club is booked solid with the Manhattan tribes that count: obsessed eaters and late-night hotties. In my crowd, it’s his popovers that count. Arlington’s are as big as volleyballs, and a blend of three cheeses makes them wondrously salty and crunchy. For my pal Janet, it’s his supernal onion rings, meticulously battered, crisp and grease-free. Harriette is swooning over the perfection of his chicken, an oversize bird. It comes with a big bowl of compelling fries—thinner than frites, thicker than shoestrings, laced with herbs and Parmesan.
We’re so out of control we order eight sides for just the four of us, practically coming to blows over whether we really need spaghetti squash with honey-butter for vitamins when we already have Brussels sprouts with pancetta. Or shall it be grilled radicchio to offset the truffled gnocchi in Parmesan cream, coin-cut potatoes Arlington (crisp outside, soft inside) and devil-may-care mac and cheese, its tubes standing up in a cosmic emanation of smoked Gouda?
Beef short ribs are the killer this first night. Buried under a hedge of watercress with lemon confit and rosemary breadcrumbs, this cut would be fatty enough anyway, but it’s American wagyu, so it’s doubly rich.
“According to Pritikin, we’re most likely to have a heart attack or a stroke in the next 12 hours,” one of my companions announces, suggesting we might skip dessert.
“If I’m going to die tonight, I want the banana cream pie,” I insist. It comes with rum ice cream. The waiter pours on hot Nutella fudge. Even to me that seems somewhat excessive. Someone else at our table needs the peanut butter chocolate bar with milk popcorn ice cream. I’d better taste that, too. It’s my job.
Alas, the kitchen has sent the red fruit crêpe soufflé, too, with lemon curd, a portion of lime mille-feuille and warm, sticky date pudding with kumquat toffee and ginger ice cream. An embarrassment of riches, all of it shockingly delicious. The chef stops by to show his whites. A farewell plate with whiskey tartlets and bourbon fudge truffles arrives after the check, which comes to about $100 per person.
I’m happy for Laurent. It was at Cello that he first hooked those of us who travel on our stomachs, and later at BLT Steak, with his lavish prologue of freebies, before he split with the man whose BLT empire he built. I worried he needed a better lawyer to handle his contracts. He almost disappeared except for LT Burger, first in Sag Harbor, now near Bryant Park.
But Arlington is serious stuff. Tourondel’s got nine partners from the Tao Group. They seem highly dedicated, having sunk their money into this slick and handsome redo of what used to be Payard—vaulted brick ceilings and big leather booths below, and a cacophonous rear balcony under steel and glass arches above, evoking a train station. When someone overhears me saying it’s noisy, they call an acoustic expert and then me. Padding is on its way, I’m assured.
There’s a riff on sushi, sashimi and crudo, too, for omega-3 hounds and calorie counters. I could be happy with just the $28 portion of bluefin otoro in a puddle of dashi, with a ball of avocado under a leaf of sushi and a ring of jalapeño—a concerto of sensuality—plus a side of the macaroni. The spider dragon roll is a work of art, though the spicy tuna Osaka style seems staid.
But Arlington is a steakhouse first of all, offering beef that’s, as the menu advises, “hand-selected USDA prime and dry-aged for 28 days.” And in these first early days, something is amiss. The thick wedge of sirloin has more flavor than the bland porterhouse, but not enough—and both are overcooked. I said “rare.” A guy in a suit offers to take it back and start over again. He actually offers twice. “We do it all the time,” he says.
Oh, dear. I’m torn. I want my steak rare. But my friend already has her Dover sole, “modern meunière,” exquisitely boned and dotted with bits of preserved lemon. I don’t want to wait.
So far, Arlington’s steakhouse feel is better than the meat itself. I love the bussers in suspenders and shirtsleeves, toting trays of meat with greens fluttering above, setting them down next to the table, slicing the cow if you wish, spooning up caramelized onions and cloves of garlic. The chef is not shy with garlic. Crisped slivers appear here and there.
There are clams casino, too, super garlicky. The $12 Lexington salad of spinach, frisée and escarole, with Stilton, big lardoons of bacon and a runny soft-boiled egg is enough for three to share. Of all the menu options, I’d probably never choose figs and Gorgonzola salad—but someone at our table does, and it’s remarkably good, a fragrant bouquet of pancetta, truffle honey and balsamic complementing the sweet figgy-ness.
I imagine Laurent will get those steaks into shape eventually. And he’d better come up with some lighter options to get the ladies who lunch. Also, on my last visit I saw that he no longer offered whiskey tartlets or bourbon fudge truffles at the farewell. Was it indifference, forgetfulness or mercy?
1032 Lexington Ave./73rd Street, 212.249.5700
Dinner: Mon.-Wed., 5pm-midnight; Thu.-Sat., 5pm-1am