Friday, July 9, 2010

Meat To Beat The Heat

Counterintuitive, isn't it? But then, steakhouses are always well air-conditioned, so steak it was this past Wednesday evening. I had read Alex Witchel's rave reviews of the old school joint Frankie and Johnnie's in the Times a few months back, so it seemed the perfect place to dig into a dry-aged rib-eye. Also, I find an unusual and somewhat secret comfort in traditional steakhouses. I love the leather and the white linen and the dim lights and the booming voices of fat businessmen. This must make me an American.

Pine Island oysters, hailing from Oyster Bay on Long Island, were buttery and fat specimens, even if they came sparsely adorned with lemon, horseradish, and cocktail sauce. I'm a mignonette girl myself, but I'll pardon the omission because the oysters were clean and substantial. A crab cake duo surprised us with a crunch of potato. The outer layer of the cake, generally breaded in something like panko, was sheathed in a mini potato hash brown that was all snap but still yielded to the fork. Okay, the crab itself--the real deal--didn't have enough binding to it and fell apart into shreds of crab and crunch, but I'll forgive that misstep, too.

I can't really forgive the distracted waiter who brought my warm half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc twenty minutes after I had ordered it, but even he is a distant memory in the face of the massive cut of beef that appeared before me. Frankie and Johnnie's makes their own steak sauce, but there's no need; the fatty dickle and salty crust provided all the condiment this steak required. I prefer my rib-eyes bone-in and this baby was no disappointment. Garlic mashed potatoes were pedestrian, at best, and the mint jelly served with my co-eater's lamb jobs was just gross. But the asparagus, shaved expertly at the ends and sauteed in hot oil with slices of brown garlic, more than fulfilled our quest for a decent green vegetable.

But Frankie and Johnnie's was closing all around us, even though it was just ten o'clock, so we decamped for Keens Steakhouse, home to over 250 single-malt and blended scotches. Laphroaig 10 with a hand-cut ice cube was my particular brand of poison, but the bartender could have pointed me in any direction at all. "Drink what you like," he said. "That's what I tell people all the time."

The morning after, in need of more meat to sop up that lingering Laphroaig, I headed to the end of my street, where there's a Bosnian restaurant that I have, embarrassingly, never visited in my five years living in Astoria. The place is called Old Bridge Restaurant and serves "traditional" Bosnian cuisine, which, nearest I can tell, is a combination of meat, meat, and more meat. I started with a Cockta soda, made with real sugar and "natural plant extracts" (for what it's worth) and no caffeine or phosphoric acid. It tasted like a marriage between Moxie and Coke, and I'm sure it isn't for everyone.

You can forgive the modest decor and scattered waitservice when you come upon your very own cevapi, ten grilled beef sausages served in something resembling muffaletta bread and served with chopped onions, cheese, and a roasted red pepper paste. The sandwich is roughly the size of a dinner plate. So, too, is the pljeskavica, a thin beef burger on that same bread with more chopped onions. As in Croatia, where every meal I ate was accompanied by a slim salad of cucumber, tomato, and vinegar, our meal came with a crisp little ode to summer: cucumber, tomato, iceberg lettuce, and mozzarella cheese with white vinegar and oil. It was crunchy and salty, like most of the food at Old Bridge. I should have eaten there years ago.

Frankie and Johnnie's
32 West 37th Street
New York, NY 10018

Keens Steakhouse
72 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018

Old Bridge Restaurant
28-51 42nd Street
Astoria, NY 11103

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