Forget fawning waiters, star-studded dining rooms, and culinary architecture piled high on the plate. When it comes to a proper chophouse, the only thing that matters is the meat. Palm ( 837 Second Avenue, between 44th and 45th Streets; 687-2953) is a Gotham original -- and though it's now a chain, it still feels, with the caricatures on the wall and the Sicilian management, far from corporate. The dining room is filled with jovial regulars: tanned men in button-down oxfords and pressed denim. There is a lot of back slapping and joke telling. It possesses a country-club air, but new members are always welcome. "Get the sirloin," advised my waiter. And it was very good, marbled and thick but still tender and flavorful. With creamed spinach and a baked potato the size of a foot, this is a regal meal.
The awful green-and-white façade at Smith & Wollensky (797 Third Avenue, at 49th Street; 753-1530) belies the fine dining within. The huge T-bone sirloin is both juicy and tasty, but we were more excited about the hash browns, which were greasy, buttery, and crispy all at once (for $7.50, they should be).
And then there is Peter Luger Steakhouse (178 Broadway, in Brooklyn; 718-387-7400). At the 111-year-old beer-stained Williamsburg institution, David Geffen and Calvin Klein are asked not to linger, and even Donald Trump has to wait for a table. The attitude is smug: Framed raves from every critic line the walls, and the house steak sauce is bottled for sale. It does not matter that the octogenarian waiters are cranky and the tablecloths are spotted with red-wine stains. Who cares if the room is lit with klieg lights and the adjacent table of CPAs are playing beer games? And so what if the creamed spinach tastes like a Sixth Street saag and the home fries are simultaneously burnt and soggy? The porterhouse is the best steak either side of the East River. The dry aged grade-A beef is flawless, tender enough to cut with a dull knife and so flavorful you can ignore the lackluster wine list. Listen, a spike in your cholesterol count will not necessarily kill you. And if it does, at least you'll die satisfied.