‘This restaurant looks like a trendy handbag,” the catty magazine editrix remarked as she made her way, with trepidation, toward our table at STK, a glittery new dining establishment–disco in the meatpacking district. The name is short for “steak,” and the restaurant, ominously located down the street from Pastis and across from Buddha Bar, is being touted by its proprietors, for better or worse, as a trendy chophouse for the feminine set. The dining-room walls are partially plastered with faux black leather and lined, here and there, with rows of silver studs (hence the handbag remark). There’s a lounge area in the middle of the room where groups of willowy would-be models sit sipping tall glasses of soda water, texting absently on their cell phones. An odd arrangement of plaster steer horns protrudes above the main bar, and the bartenders on duty there appear to have way too much mousse in their hair. There’s a D.J., of course, and tip-hungry bathroom attendants, and a pricey wine list sheathed in the kind of fake white alligator leather Imelda Marcos used to favor when choosing a new pair of shoes.
The editrix took in this scene with an appraising eye, then put down her menu. “We’re doomed,” she said. Well, maybe not. On this evening, at least, our dinner arrived crisply and on time. Much of it was good, and some of it was very good. The first item out of the kitchen was a dish called “Shrimp Rice Krispies,” consisting of a pair of intertwined tiger prawns sprinkled with bits of deep-fried shrimp chips and swimming in a rich shrimp bisque. The ladies at the table agreed that it tasted better than the standard shrimp cocktail, which cost $2 more and contained three recently unfrozen shrimp and not much else. Next came a plate of fresh lavender-colored beets set on a bed of creamy yogurt (whipped with honey and a touch of curry), followed by some cool lump crab tossed with avocado and lime. Even a strange, potentially disastrous combination called “Foie Gras French Toast” (seared foie gras with cinnamon apples and powdered sugar) wasn’t half-bad. The editrix took one bite, then another. “It actually tastes like French toast,” she happily explained.
The architect of these unlikely little surprises is executive chef Todd Mark Miller, who used to labor at a swank Philadelphia chophouse called Barclay Prime. Like a good steak man, Miller dry-ages his steaks for weeks. They are then presented on the menu in ascending sizes. These range from a diminutive though tasty skirt steak (six ounces for $18) to the signature 34-ounce “T-bone Stk,” which tastes fine but ought to cost half its whopping $74 price tag. In between, there’s an excellent, slightly charred bone-in sirloin (16 ounces for $38); a smooth, if also pricey filet ($34 for ten ounces); and a “Cowboy Rib” that costs $49 and was fatty and overdone the night we tried it. The non-steak dishes were hearty as well, and tended to be better, particularly the braised short ribs (decoratively stacked in a tower on a bed of puréed potatoes) and the lamb chops, which are double cut, served with fresh snap peas, and lightly glazed with a mixture of balsamic vinegar and mint jelly.
The knives at STK aren’t big and clunky like those at manly chophouses. They’re curvy and silver-handled, with an appealing cell-phone-like heft, fitting nicely into the palm of your hand. If you don’t happen to enjoy gorging on dead cow, pig, or lamb, you can use them to saw through servings of organic chicken breast (with baby carrots and peas) or a sophisticated preparation of skate, drizzled with chopped shiitake mushrooms and brown butter flavored with ponzu. The side dishes are absurdly priced at $9 each, but a few of them—the creamy sweet-corn pudding or the Parmesan-truffle fries, which are stacked like Lincoln Logs, in the Jean Georges style, and touched with truffle oil—are possibly worth it. Desserts, however, are a relative disaster. The best of them is probably the Linzer float, a twist on the soda-fountain classic flavored with raspberries and studded with bits of cookie. The worst is a plate of fruit flavored—horrifically—with pepper foam. The editrix sniffed at this bizarre dish, let out a tiny yelp of horror, then pushed it aside. “Girls don’t eat dessert anyway,” she said. “Now you now why.”
Another new restaurant with a particular theme in mind is the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, which opened not long ago on a bleak stretch of 21st Street in the Flatiron district. The proprietor is Tim Love, from Fort Worth, Texas, who made a considerable reputation back home (this is the second Lonesome Dove outlet) serving exotic ingredients (buffalo corn dogs, kangaroo carpaccio) with an enthusiastic, down-home flourish. In the big city, however, Mr. Love’s openhearted Texas exuberance seems goofy and a little off-key. Let’s begin with the cheerless, threadbare room, which is long and windowless and painted brown, like a basement bar in some two-bit college town. A pair of skinny, scraggly cacti frame the doorway, and a tattered-looking steer skin has been spread, perversely, on the sidewalk, to usher people in off the street. The only noticeable decorations inside are antic paintings of monster-size hats and cowboy boots, and the lighting is so dim my little party of diners and I had to hold up candles to see our food, like miners in a cave.
Mr. Love is also a steak aficionado, and the beef he serves (good New York strip, a mammoth bone-in double-rib cut called the “Tomahawk Chop”) is expertly chosen and well aged. Most of the other cooking is a mess. The Boursin-stuffed kangaroo carpaccio comes to the table in bedraggled slivers, on stale blue-corn tortilla chips. My rabbit empanada was fine, though I couldn’t tell you whether the meat inside was rabbit or chicken or some errant lizard flattened by a truck outside Waco. I enjoyed my red-deer chop (from New Zealand) despite its industrial crusting of pepper, but the pork tenderloin didn’t benefit from a brackish rubbing of cocoa and coffee, and the wild-boar foreshank was mostly stewed gristle smothered in a dark and viscous puddle of wild-cherry “mojo” sauce. The flan (doused with an orange liqueur called Tuaca) would be this critic’s hesitant choice among the meager selection of desserts, although the chocolate cake isn’t bad, provided you like your chocolate cake spiked with Texas-size amounts of ancho chile.
Address: 26 Little W. 12th St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 646-624-2444
Hours: Daily, 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $8 to $14; entrées, $21 to $74.
Ideal Meal: Beets with yogurt, lamb chops, Parmesan-truffle fries, raspberry Linzer float.
Note: None of the cocktails costs under $12, and none of those we tried was any good.
Scratchpad: The crowds will swell, the D.J. will pump the volume, and the usual meatpacking madness will ensue. But for now, at least, the non-steak dishes, anyway, are worth one star.
Lonesome Dove Western Bistro
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight.
Prices: Appetizers, $5 to $13; entrées, $22 to $125.
Ideal Meal: Rabbit empanadas, New York strip steak or Tomahawk Chop,” Tuaca flan.
Note: Tim Love has his own line of fine wines, which may be why the list is well chosen and interesting for such a modest-size joint.
Scratchpad: The steak is worth trying if you’re in the neighborhood. If you’re not in the neighborhood, or visiting from Waco, don’t bother.