Some events in life require serious celebration. Our preferred method of celebration, of course, involves food. A perfect restaurant meal is not just food though- it's a long, slow period of enjoyment that involves many delicious eats, friendly and effective service, and the right ambiance. We have celebrated many important events in our lifetime at restaurants- our 13th (surprise) birthday party at the Melting Pot in Gainesville, our 21st birthday at Pod, and our college graduation dinner at Estia (although the meal here was subpar, the celebration was not!) come immediately to mind. As we've previously mentioned, we recently passed our respective preliminary/comprehensive exams, which is a critical point in the long process of earning a PhD. We spent A LOT of time preparing for and stressing about these exams, and I can't remember ever experiencing such a feeling of relief and accomplishment upon hearing that I passed.
So what to do to celebrate? While we enjoyed get togethers with friends and classmates, we knew we wanted to celebrate together, just us, at a really nice restaurant. One that we would never think about going to on a regular weekend, one that would probably be a one time event. One of my most memorable celebration dinners took place at Barclay Prime- the Stephen Starr steakhouse literally around the corner from our home. My first encounter with this restaurant revolved around the one year dating "anniversary" with my boyfriend (we're coming up on three.. any ideas for this celebration?), and we were both completely won over by the entire experience. It is definitely one of the best meals I have ever had, and I wanted to share that with J as well. So to Barclay Prime we went!
I'd love to say that I was just as blown away during the second visit, but unfortunately, such was not the case. An enjoyable meal was had, but we both agreed that it was not one of the best meals, starting from the get-go. Upon arrival, the hostess explained to us that the reservations before us had arrived late, and therefore we would have to wait about ten minutes. I'm sorry but.. that's not really my problem. Please don't explain the details of your hosting job. I frankly don't care. Each reserved table should be ready at the time of the reservation. No excuses. Finally, we were led to our table- in the far corner of the restaurant. I was a little bummed, but it gave us the privacy we thought we might need to take pictures discretely in such a top notch place (Note: the lighting is dim at best, and does not allow for great photography. We did our best!)
Our waiter took his time getting to us (granted we watched him hustle many tables around us), both to get our water order and subsequently our food order. Almost a painfully long time. When he did get around to asking what we would like to eat, he took several minutes to explain the additions to the menu (along with their prices, which I thought was helpful as most specials are announced unpriced, allowing for sticker shock when the check comes) and made some of his own suggestions. One of these was the scallop appetizer, which I had my eye on but J didn't want to get (she doesn't love scallops). However, with his recommendation, we ordered them, along with the "famed" Kobe beef sliders as a second appetizer. On my first visit, I saved some money by sharing a steak with the bf, and knew this was what I wanted to do again (nobody needs 20 ounces of cow for themselves). We asked for the 21 day dry aged ribeye, medium rare of course, to be served with a side of mushrooms.
But first, the bread. The complimentary bread has changed since my first visit- because it was fabulous and I would definitely have remembered it. A large warm popover, served with whipped butter... decadence at its finest. This was no ordinary roll, no simple slice of bread. It smelled and tasted somewhat like fresh homemade Belgian waffles-- a very good thing. The outer crust was flaky, like a croissant, and surrounded a very airy middle- pockets of air breaking up very dense doughy bread innards. I really can't explain how good it was. The meal seemed to be picking up.
The first appetizer to arrive was the scallops. It was maybe the ugliest presentation of food I've ever seen- thankfully, it tasted better than it looked. Two thinly sliced fried green tomatoes each supported a Nueske bacon wrapped scallop (Nueske is a meat producing company, which I was unaware of at the time). Not huge, but not tiny either. All of this was drizzled with a maple syrup-based sauce. The one thing that comes to mind when thinking about this dish is FAT. The tomato was too thin to support its thick coating of corn meal and subsequent dunk in the deep fryer. The scallop, a healthy bite of seafood on its own, was overwhelmed by the thick bacon wrap. I like bacon. But I also like scallops-- and a bacon-wrapped scallop should be able to present both flavors and textures. The syrup sauce was much appreciated- SOMETHING to cut through the grease and salt of the rest of the dish.
This is an embarrassingly bad picture. The combination of low light plus shiny scallops confused our camera.
Next came the sliders. These babies are pretty famous- at one point named in the top 5 best burgers in America by GQ (although I'm not sure what their food expertise is, exactly). I ordered these with the bf and we were both pretty awestruck at the tenderness and flavor of the meat. I HAD to get them again. I have no idea what happened- have I become a more choosy eater? Are these sliders no longer made with the same beef? Was the chef asleep at the grill? Whatever it is, they just weren't great. The twosome arrived with absolutely no description by the food runner or our waiter- but I remembered that the two burgers are not identical, as they have different toppings. J was glad I pointed this out, we cut them in half, and each tried them both. Honestly though, we weren't sure what the toppings were exactly- except that one had tomato and one did not. The meat was a bit on the dry side, and had a good char, to the point that it was the main flavor. Kobe beef... dry? Not normal. The tiny brioche bun seemed like a good cradle for the meat, but just holding the mini burger left my fingers dripping with oil. J literally tried to wring drops out of it. Of course I want a buttery bun. I do not want to feel like I just swam in the butter plate. It reminded both of us of a McDonald's hamburger, which is just sad. Barclay Prime, I know you can do better.
Thankfully, the star of the show was up next. But first- the knives. If you're going to eat a steak, of course this requires a knife. One of the neat quirks at Barclay Prime is the knife presentation. Our waiter brought a tray featuring five different knives, and briefly described each one and allowed us to pick which we'd like to use. J went with the knife that was "modeled after a Japanese samurai throwing knife" while I took the much less ostentatious small German utensil (he had a big brother named Handel.. no lie. But Handel was a bit too big for my small hands).
Can you tell which one is which?
Then came the ribeye. OH the ribeye. It really is my favorite cut of meat, regardless of how unhealthy it is. The 20 ounces of pure delight came sliced for us, making the sharing process much easier. The meat was cooked to absolute perfection, a salty seared outer crust encasing a velvety red inside. Literally, it was velvet. J decided to chisel out a piece of just the inside, untainted by the outer edge, to enjoy the meaty flavor all by itself, and requested that I do the same. It is clear evidence of why humans are meant to be meat-eaters.
The steak went perfectly with the sauteed mushrooms- creamy chunks of mushroom that I kind of wanted to drink out of the bowl. These mushrooms also went well with my remaining pieces of popover, which could be used as a sort of scoop, maximizing the mushroom to bread ratio. Seriously, if my meal had consisted of the ribeye, the bread, and the mushrooms, I'd be planning any cause for celebration at all at Barclay Prime.
Our meal was absolutely devoid of any real vegetable or remotely healthy item (emphasized by the pictures, I am sure. Shades of brown, anyone?), but we didn't mind as it was meant to be a no-holds-barred kind of meal. However, we did draw the line at dessert- the restaurant has a lot of delicious sounding options, but I think we were somewhat disappointed at some aspects of our meal and decided against risking another failed (and altogether ridiculously expensive) item. Instead, we had our last chunk of meat wrapped up (probably about 3 ounces of beef which they placed into a huge takeout container... extremely funny to see sitting all alone through its clear plastic top). They also present you with a small bag of homemade granola to take home- banana hazelnut flavored. Granola? From a steakhouse? We suppose they want you to feel a little healthier the next morning. This granola was nowhere near as good as our late Grandma's granola, but I suppose not everyone has such high standards.
Celebrations like this come few and far between. Regardless of the imperfection of the meal, we are still thrilled that we have passed such a milestone in our lives, but the next time we want a decadent, expensive meal out, we'll probably venture elsewhere.
237 S. 18th Street