Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dinner | Barclay Prime

After brunching with Dani and checking out the Philadelphia Science Festival (yes, we are those kind of geeks :P), Marcus and I finally made it to Barclay Prime in Rittenhouse Square to celebrate our two-year anniversary.

There's a little anecdote to this restaurant choice. Two years and a week from the date of this dinner, I dined at Barclay Prime for the first time with Dan during one of our "Starr Restaurant Tour" stints (hitting up a record of four Starr restaurants that weekend!). We had an amazing time because the ambiance, attentive service, and the food were stellar and dressed up to the nines. The most noteworthy part of the experience was that the steak knives given to the diners upon serving their desired cut of steak were not the usual serrated blades with tri-riveted wooden scales as the handle. Instead, the diners were presented with a square platter from which to choose one of many unique steak knives (more on this later), including one created by a samurai sword manufacturer and another one by the grandson of Ferninand Porsche (yes, the carmaker founder).

Anyway, when I returned back to New York that Sunday, I finally gave into my curiosity and signed up for eHarmony as a little three-month experiment. No less than a couple hours later, I was paired with my "first match" -- "Mr. Marcus" himself :P -- and from there we embarked on our first conversations: about food, our personalities, what we like to do, the usual. He went to school in Philadelphia, so the natural thing was to talk about my most recent trip (that very yesterday), mentioning in passing about Stephen Starr restaurants and the impressive collection of steak knives at Barclay Prime. That initial conversation stuck with us all the way until the present (I think I had Marcus at "samurai sword" hehe), where and when we decided that perhaps it'd be poetic for us to return together to celebrate this joyous milestone in our relationship -- plus I really wanted see what Marcus's final assessment would be. It's just crazy to think I was sitting in this very dining room a little over two years ago, just a day before my life would change into one where I'd be sharing it with my other half, only to be sitting there two years later, toasting.

Don't be fooled by the restaurant's unassuming exterior -- it is swanky and posh without having diners feel out of place. Barclay Prime is located on the first floor of the historic Barclay Building (formerly a luxury hotel built in 1929, now residential condominiums) and "takes its cues from the exquisite tradition of the building."

Best described as a "luxury boutique steakhouse" (could not put it into better words myself), Barclay Prime is "the ideal contemporary destination for a space so steeped in glamorous old-world tradition." I love the juxtaposition of modern and retro design that playfully dance with each other in the main dining room. The bold choice of green for its multi-faceted banquette seating (both leather and suede, too!) against the warm and organic ribbons of wood that surround the space as well as against the marbled, white tables and modular, ivory-upholstered chairs makes for a vivid and lively atmosphere for guests to savor and adore.

Another view of the dining room, from where we were seated. Something to note is that this was the first time that I spoke up after having the maître d' attempt to seat us in the very back left corner (see above photograph) where the lighting was nonexistent or would be once the light faded from the windows into dusk. I nicely asked her if she could possibly seat us near the windows, and she gladly said it would be her pleasure, once she made sure with the general manager that no previous arrangements had been made with other patrons. Thankfully it was no problem at all, and we got a table right next to the window, where the fading afternoon light (still a lot left to my amazement) bled right into that side of the dining room with the alabaster marble tops glistening. I was beaming with excitement, as my visit with Dan, however memorably delicious it was, yielded photographs that were dark and indistinguishable due to extremely low lighting of the back corner. With that in mind, I'm really glad I spoke up!

Love the chandeliers -- a fun throwback to the Roaring 20s (when the Barclay Hotel was operating) in a room filled with more contemporary furnishings.

The offerings of the menu is pretty standard for any steakhouse -- e.g., starters (soups/salads), crudo, steak cuts, other main course alternatives (non-steak), and sides (a la carte). However, the layout and design of the menu made it a little less boring and more fun.

There was an infamous item that I noticed sprawled at the center of the menu -- the wagyu ribeeye and foie gras cheese steak served with a 1/2 bottle of Perrier-Jouêt "Grand Brut" champagne. Imagine that -- an ode to the city's iconic Philly cheesesteak while maintaining its unabashed guise as a luxury boutique steakhouse (doesn't get more decadent than adding foie gras to a gratifyingly greasy cheesesteak!). So I admit I got a little sidetracked, but I pulled myself together and focused back on what cut of steak I wanted for that evening. :P

A tastier alternative to the traditional bread rolls, Barclay Prime served Gruyère and scallion popovers. Hollow at its center and airy in the pastry, this flaky and crusty orb of savory goodness was a harbinger of what a promising meal and unforgettable experience the restaurant had in store for us. If we hadn't already ordered two sides, we would have happily asked for seconds. Now that I think about it, I should have sneaked some into my purse for the road! :P Recipe please!

I almost wasn't going to have an appetizer -- I wanted to be able to savor and enjoy my steak down to its last cut of meat and drop of au jus. But whenever there's peekytoe crab on the menu (pardon my inexplicable penchant for cute sounding foods), I have to check it out. Our captain described what the peekytoe crab salad entailed, and I was sold. It had chunky peekytoe crab meat mixed in with a light aioli and herbs, and it was served with a refreshing vinaigrette over a bed of baby spinach, green beans, and sliced radish. There was also a side of Texas toast on which to eat the peekytoe crab salad. Both salads were delightful, even better when eaten on the toast.The chunky crab meat went so well with the aioli, bright with flavor and lush in texture. It was a lightly refreshing treat before the hearty steak course ahead.

Marcus was still feeling under the weather, so he decided to have the lobster bisque, hoping the warmth from the soup could help clear his sinuses. It was creamy with that floating undertone of evaporated cognac on the palate. I liked that it wasn't salty like most bisques are, and the consistency of the soup was very robust -- not at all watery.

Next came my favorite thing about Barclay Prime. One thing was for sure -- when it came to steak knives, Barclay Prime certainly did not mess around. I've already preluded to this earlier, but I want to explain a little more. Right before the steak course, the service team will present you with an platter of uniquely designed steak knives. During this particular dinner, Marcus and I were presented with four distinct knives, from which Marcus chose the Kershaw Shun (second from the left) and I the Global (first from the left).

Thanks to John Polizzi, the general manager of Barclay Prime, I was able to acquire some more background on each of these knives:
{1} GLOBAL: This knife is made in Japan and is entirely stainless steel -- the first of its kind. I had this knife during my first visit, and though I didn't know about the brand at the time, I chose it because of the dots on the handle because it was so hard to choose! :P I remember liking the way it cut through my steak that I wanted to opt for it once more.
{2} Kershaw Shun: This knife is also of Japanese origin, made from sixteen layers of Japanese steel with a Bakkawood handle. The way this knife is made is the same way samurai swords are made. Needless to say, they had Marcus at samurai, as I had in our first conversations! :P
{3} Wüsthof: This one is from Germany and is laser-sharpened.
{4} J. A. Henckels: Also from Germany, this knife has a curved blade. I remember Dan using this one when we went together. He had a little difficulty using it with his cut of steak, so we ended up switching midway through.

Barclay Prime also have two other steak knives currently which were not offered to us that evening (not sure why) but that I remembered from my first visit:
{5} Laguiole: From France, this knife manufacturer prides itself on being the oldest knife maker in the world.
{6} Chroma: This knife was designed by the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the founder and creator of the well-renowned performance car brand. Such a shame this wasn't offered during Marcus and I's dinner -- I would be curious to try this one next time. Its uncustomary shape has me very curious.

It also seems that the Wüsthof knife that I came across during this dinner replaced the Fuji/Fujitechnics knife that the restaurant had two years ago -- just a random tidbit I wanted to share!

Close up of our steak knife selections! Pretty badass if you ask me! :P

It was finally time for us to chow down on our hunks of steak. I went with the 18-ounce Gachot & Gachot prime dry-aged ribeye, mainly because I normally like prime rib and ribeye steaks tend to be marbled in fat. With some dry-aging in there, the marbling only intensified. I could even tell before slicing into it that the glossy finish of the steak would be an auspicious tell of its glorious taste. Normally I like to have my steaks cooked to medium rare as leeway so that if it is slightly overcooked, it bleeds into the medium region -- I find that when I do that at most restaurants, I get the temperature of steak that I desire. However, when it comes to steakhouses, I have to be a little more careful because medium rare is quite red at the center. After discussing it with our captain, he recommended that I have the ribeye to be cooked to medium, as the cut itself tends to become tastier as it is cooked more (i.e. , advancing of the marbleization). I'm so glad I went with his suggestion because this steak was arguably the best steak I've ever had. Each bite was so juicy and tender, as the marbling of the steak washed over and enriched every square inch, which left me in a content daze. My steak knife choice did wonders as well, as I had no problem slicing through the thick steak.

Marcus took the ambitious route and had the 24-ounce dry-aged porterhouse, which is part tenderloin (right of the bone above) and part filet steak (left of the bone). The mixed nature of this cute results in different levels of tenderness throughout the steak. The tenderloin tends to be more concentrated flavor, while the filet is much more tender. Marcus opted for the porterhouse so he could get a taste of both, cooked medium rare. He really enjoyed the porterhouse very much, even saying that it's up there in the hall of "the best steaks he's ever had" which already included the 49-day dry-aged beef he had at The French Laundry. Exploring the porterhouse also helped Marcus narrow down what his preferred cut of steak actually is -- until this meal, he was struggling a bit with which cut better suits his palate, and the filet part of the porterhouse pretty much sealed the deal. While he enjoyed the tenderloin part of the porterhouse for its rich flavor, Marcus, at the end of the day, concluded that he will always prefer tenderness over intense flavor. Additionally, the Kershaw Shun steak knife made conquering this massive cut of steak a lot easier!

We each also requested a sauce to go with our steaks -- Marcus had the horseradish crème fraîche, while I had the béarnaise sauce. The horseradish crème fraîche satisfied Marcus's penchant for mustard condiments, while the béarnaise added a rich, creaminess to my already amazingly marbled steak. Ordering sauces to go with your steak at Barclay Prime certainly adds another dimension to the experience, so be sure to do so! :)

As sides, I ordered the marbled potatoes (i.e., differently colored creamer potatoes cooked in white wine with herbs), while Marcus had the whipped potatoes. I enjoyed the different shades of flavor from the medley of multi-colored potatoes -- very different than any side of roast potatoes that I've ever had. Marcus's whipped potatoes were clouds of dense buttery and creamy flavor -- the starchiness of the potatoes went really well with the hearty flavors and juices from the steak.

The maître d' knew that Marcus and I came to Barclay Prime to celebrate our anniversary, so our dessert was presented to us with a candle and "Happy Anniversary" written in chocolate. Such a lovely touch!

The dessert we decided to share was the Barclay bar -- a layered hazelnut chocolate crunch with chocolate ganache, peanut butter praline, peanut brittle, and peanut butter ice cream. For those of you who do not like nuts, this dessert is probably not for you. But for those of you who do, it is quite an awesomely sweet overdose of peanuts and hazelnuts! Essentially, the layered "crunch" tasted like what would happen if you married a Kit Kat bar with a Reese's peanut butter cup -- while it was really good, it was really rich, and that's where the ice cream and crushed peanuts came in to save the day. It would have been difficult to eat the dessert without some ice cream to match each bite, which helped to temper down the sweetness of the chocolate and peanut butter praline.

Right before we departing the restaurant, Mr. Polizzi gave us a little note, thanking us for choosing to come to Barclay Prime for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. It was so thoughtful of them to take time out of the restaurant's busy schedule to write such a gracious note!

Findings: Simply put, our dining experience at Barclay Prime was extraordinary. It was better than I had already remembered from my first visit. The attentive and considerate service that night is not something I come across every day at fine dining establishments, so it's nice to know that there are still places out there that take hospitality so serious to heart. Plus, the little note given to us at the end of our meal just says it all -- the restaurant is thankful for your choice to dine at Barclay Prime. Essentially, they're happy for you to be there, while you're happy to be enjoying luxurious cuts of steak, dry-aged and marbled to astound and melt onto palates.

I haven't been able to write such an effortless dining review in a while (last one was for Kajitsu and the times before that were for Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernardin), so it's nice to have another one in for 2012. I don't normally prefer going to steakhouses (I usually end up being disappointed in service and cuisine or overwhelmed by the portions), but it's nice to know that there is a niche at Barclay Prime that satisfies my unusual palate. The luxury boutique steakhouse perhaps is what I've been searching for all along when it comes to finding the perfect steak. I mean, besides having delicious cuts of quality beef, how many steakhouses offer you the option to choose your steak knife for the evening?! I think that aspect is just so striking and differentiating, again appealing to the customer's dining experience.

I cannot thank the team at Barclay Prime enough for making our anniversary celebration so memorable. Barclay Prime now holds a special place in our hearts, as the anecdote I told at the beginning of this post shows how full circle our relationship has come in the last two years in relation to my last visit here. I'm hopeful to return to Philly for my next hankering for a nice juicy, marbled steak, which from my speculations, will be very soon.

Price point: $12-16 for each starter, $48-58 for each main course steak, $10 for each side, $3 for each sauce, $10 for dessert.

--April 21, 2012

Barclay Prime
237 South 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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