This review is based on my third or fourth trip to Sparks. I’ve been here a bunch, but not since I started reviewing steakhouses. See below for the verdict. In 2001 the NY Post called this place the greatest steakhouse in Manhattan. I disagree, vehemently. See below:
I had the “prime sirloin” on the recommendation of the waiter; their “signature steak.” I asked for medium rare, but what I received was a jumble of medium rare, rare and flat out RAW. I had to ask the guy to re-fire it as I got into the center of the cut, and even then it was under cooked when it came back – still raw and rare in parts. My buddy ordered his filet medium, and his too came back mostly medium rare, rare and RAW. This is unacceptable, and the taste was lacking big time (4/10). The filet bite that I did have was good, however (8/10). My “prime sirloin” was good around the edges, where it was cooked, but otherwise the inside had all the tell-tale signs of NOT being a true strip; so I was lied to. Not all Sirloin is strip. There were stringy, uncooked white ribbons of connective tissue, some chewy, dense areas, and lots of under cooked portions. If you are dead set on eating here, do yourself a favor and stick to the somewhat safe filet (it’s fine – just a slight bit under seasoned), and order it a step or two past what you normally like in terms of done-ness. On a subsequent trip, we did a filet and a lobster – no complaints, but I did know to order it medium if I wanted a steak somewhere in the “rare to medium rare” range.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 5
Another steakhouse without a ribeye on the menu; but no porterhouse here either!?!!?? What the fuck is going on? This “lacking certain basic cuts” trend needs to stop, otherwise JP will become very pissed. I could swear I had a ribeye here in the past… but maybe not. Sparks has all aged prime beef, but I think they may be using lesser cuts – in other words – they offer a prime aged sirloin instead of a real strip that is cut from a porterhouse. Or they use the “strip” side of a lesser quality t-bone (not a porterhouse). I saw shell steak on the menu here masquerading as a real cut of beef. Are you fucking serious? I don’t care if it is prime shell steak; it’s still a fucking piece of trash shell steak and not one of the four main cuts! I know places that serve CHOICE beef that scored higher, because they prepare them correctly and they actually ARE real steakhouse cuts like porterhouse, strip and ribeye. Is Sparks freaking joking with this? I suspected other places of doing it as well, and gave the benefit of the doubt, but I am not letting is slide anymore. Nope. They say “aged prime sirloin” instead of strip. Technically they are not from the same area in the anatomy of a cow! Go get some porterhouses, some real strips, and some fucking ribeyes for fuck’s sake! Like I said, EVEN IF THEY ARE CHOICE it is better! These people are acting like “prime beef” is the same as Kobe or some shit. I can understand a “Kobe” t-bone, or a “Kobe” sirloin, or a “Kobe” shell steak on a menu. Doing this is good because it is offering really great meat from a lesser cut so that the non-wealthy masses can try what really amazing meat tastes like. Kobe is special (even the faux versions), so offering a lesser cut is a great idea (otherwise something like a Kobe ribeye would be around $50-$100 an ounce). Listen – anyone can age a choice cut of meat to taste like prime in their garage or basement; but prime is not that big of a deal! I hope people understand what I am saying in this really long rant here, because this is a really dubious, evil, manipulative trend that is happening at very pricey steakhouses. Unless you know beef like I do, you might not comprehend what is happening (see my steak basics and cuts/anatomy blog posts from way back for a refresher). Anyway… Sparks also does a lot of “sliced steaks” on their menu. No good. Keep it simple, and keep it whole. I’m a big boy. I can cut my own meat.
Portion Size & Plating: 8
Sizes here are good – you will be full if you can eat your cut of beef, assuming they cook it properly when you go. I left about 4oz of beef on my plate because it was raw, even after the second firing of my steak. The filet, however, was a good size, and very tasty on my next visit. Keep it safe.
The price is good for NYC at $40 to $47 for the steaks, but the trade off is you are getting lesser quality meat cuts. We had a Bloomspot deal that cost $115 for $200 worth of food and drinks (excluding tax/tip), so that helped a lot. Otherwise I wouldn’t go here again on a dare. We were out of pocket $235, but it was really a $320 meal. For that price it should have been perfect, and they didn’t know we were using a coupon/gift certificate until after we ate dessert.
The bar at Sparks is okay. I prefer the bar at Keens; it has a similar look, though here it is tucked away from the windows and in the center of the restaurant. The martini was made perfectly, and there is a great selection of rare booze. Down side – they don’t offer beer on tap, and the beer they did have in bottles was slightly skunked.
Specials and Other Meats: 6
On special Sparks had NOTHING. For alternative meat selection they had veal and lamb. NO CHICKEN – I love it. Ballsy. But they should consider adding some real steaks to their menu, instead of shell and sirloin, even if they have to charge $10 more for each.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 7
When I came here in the past, the lump crab meat cocktail had bits of flaky shells in it, twice (original order and replacement order). The same was true this time around. The hash browns were very small in size for $9, though they were good. The creamed spinach ABSOLUTELY SUCKED. It was watery, not creamy, unseasoned, had a horrible texture, and just all around tasted like dog shit (because we all know what that tastes like, right?). The Caesar salad was delicious and a great size to share for two. The oysters ($3 each) were creamy, fresh and delicious. The best part of the meal though, besides getting up and leaving, was the pecan walnut pie for dessert. VERY good. On another visit I tried the sauteed spinach (garlic & oil). It was good, but lacked salt & pepper (Seasoning 101).
Seafood Selection: 10
Sparks has a ton of seafood to choose from. On the menu there is sole, seabass, red snapper, and shrimp for entrees, but they also have a smattering of items featured at the top of the menu for some reason as well. These include halibut, salmon, tuna, swordfish, trout, lobster (three size/price categories, up to 5.5lbs – $90), crab, and scallops. Perhaps Sparks should change their name to “Sparks Fish House” instead of “Sparks Steakhouse,” because there are way more REAL CUTS to choose from in the seafood department than the meat department. Oh well. As far as apps go, they have all the shellfish basics, and as I said above, the oysters were legit. The lobster is good as well.
The waiter was nice and attentive, but no one wished me happy birthday (as mentioned on the reservation note), and he also flat out lied to me about the “prime sirloin” being the same as a strip steak. I call bullshit. Sorry buddy. You were nice, but when we drop $235 on a meal, I expect to be treated with honesty and served good food that I will remember for days to come (for the right reasons). The table bread was hot and crispy, but the butter was cold. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things in this meal. Also… Halfway through my glass of water I noticed that the INSIDE was disgusting. A yellowish crud-crust was clinging to one side up the entire length of the glass. God knows what I put into my body by drinking that shit.
Sparks is known for its infamous mafia hit, which occurred right outside the restaurant… and it is decorated with the expected mafioso look. Dark musty interior, gaudy patterned rugs, wide open dining space. It could almost be in Little Italy if it weren’t for its immense size. It is nice and traditional inside, with all the waiters being male and wearing white tops with ties of some kind.