Ben & Jack’s overall score: 92
When you’ve been to as many steakhouses as me, the whole experience can start to get a little bit stale (hence my reviews of almost everything else out there lately). As you can imagine, there’s not much variance in the menu or methods of preparation. There are certain things that are just tried and true. But chef Admir of Ben & Jack’s is constantly innovating, pushing himself to experiment with new flavors, and actually competing in top level food events all over the country (and winning them, to boot). With a background in science, Admir understands exactly how the beef aging process works, how much humidity is needed during the process to avoid drying too quickly, and precisely when to cut off the process and get the meat ready for cooking. His knowledge goes beyond beef though, and it shows in his end product. Although my wife and I didn’t get to try too many of his most creative innovations, the basics that are on the menu here are executed with exceptional precision. Let’s get into it.
I initially received an email from Ben & Jack’s inviting me to come in for a porterhouse. As you meat minions probably know, my preferred cut is a rib eye. I asked Admir if there was anything to the porterhouse that set it apart from the other cuts, or whether the rib eye was a good gauge of his best abilities. He suggested the rib eye and a strip, so that’s what my wife and I ordered.
I scored the rib eye at an eight, but the strip at a ten. Crazy, right? I usually am not a huge fan of strip, because it occasionally has a bit of chew to it – a bit tough. But the strip here was incredibly tender, juicy and soft. It was perfectly cooked to medium and beautifully presented pre-sliced on a hot plate.
You guys all know that I’m not a fan of the hot plate presentation (I worry about residual heat causing the slices to continue cooking the steak beyond medium rare), but the owners of Ben & Jack’s hail from a Peter Luger pedigree (some were there for nine and ten years before they struck out on their own). At Ben & Jack’s, they’ve preserved the traditions of great old standard bearers like Luger, but they have elevated and improved everything. The hot plate thing? It was fine here. Nothing got overcooked or continued cooking on the plate, and the lower edge of the strip, which tends to get a little overcooked because it is furthest from the bone, was still tender and delicious even though it went up to about a medium or medium well at the very tip.
Just so you know, the “they” that I am talking about are owners Jack (center), Harry (right), Ben and Russ (not pictured). And last but certainly not least, that’s Admir on the left.
Cousins, brothers, nephews, uncles, co-workers/co-owners, and all around great guys, they left Peter Luger and opened up the first Ben & Jack’s (44th street between 2nd & 3rd, currently being re-modeled) back in 2005.
Okay so back to flavor… As for the rib eye, the cap was delicious. The fat was entirely edible and tasted like meat bubblegum with a little charred crisp to it. The cut was a partial bone-in, meaning there was a small shard on one end, and a bit of bone across on the other side as well, but not connected completely.
This resulted in having some really nice fatty meat connecting the two bits of bone – like a good beef spare rib. The eye meat was tender and uniformly cooked the entire way through. This is what I’m talking about when I mean precision:
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 9
You’ve got all the basics represented here, with a prime rib to boot. Everything is prime and aged in house. I can confidently report that Admir knows what he’s doing in the kitchen, and I’m looking forward to coming back for a tour of the aging room and the kitchen.
Portion Size & Plating: 9
Portions are good here. If I had to guess, I’d say my rib eye was about 18oz and the strip was maybe 16oz. The plating is basic yet rustic and elegant on the steak and sides, but with the apps you will get some very beautiful looking plates.
Since this was a press meal, I didn’t have to pay. I left a nice tip because the service was awesome, but the prices here were very fair as far as NYC steakhouses go.
Excellent bar. The place was filled up even on a rainy Thursday at 7pm. It wasn’t too loud, and everyone was having a good time. The bar is long and wide, stretching back from the front of the house with high tops and plenty of elbow room to move around.
I’d definitely hang out here, especially because they make a killer martini as well.
We also tried a nice cabernet with the steaks, served in their “B&J” wine glasses:
One or two of Admir’s innovative ideas actually came in the form of cocktails inspired by their versatile steak sauce, which hits stores like Whole Foods in about two weeks. The commercial sauce is on the left, and the in-house sauce is on the right.
This stuff was great. As I say, I like a good steak sauce on everything BUT steaks. This stuff can be used on shrimp, chicken, in Bloody Mary drinks or other cocktails, etc. And it will only retail for about $6! The addition of sweet items like molasses and orange juice in the ingredient list makes this round out very nicely.
Specials and Other Meats: 8
You’ve got lamb, veal and chicken by way of alternative meats. When I come back, I’d like to give the porterhouse or just the filet a try, but I’m also curious about the lamb as well. If Admir can knock the strip out of the park, then I can only imagine what he’d do with lamb.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 8
We tried two apps, three sides, and a sampling of desserts. Let me dive in with the apps first.
This sesame crusted seared tuna was awesome. It was meaty and substantial, unlike other dainty tuna preparations.
The sesame crust gave it a really nice flavor and crunch to pair with the rare/raw sushi-grade interior. On the plate was a nice, lightly dressed mixed greens salad, and some pickled ginger. The black and white sauces you see are a soy reduction and a wasabi cream, both of which were very addictive. After the tuna was gone I was wiping my bread across those sauces!
We of course also had some thick cut bacon.
That’s only half of one slab (my wife and I shared one slice). This was nice and crisp, meaty, not too salty, and it went really well with the steak sauce. Admir explained that he also does a bacon where he marinates the slabs in steak sauce, bourbon and brown sugar before cooking. When it cooks, it caramelizes from the sweetness and takes on a great new flavor profile.
For sides, our first choice was a creamless creamed spinach. I had no idea there was no cream in it until the meal was over! This is probably the best “creamed” spinach dish I’ve ever had at a steakhouse.
It was thick but not heavy, it tasted very creamy and not too salty, it had good aromatics and it was SPINACH – not like some places where it is mainly cheese and cream soup with some bits of spinach floating around. Well done!
Next was mac and cheese. It comes served in a skillet with some crispy breadcrumbs and baked cheese on top.
Inside was a good mix of cheeses that held the pasta together with ooey gooey goodness. This was a big hit with my wife and me.
Our third side was the German potato dish. The potatoes are boiled, then sliced, and then fried with onions and dressed with a little bit of vinegar.
To be honest, I didn’t taste much vinegar (which is fine with me), but the potatoes themselves were a little overcooked and burnt. I didn’t see too many onions either. Overall the dish was more like hash browns or home fries (is there a difference between HBs and HFs?) than what I initially expected. This was our only miss on the apps and sides though. Everything else was top level excellence.
For dessert, Admir brought us a sampling of several menu selections, with some schlag in the middle.
First was their famous New York cheesecake.
It was dense, yet not heavy. It had good flavor as well – probably one of the better cheesecakes I’ve had at a restaurant, though I have to be honest in saying that I don’t often order cheesecake at dinner, because I’m spoiled by my sister’s cheesecake. Whatever she does, that shit is untouchable. Not sure if that is a fair critique for this slice at Ben & Jack’s, but that’s what I’m working with. Haha! Kind of like ordering meatballs when you’ve got grandma’s unbelievable Sunday pasta and meatballs dinner at home, you know? Unfortunately I’ve also got that with my mother’s pizza and my wife’s baking too, so I am a tough cookie when it comes to some stuff.
Next was chocolate mousse with oreo crust. I liked this a lot. It was rich and tasty, and not too overwhelming with sweet.
Then came the tira misu. This was on par with most other versions I’ve had recently. You won’t be disappointed, but you also won’t be too wow’d either. It is done correctly.
This carrot cake was my wife’s favorite. Since she is a semi-professional baker, you can probably bank on her word.
The addition of raisins into the cake was a really smart touch, as it adds a pop of sweetness and moisture to the occasional bite. This was probably my favorite of the dessert sampler as well, but as I mentioned above, I have some favorites from my wife that really can’t be topped. One of them happens to be her carrot cake.
Last was key lime pie.
This is a solid order to go with. It’s done properly. It’s refreshing, not overly creamy or tart with bitterness. It is smooth and has a great classic graham cracker crust.
I should also mention here that Admir came up with some pretty unique steak sauce cake pops for dessert during restaurant week. He mixed steak sauce into the chocolate, along with some other spices, to create a dynamic and unique coating for the pops. This once again showcased the diversity of their steak sauce in the realm of dessert and not just meats and drinks. I wish we had made it in for that. My wife was definitely interested in trying something new and different for dessert.
Seafood Selection: 10
There’s a TON of nice looking seafood on the entree menu: Seabass, salmon, sole, scallops, tuna, crab, shrimp and lobster. Based on the way the sesame crusted tuna was prepared, I can confidently say that you are in good hands if you happen to be a pussy who needs to eat seafood instead of steak here.
Thank God these guys didn’t bring the Luger service over with them. Luger’s service is famous for sucking, in case you aren’t aware. It’s almost a point of pride for those bastards. But here, you will be treated like royalty without it feeling awkward. Everyone is friendly. The owners are around and will come talk to you, the chef is mixing with customers and making sure everything is okay, and the waiters are professional, courteous and fast. Fantastic.
Let’s see… What else? Oh! Table breads could use a little warmth, but otherwise they’re good. Italian bread and onion loaf.
This place was beautifully designed by Harry himself. I especially liked the front of the house and the bar. There is an elegant coat check, and a great upstairs dining area and bar too, with private rooms to boot.
On nice days, you can also eat on the broad, wide 5th Avenue sidewalk with plenty of elbow room while enjoying the weather.
BEN & JACK’S
255 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10016