I know there's an ongoing (lifetime) debate over Keens and Peter Luger with very passionate defenders on both sides. Here's my take:
I went into my dinner at Keens Steakhouse with an extremely open mind. I’m a lover of Peter Luger, but I was under the impression that $90 steak is $90 steak wherever you go, and I was excited about the scotch-and-cigars atmosphere of Keens.
I hadn’t known to specify in my reservation that my boyfriend and I wanted to sit in main dining room, so I was worried when all of the people in front of us were sent to different parts of the restaurant, but we were luckily seated downstairs under the ceiling entirely covered in clay tobacco pipes. The atmosphere is much darker and cozier than Luger’s, with dark walls and low light to contrast Luger’s whitewashed walls and bright windows shining in the midst of nowhere Brooklyn. This is the place you come to slurp oysters and talk about the things gentlemen do.
None of the appetizers enticed us in the least–though I’m sure my boyfriend wouldn’t jumped at the $65 seafood platter had I given him any indication that I was interested–so we opted for two side dishes with our slab of meat instead. We ordered the porterhouse for two, carrots with brown butter, and boiled baby potatoes with parsley and butter. For the record, any kind of restaurant with a separate menu section entirely for potatoes is my kind of restaurant.
We ordered our steak medium rare, because that’s how my boyfriend likes it, and I prayed that it’d be served on a hot dish like it is at Luger so I could allow my pieces to continue to cook. It was indeed, but we really didn’t need it to be, because the ends were so much darker than the middle that they were perfect for me and my desire for blackened beef.
Right away, I noticed that the plate just didn’t look as good as it does at Luger. The steak was smaller, and it was already cut off the bone. The bone was pathetically propped up on one end of the plate, which was almost worse than it not being there at all. I waited a minute to give our server a chance to put several slices on my plate like the waiters do at Luger, but he just walked away. It’s not that I even like that they put the steak right on your plate at Luger, but I somehow expected it.
The first bite of steak was just as juicy and steaky as any great steak I’ve had, but after that, I honestly believe that I could tell a difference between it and the steak at Luger. To be super, super honest, I think the steak I had at Primehouse (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/643765) might have actually been better than this one, but I don’t want to say that and risk losing my cred and having people think my palate is inferior.
There's no doubt, though, that the sides we chose were better than anything we've had at Luger. My boyfriend said the cooked carrots were the best he's had; we loved all of the butter left in the dish for spooning over our plates. The potatoes were the kind you close your eyes to savor completely.
My boyfriend ordered the crème brûlée, and I excitedly told him about a review I'd read in which the writer gushed about the deep dish that left plenty of cool custard underneath the layer of custard warmed by the torching of the sugar on top. What the reviewer failed to remind us was that a deeper versus wider dish meant there was a lot less caramel to enjoy.
However, everything I read about the hot fudge sundae was true. The woman at the table next to us was so impressed by the look of it that she leaned over to ask what it was. What it was was a giant cocktail glass filled with hot fudge an inch deep, several scoops of vanilla AND chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, slivered almonds, and wafer triangles. My boyfriend complained that the whipped cream didn’t compare to the schlag at Luger, but I was too busy having a heart attack over how much the hot fudge tasted just like my mom’s homemade sauce to notice.
I wanted to like Keens better than Peter Luger so I could stick to Manhattan when I want a great steak, but it looks like I’m stuck traveling to Brooklyn when I want to impress someone with a stack of meat. Keens wins for atmosphere, service, sides, and desserts hands down, though. And for saving me $20 on cab fare.
A few photos of the meal are located here: http://www.donuts4dinner.com/2009/09/...
Keens Steak House
72 West 36th St., New York, NY 10018