My little brother (who is taller than me and twenty-two years old) and I were downtown yesterday and needed to celebrate. I demanded steak, as I knew that steak was one of the few options I had for a celebratory meal when accompanied by my unadventurous bro. I recalled hearing good things about Bardi's. I was a little worried that my brother's t-shirt and jeans might get us in trouble at one of these old clubby places, but other than a perhaps imagined look of surprise on the maitre d's face as we asked for a table, they feigned a convincing obliviousness to our being underdressed. I was immediately pleased by our choice when we walked in. The place exudes old-school masculinity---maybe not in the kind of legendary way that the steakhouses of my mind do--but sufficiently so as not to kill the illusion of steakhouse-time-warp. The waiters look and act like seasoned pros. The lunch menu is remarkably reasonably priced--my brother had a very good steak sandwich for $18, but you also have your choice of the higher priced monster sized steaks. I had the signature Bone in Ribeye, at $49. I have to say, probably because I wanted more to go to a steakhouse than to actually eat a steak, that I was somewhat disappointed. The good parts of the steak were that it was fabulously charred, and the outer edges (you know the fatty outer bits of rib-eye) were remarkably flavourful. The bad part was that it was not a particularly thick steak (maybe that's a personal preference) and thus medium rare was more medium-like. Also, the main meaty part of the steak was not (to my taste) better than super-market quality. I must admit, however, that it's probably just stupid to complain about prices when you are at a steak house. The POINT is that they are expensive, right?
My steakhouse experience is also shockingly limited. 2 visits to Kegs: one in Ontario, one in Nova Scotia---both of which I consider to be text-book examples of good value in totally ordinary, unexciting but satisfying steaks. 2 visits to Peter Luger in Brooklyn--Canonically one of the candidates for best steakhouse in the world, right? So...I'll place Bardi's somewhere between the top and bottom of the steak-ladder.
Other awesome things:
1) the garlic cheesy bread is amazing, in this totally unpretentious way. It's got grill marks on the bottom, but also seems to have been under a broiler. The cheese is totally ordinary old-yellow cheddar the garlic is probably powdered. The bread walks a line between doughy and fluffy that is really the key to the dish's success. All of the elements are in their proper proportion.
2) Onion rings: ordinary, frozen onion rings, $7. Now that takes guts, and is, rather than being something to criticize, something to be applauded in a place that doesn't feel it needs to impress anyone, or change with the times. If you need onion rings, they've got 'em. Just the way you imagine them. But if you want some panko-battered, heirloom variety....well...you've got the wrong place.