Done up in beefy, passionate red and nightlife black, Strip House delivers on its double-entendre name with top-quality steaks and romanticized strip-joint decor by top designer David Rockwell. Pin lights dramatically illuminate the crimson booths as well as framed glossies of Jersey icons like Sinatra, Streep, Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Einstein and even Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange. Large reproductions of 1930s Viennese art photos of scantily-clad models in glamorous poses tilt the balance toward chic.
The concept comes from a Manhattan family that knows its celebs and its steak. Penny and Peter Glazier and their son Matthew own and operate this Strip House, in Livingston’s Westminster Hotel, along with a Strip House in Key West, Florida, and Michael Jordan’s the Steak House in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, all designed by Rockwell.
“We wanted Strip House to convey that steak houses don’t have to be brawny, masculine clubhouses for good ol’ boys,” Penny Glazier told me in a phone call following my visits. “We were going for a sexy, fun concept that would appeal to men and women both. But for our menu, we wanted a classic New York steak house. That didn’t need to be tweaked.”
Indeed, Strip House serves the best beef I’ve tasted in New Jersey in my six years of reviewing for NJM. All of it is corn-fed Nebraska and Kansas USDA Prime from the Glaziers’ longtime supplier, Prime Food on Long Island. The steaks are wet aged in Cryovac vacuum packs for 21 days, then removed from the plastic and refrigerated for a couple of days “to remove excess moisture from the surface,” said executive chef Bill Zucosky, 39. “That allows it to caramelize when we sear the steaks.”
The steak roster is small but select: New York strip (15 ounces, $45; 20 ounces bone in, $49); filet mignon (8 ounces, $36; 12-ounces, $45); a bone-in cowboy ribeye (22 ounces, $46); and a 40-ounce porterhouse for two, presented on the bone and sliced tableside ($46 per person). The $31 cut of the night might be a pork chop or hanger steak, but is typically a 9-ounce New York strip. “We season all our meat assertively with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper,” Zucosky said. The steaks are broiled for three minutes per side at 1,200 to 1,600 degrees “to create our signature char,” then brought to the desired degree of doneness in a cooler oven.
That char, very nearly a crust, magnificently conveys the atavistic pleasures of salt, smoke and crunch. Inside, the meat remains velvety, intensely beefy and juicy. The restaurant offers five different sauces, all painstakingly made in house—Stilton, Thai sweet chili, Bearnaise, Bordelaise and Strip House, a tomato-based sauce flavored with sherry vinegar, brown sugar, chipotle, tamarind, garlic and shallots. A boat of house sauce comes with every steak. Diners can request any—or all—of the rest at no charge. I applaud that cheerful policy. But you won’t find me drizzling distractions over superlative specimens like these.
Strip House’s exemplary Colorado rack of lamb and 2-inch-thick veal chop are prepared similarly. Like the steaks, they come to the table cooked exactly as ordered. That includes my preferred doneness, black-and-blue (rarer than rare), which in my experience many New Jersey chefs just won’t do. At my dinners, the kitchen nailed a b-and-b, a rare, a medium rare and even a request to land the steak on the barely there boundary between medium rare and medium.
“We get a fair amount of requests for black-and-blue,” Zucosky said. “I mean, the vampires really like their blood. We nail that. Others have no worries ordering well done. When you use a good-quality product, it’s not going to come out dry. I’m proud of being able to satisfy both.”
Zucosky has been playing with fire—in the best sense—since he was a kid growing up in Linden. “I was the cookout chef of my Boy Scouts troop, and I still love to grill,” he said. “I won a YMCA cooking contest when I was 13. My dad, who is Lithuanian, is a great cook, and my mom’s family is Sicilian. We’d all have Sunday dinner at Aunt Rosie’s in Bloomfield or Aunt Josie’s in [the Italian neighborhood of] Peterstown in Elizabeth. Friday was pinochle and pizza night at my house. We made the pies. I loved being in the kitchen, and knew that was the place for me.”
After graduating from the New York Restaurant School, Zucosky manned the fires at the Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick and Hamilton Park in Florham Park. Then came “a quick detour” as chef of Britney Spears’s short-lived midtown restaurant, Nyla. (“Its fine-dining Cajun food was pitched to Manhattanites, the DJ in the dining room to Britney fans. It just didn’t work.”) Zucosky joined Strip House shortly after its 2003 opening, became chef de cuisine the next year and executive chef of the entire hotel in 2010.
If you measure a steak house’s bona fides by its beef, you measure its sense of fun by its sides. Strip House delivers. Indulge greedily in thick-cut farmer’s bacon, cured Virginia-style with molasses and served over greens. Treat yourself to creamed spinach earthy with Grana Padano cheese, truffle juice, truffle oil and bits of black truffle. Or enjoy lush, butter-sautéed wild mushrooms.
Potatoes, of course, are the sine qua non of sides. A lot of work goes into the irresistible garlic-herb fries and, less successfully, the signature spud, crisp goose-fat potatoes. They are cubed, cooked in goose fat, pressed into a mold, baked, fried to a golden crisp and sprinkled with minced garlic, parsley and sea salt.
For all that, the result is unfortunately heavy and surprisingly bland.
Not even a steak house can live on beef alone. Zucosky’s crab cakes and his lobster bisque are exemplary. He starts the bisque by roasting lobster bodies till caramelized, then adds chopped fennel to the mirepoix (“the fennel adds a romantic, aromatic dimension, and I like the way it goes with lobster”) and deglazes the result with cognac. The piping-hot bisque is poured tableside into a bowl containing chunks of Maine lobster meat, a fried lobster-and-red-pepper raviolo and a dollop of whipped cream.
Turns out the satisfying thickness of the bisque owes only partly to heavy cream. A small amount of arborio rice cooks with the soup and is puréed along with the mirepoix.
Other steak-free choices include a pleasing free-range chicken roasted with butter beneath the skin; a splendid lobster linguine with lemon-cream sauce over an accenting pool of lobster Bordelaise; sesame-crusted yellowfin tuna; and a pan-seared seasonal fish.
Tradition reins in any steak house menu—even one consciously modern and female friendly—right to the finale. Before Strip House opened, Peter Glazier challenged the kitchen to create a wow dessert. The winner—a 24-layer, semi-dark all-chocolate cake (“as big as my 7-year-old son’s head,” noted Zucosky)—still generates wows a decade later. Personally, I prefer the gargantuan cheesecake, a hybrid made with cream cheese, ricotta and a touch of mascarpone, bridging the gap between dense deli-style and drier Italian renditions.
My favorite finale, though, was an over-the-top Baked Alaska that resembled a psychedelic, supersized chrysanthemum with browned petals. Zucosky uses an Italian (cooked) meringue that is gratifyingly gooey rather than dry and gossamer. Under this cap, a sphere of butter-pecan ice cream inside a sphere of chocolate ice cream rests on a disc of chocolate cake. It ends an evening at Strip House with a flourish the A-listers in the glossies might appreciate.