Throwdown with Bobby Flay—the brash, boyish star’s latest Food Network series—is all about one-upmanship.
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Can Bobby make a better chowder than the chowder master, a better traditional Philly cheesesteak than the king of Philly cheesesteaks, Tony Luke? Flay doesn’t always prevail (the judges in that episode ruled for Luke), but neither he nor his recipes lack audacity or appeal.
At Bobby Flay Steak, in the Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa, Flay has again thrown down the gauntlet. It may not be a fair fight. His Philadelphia-Style Strip Steak costs $44. For that money you can march downstairs to the Borgata’s food court and treat your entire poker table to Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks—which are good.
But I have to give the nod to Flay. Like all the steaks on the menu, this one starts with an expertly grilled, world-class piece of beef, rubbed with a just-right mix of ancho chili powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, dry mustard, oregano, salt, and pepper. A rich, tangy provolone sauce is ladled on top, and the creation is crowned with caramelized onions. Outrageous.
The restaurant’s inviting design is by David Rockwell, as big a name in his field as Flay is in food. The parquet floor and polished wood panels are bathed in a fireside glow from recessed lights and clusters of little fixtures that float in the air like rising embers. The bar—with its three flat-screen monitors—is a sports-nuts dream, but what you notice is the tequila sunrise backlight that spills through the slats of the wine rack rising to the ceiling behind the bar. The lounge is a whimsical little wonderland of curvy couches, framed by a sculptural border of intersecting semi-circles lit at one end. The completely charming effect is that of fireflies caught in flight.
There’s a wink in Flay’s food, an air of irrepressible fun. He’s been doing the Southwest thing so long (Mesa Grill opened in 1991) that it’s easy to forget he’s a native New Yorker and a French Culinary Institute grad. He doesn’t strive for authenticity, which makes this spot the perfect playground for the restlessly creative Flay.
Flay’s food exhibits a certain restraint and balance that make it refreshing. There’s subtlety, for example, in a seductive appetizer such as the blue crab and coconut milk cocktail. Another fine starter, roasted corn and green chile chowder, offers layers of flavor—the forward spice doesn’t step on the toes of the smoky-sweet corn.
A meal at Bobby Flay Steak makes the point that chilies and spices form a spectrum. The Spicy Southwest Ribeye is served over infused oils and a sinister-looking but brightly delicious paste made from roasted red and green chilies and garlic that expertly offsets the super-marbled richness of the meat.
This is no place for vegans, but lovers of fish and shellfish needn’t shy away. Sparkling raw clams and oysters, a chilled lobster-avocado cocktail, and shrimp cocktail with smoked chile horseradish sauce are appealing starters. Grilled salmon in a dill-mustard sauce and luscious flounder steamed in paper with basil oil and tomato relish go well beyond tokenism. Veal chops and lamb chops are big, flavorful, and juicy.
In the pricey steakhouse tradition, everything is à la carte. Intriguing side dishes at $9 include cauliflower goat-cheese gratin and creamed kale with roasted shallots. Smashed baked potato with crème fraîche, goat cheese, and green onions sounds irresistible. Ours, however, is heavy and a bit dry—a starchy snooze. Also touted, but skippable, is the AC Chopped Salad, made tableside with either chicken, shrimp, or lobster.
Steakhouse desserts often seem deliberately fuddy-duddy, but there’s spark in this list. Recent choices included buttermilk blackberry pie and Key lime meringue pie with wild strawberry salad. To go totally retro, order the Classic Banana Split: three scoops of excellent ice cream, a perfect banana, fresh whipped cream, saucers of chocolate and caramel sauces and wet nuts on the side, and a big, fat maraschino cherry on top.
Uncle! Another winning throwdown for Mr. One-upmanship.
Reviewed in: December 2006
1 Borgata Way - The Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa
ATLANTIC CITY, 08401
Creative steakhouse fare, featuring blue crab and coconut milk cocktail, spicy Southwest rib-eye, and a classic banana split