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Anyone who thinks the business dinner is dead should go to Roots, the high-testosterone steakhouse where men in suits predominate during the week and outnumber the women by 2-to-1 even on weekends.
Roots is the latest venture of the Harvest Restaurant Group, which also owns 3 West and Ciao in Basking Ridge; the Huntley Taverne in Summit; and the Trap Rock Brewery in Berkeley Heights.
The name honors the moniker of the upscale clothing store that stood in this spot for many years. A pretty good Italian restaurant occupied the location for a few years; then the current owners brought in Morris Nathan Design of Rhode Island and transformed it into a retro steakhouse that invokes the 1930s and ’40s, with leather seats, shiny brass, exposed brick walls, and big globe ceiling lights.
The setting provides a touch of glamour. It’s a power den where you might expect captains of industry to rub shoulders with some of our more colorful politicians. The ambience, of course, comes at a high price. The menu is typical steakhouse, with everything à la carte. Order a steak, plus side dishes, and the cost climbs. The wine list is also expensive; there are very few selections below $40 and more than 100 that are more expensive.
So is it worth the money? Yes, if you can afford it—but buy your wine by the glass and drink tap water.
The steaks are good—really good—even though most of them are choice and wet aged. The only prime steaks are a 16-ounce New York strip (choice dry aged, but the prime is better) and a 40-ounce Porterhouse for two ($79.99).
As starters, the chilled oysters are plump and pristine, and a tuna tartare special consists of a huge portion of good-quality tuna, coarsely chopped and mixed with wasabi, soy, and a touch of sesame, then garnished with pickled ginger and endive spears. Three large tempura shrimp scampi are coated with panko crumbs and served in a dish of melted butter, garlic, and white wine, which makes them a bit soggy but delicious nonetheless. There are a run-of-the-mill French onion soup, a giant, flavorful crab cake with little filler, a salty Caesar salad, and a meager yellow- and red-beet salad with four beet slices and gritty greens.
The best appetizer by far is a special worth asking for if you don’t see it on the list: Kobe Beef Sliders Three Ways. At a relatively cheap $19.95, the dish is large enough for a meal and is truly outstanding. Three small buns are filled with delicious hamburgers made with the pricey delicacy, one topped with mozzarella, another with sautéed mushrooms, the third with caramelized onions that enhance rather than overpower the flavorful meat.
The steaks are highlighted by the terrific prime New York strip and the Cowboy Steak (charred ribeye). As for alternatives, the veal chop is tender and juicy; the chicken breast stuffed with spinach and parmesan is a little underseasoned but nicely cooked. Yes, the kitchen is inconsistent. A small lobster emerges tender and full of flavor. Double-cut lamb chops, though, are overcooked and tough, and the king crab legs are skinny stalks containing precious little crabmeat. Yet the seared halibut with dill butter is perfectly cooked and quite lovely. Recommended side dishes are creamed corn, creamed spinach, broccoli with garlic, asparagus, and unpeeled potato chunks with skins topped with Gruyère, scallions, and sour cream. Avoid the big, puffy onion rings that seem to be all batter and no onion.
Carrot cake, layered with cream cheese frosting and filled with plump raisins and candied pecans, is fabulous; the pedestrian chocolate pudding cake and cheesecake are disappointing.
Service is good, but at these prices dishes should not be removed while someone at the table is still eating, and waiters should be able to decant a bottle of 2003 Shiraz without getting sediment in the glasses.