If ever a concept needed a makeover, it’s the clubby, hyper-masculine, strictly meat-and-potatoes steak house. Luke Palladino, who since 2003 has built a stellar reputation on his three Italian restaurants in and around Atlantic City, now submits his red-meat update. Last October, he moved his 30-seat eponymous trattoria (one of NJM’s Top 25) to larger quarters in nearby Linfield and in four days converted the Northfield space to LP Steak.
Set in a partially vacant strip mall on a stretch of highway that has seen better days, LP Steak wisely adopts a down-market hipster style. Its no-frills kitchen stands almost completely open to a compact dining room in austere gray with accents of red, white and black. The decor respects steak’s testosterone-heavy heritage while playfully tweaking the concept with, for example, chandeliers and sconces suggesting antlers painted white. While the noise level is relatively high, comfortable conversation is possible.
Restaurant liquor licenses in New Jersey, being tied by state law to a town’s population (one for every 3,000 residents), range from expensive to astronomical. Realistically, that might have affected Palladino’s decision to go against the steak-house grain and make LP Steak BYO. But in a post-visit phone conversation, he took a different tack: “I asked myself, what would I want if I were a local? I don’t know of a great steak house offshore, or a BYO steak house,” he said, adding that at casinos, “you can’t find a bottle of wine for under $100. With our style of food, people can bring their own cabernets.”
In another departure, Palladino, 45, and his executive chef, Jersey native Sean Holmes, 30, lavish attention on seafood, sides and starters. A grilled whole dorade, a fish of the day, had buttery white flesh more delicate, yet just as satisfying, as any red meat, especially with its pleasantly astringent salsa verde and a sauté of green beans and Marcona almonds that winked at amandine dishes of yore. In lieu of pasta, they serve marvelous cheese pierogies sautéed in sage-scented brown butter with caramelized onions. (The recipe comes from Palladino’s Eastern European girlfriend, who trained the kitchen in making them.) Unusually hearty onion soup gained a rewarding nuttiness from its cap of melted Taleggio cheese.
The one starter not to miss, though, is “real” potato skins (quotes are Palladino’s). Scooped out, fried yet not oily, they would weaken willpower on their own, but topped with a fondue made from Sottocenere, a truffled Italian cheese, scallion crème fraîche and smoked-bacon confetti, they go beyond insidious.
Not every starter has such stopping power. Satiny foie gras mousse under a layer of port wine jelly is undermined by brioche toasts as wan as Wonder Bread. A surfeit of overly candied pecans crowds out the anti-wedge iceberg salad’s potent trio of blue cheese, smoked bacon and smoked chili ranch dressing.
Among entrées, a textbook veal francaise goes to the head of the class. Reserve the dunce cap for the $16 dry-aged burger, too jammed with thick (and still cucumbery) house-made pickles to wrap your mouth around. It does feature LP Secret Sauce. A mash-up of Thousand Island dressing and remoulade, it’s one of several winning house-made sauces.
So where’s the beef? Ahh, there’s the rub, and we don’t mean a spice rub. Palladino’s burger and his grilled Angus steaks come up surprisingly pallid. The 8-ounce, $45 American Wagyu ribeye cap from the all-natural Masami Cattle Ranch in Northern California gets special treatment. “Basically,” Palladino told me, “we heavy pan-sear it in smoking-hot oil to give it a crisp crust and marbleize the fat.”
Palladino anoints all his steaks with “my secret salt,” a sea salt bolstered in part with Espelette and black peppers and fennel pollen. For all that care, even the well-marbled Wagyu lacked the full-frontal beefiness and lip-smacking juiciness that announce a great steak.
Later this year, Palladino will open a second steak/seafood house, Palladino’s, in Philadelphia. I like LP Steak’s playful vibe, but lament that steaks are not among its many commendable dishes.Click here to leave a comment