Slippage at Barclay Prime

Chef Stephen Wambach carving 16 oz New York strip steaks in the kitchen of Barclay Prime. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)

Downgraded 1 bell.

For those bored with the formulaic steak house, the arrival of Barclay Prime five years ago went down like one of its Kobe sliders. Sleek, sinful, and sexy. From the complex dry-aged rib eye to the butter-poached lobster and fun desserts, I couldn't get enough.

The room remains an artful modern-retro mash-up, with green-and-white rolling leather chairs in a library trimmed with modern walnut. And this was a menu with real cooking that proved the genre didn't have to be just broiler jocks and football-sized spuds. Sure, the $100 cheesesteak is a gimmick, and the wine markups are egregious. Even so, I never came so close to giving a steak house four bells.

Now I'm glad I didn't. Barclay still looks like paradise for New Age carnivores (our night, big-spending tables of nephrology conventioneers). But this kitchen had completely lost its touch on basic execution. The gnocchi with lamb sausage was oversalted. The sea bass seviche was too acid. The truffled mac 'n' cheese was grainy. The Calvados-glazed Brussels sprouts were oddly sweet. Even worse, the 1,700-degree broiler got the best of BP's cooks, scorching what might otherwise have been the best filet mignon of my life (a $75 cut from Mishima Ranch so soft it was like eating a beef souffle). My once-favorite rib eye, meanwhile, was black on one side and still pale on the other, and lacking its usual depth of flavor. Here's why: a decision last summer to switch from dry-aged meat to a less expensive (still $43) wet-aged cut. At such prices, consistency still matters more than style.

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