Saturday, February 6, 2016

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)
Gallery Image Gallery: Barclay Prime
About the restaurant
237 S. 18th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square Parking: Valet parking
Handicap access: Yes.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, until 11 p.m.
Prices: $$$
Payment methods:
American Express
Cuisine type: Steak House
Meals Served: Dinner - Mon., Tue., Wed., Thu., Fri., Sat. Late Night - Fri., Sat.
Style: New Age carnivores looking for a sleeker, sexier steak house have long turned to the green leather couches and mod-library décor of this sophisticated Stephen Starr dining room for ultra-high-end beef, kobe sliders, inventive desserts and other items (like fish) that require more cooking skill than the usual chop house kitchen has to offer. A recent visit had all the ingredients – but none of finesse in seasoning or execution needed to deliver this food as it should be. The prices here are too much of a splurge for many off-nights like that.
Specialties: Oysters; kobe sliders; roasted beets; gnocchi with lamb sausage; ribeye (when properly cooked); Mishima Ranch ultra filet (when properly cooked); striped bass; butter-poached lobster; baby carrots; tater tots; milk chocolate bavarois; milk chocolate s’mores; peanut butter praline ganache.
Alcohol: The extensive list of quality bottles has an emphasis on New World reds. The triple-plus markups are excessive, making values under $70 hard to find, but the Lucky Country shiraz-cabernet from Australia is worthy at $42.

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.

Inquirer Restaurant Critic
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