James Beard Award-winning Charlie Palmer is one of the country’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs, with eight restaurants in New York (including his flagship, Aureole), one in Washington, D.C., two in Las Vegas, two in Reno, and three in northern California. His restaurants run the gamut from fine dining to cocktail bar to more casual establishments, but the chef has made his mark with his unique style of what he calls progressive American cuisine. When I recently dined at his newly renovated Charlie Palmer Steak in Midtown Manhattan at the invitation of the restaurant, I was certainly expecting a top-notch steakhouse experience, but even though it’s clear that steaks here are taken very seriously, I was shocked by the amount of attention given to the non-steak dishes. Not many steakhouses give much thought to main dishes that aren’t steak, but Charlie Palmer Steak does it better than any other steakhouse I’ve visited.
The meal started with a small cast-iron crock hiding a butter-poached piece of center-cut Alaskan halibut, with roasted tomatoes and dill in a luxurious pool of beurre blanc. Topped with three perfect clams, it was a stunning dish and a great way to start the meal. Then came homemade gnocchi in a brown-butter sauce with perfectly cooked fresh spring vegetables and shredded slow-cooked pork, which was rich but well-balanced. Next came sliced duck breast (cooked to a perfect medium rare) with demi-glace, pickled cherries, baby turnips, and a luxurious slab of foie gras. The rich duck and foie gras played nicely with the tart cherries, and the plate was beautifully composed.
As you might have noticed, at this point, we’d yet to see anything resembling a steak, but still couldn’t have been happier. As executive chef Matthew Zappoli explained, both his and Palmer’s philosophy is to make the most of fresh and in-season ingredients from the greenmarket, and all of these dishes could have been right at home at any of the city’s finest restaurants, steakhouse or not.
One look at the “Steaks” section on the menu and you’ll realize that this isn’t your average steakhouse: While you can get your dry-aged bone-in strip or porterhouse for two (aged for 30 days), this is one of the few steakhouses in America where you can find A5 Kobe strip steaks from Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture, “Prime plus” strips from Boise’s Snake River Farms, and an Imperial Wagyu flat iron steak from Nebraska’s USDA Wagyu Prime Ranch. These are some of the finest steaks in the world, and while they’re expensive, they’re dishes that any true steak lover should experience. We had the opportunity to try the flat iron (served with a rich jus, white asparagus, kale, truffles, and a fried egg, above); it was buttery and melt-in-your-mouth, and its lavish accompaniments were just icing on an already-delicious cake.
It’s rare to find a steakhouse that gives the same amount of love to every single menu item, be it a Kobe steak or homemade pasta, but Palmer isn’t one to pass up an opportunity to showcase both his philosophy and the skills of the executive chefs he trusts to carry out his mission. And at the untraditional Charlie Palmer Steak, that’s a very good thing.