I've always been unable to resist prime rib. I would gladly pass on the best filet mignon, T-bone, porterhouse, New York Strip, or sirloin to taste a fabulous rare to medium-rare, bone-in hunk of prime rib. Not rib steak, not roast beef, but prime rib. And not that pathetic, thin, limp piece of horsemeat served at your cousin's wedding, or your nephew's bar mitzvah.
My never-ending quest for the Holy Grill has taken me as far as San Francisco. The House of Prime Rib was good, but more show than tell. I have a soft spot for Boston's Durgin Park, but that may be more for their baked beans than their decent but touristy prime rib. Here in New York City we have a number of prime rib possibilities, from the unorthodox to the classic.
If you can manage to pass on the "moist" (that's PC for "fatty delicious") brisket at Hill Country Barbecue Market, you must order the pepper spice-rubbed prime rib. It is the equal to the one I had at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX, upon which Hill Country is modeled. it is also the only place where I can spread my thumb and index finger apart as wide as physically possible to indicate desired thickness to the slicer.
Then there's Eataly. It may be known for its Pasticceria, but I prefer its Rosticceria for the gorgeous porcini rubbed, olive oil drizzled, sea salt-n-peppered prime rib served just off the mesmerizing rotisserie grill.
Many of the classic steakhouses in New York City either don't deign to offer prime rib, or only offer it as a limited special. The original Palm only has a few a night, which means you need to pre-order one. My prime rib urges do not permit advance planning so I've yet to try theirs. Smith & Wollensky, on the other hand, proudly serves prime rib both at the original restaurant and around the corner at their more convenient Smith & Wollensky Grill. And a damn fine prime rib it is. That is until you go to Ben Benson's, the one and only original location. Ben has resisted the chain or licensee approach of Palm and Smith & Wollensky, which he co-founded. The prime rib at Benson's is always available and is always cooked with just the right amount of bone and fat. It could easily be one of the great prime ribs of someone's life.
But I have escaped the siren song of Ben Benson's for someplace closer to home: The Old Homestead. Homestead has had 140 years to perfect its prime rib. They know how to get it right. Start with their colossal shrimp cocktail and a side of hash browns and carve in to the four-inch thick prime rib. Use those little onion rolls from the bread basket to sop up the blood — you will feel immortal.
After experiencing eternal bliss at The Old Homestead, I thought my quest was over. Unfortunately, my wandering spirit gnawed at me much the way I gnaw on the leftover bones of the many prime ribs I've happily consumed. Keen's Steakhouse, though slightly younger than the Homestead, is probably my favorite steakhouse in the country. That's right, even better than Peter Luger's (which doesn't serve prime rib anyway). Also Keen's offers a so-called "mutton chop," which is actually a spectacular saddle of lamb.
But the prime rib at Keen's is a different animal from the other prime ribs. It is Platonic. Heavenly. Rendering other prime ribs mere shadows of the one true original, bloody, fantastic prime rib at Keen's. It is the prime rib that has haunted my dreams for years. Try it. Now, I can die peacefully.