The reviews for Salt Bae’s new midtown steakhouse are in, and some critics are saying Nusr-Et isn’t the prime cut that all the fanfare (and Instagram posts) led us to expect.
New Yorkers have been salivating over the anticipated local outpost of Turkish butcher and internet meme Nusret Gökçe’s international red meat empire for months, but, after dining there earlier this month, the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo and Eater’s Robert Sietsema report that the restaurant at the base of the CBS building at 60 W. 53rd St. has failed to “meat” their expectations.
The New York Times' Pete Wells stands apart in delivering a mixed review on Friday — which also doubles as a fanboy account of encountering Salt Bae in the flesh and a philosophical meditation on the 21st-century restaurant as a phenomenon of "pure circularity," where experience mediated by Instagram subordinates the lived kind.
Panning the “underwhelming” eatery as “Public Rip-off No. 1,” Cuozzo writes that his meal left him wanting “more substance with the smoke and salt — and dishes that not only sultans can afford.” Dramatic tableside service wasn’t enough to distract the critic from the bill that arrived at the meal’s end: “An up-and-mostly down meal for three, where each of us had just one cocktail and one glass of bad wine each, cost a whopping $521.45 — and left us craving a snack.”
Sietsema left the 150-seat restaurant with room in his belly, too, he relays. Nusr-Et, which opened its doors on Jan. 15, delivers as dinner theater (especially when Salt Bae himself slices the meat, slaps it with his knife and sprinkles salt with his trademark hand-puppet gesture), but not as a Turkish steakhouse.
Neither critic cared for their $25 salad. Cuozzo describes his as a heap of “days-old iceberg lettuce and mystery greens with tasteless goat cheese and a few walnuts, raisins and pomegranate seeds.” Sietsema says his butter lettuce leaves were so tough they must be served with steak knives.
Of course, mediocre salad need not drive the steak into the heart of a carnivore’s paradise, but both reviewers also take issue with the quality of Nusr-Et’s meat: a “butcher’s blade attack on a $130, ‘mustard-marinated Ottoman steak’ failed to sufficiently tenderize the shoe-leather-tough bone-in ribeye,” at Cuozzo’s table, “which, for extra fun, was loaded with gruesome globs of fat.”
According to Sietsema, the cuts are mostly a “little rubbery and low” on flavor, because they’re “wet-aged wagyu beef,” or meat from Wagyu cattle aged in vacuum-sealed bags for up to 48 days.
Both men express disappointment over the paltry handful of potato chips served with Nusr-Et’s $30 burger. (Even DB Bistro Moderne’s famed $35 burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle comes with fries.)
Sietsema wins the competition for the zingiest burn, with his descriptions of the steakhouse’s unique service: in what the food reviewer calls the “the grossest act of the evening” (having already sized up Salt Bae’s shtick as “slightly weird, “slightly gross” and in need of a “second act”), a waiter preparing sushi at the table “liberally lubed up gloves with oil before forming four tiny lozenges of rice and wrapping very thin pieces of filet around them.”
Wells, to our surprise, recalls being "thrilled" when Salt Bae misses the rib-eye steak on his table and accidentally seasons the critic's pants, instead.
"I had a souvenir of the gracefully stylized and mildly preposterous gesture that is the basis of Salt Bae’s fame, the source of his nickname, and the point of his restaurant," he writes. "Everybody in the dining room was there for souvenirs, but the other suckers would have nothing to show off but a photo or video." (He eventually snaps a picture of the memento, to ensure its immortality.)
Like his peers, Wells could have lived without his salad and his "awful" mashed potatoes, but he praises the "spaghetti steak" and the "lokum," or sliced tenderloin, for their tenderness.
The food writer agrees with his counterparts that the prices at Nusr-Et put a damper on any meal: the spaghetti steak and lokum, for example, are $70 each for roughly eight ounces of meat each.
Our conclusion (in part because we most certainly cannot afford dinner at Nusr-Et): if you’ve got the money to burn, perhaps it’s wisest to make reservations at Peter Luger and watch Gökçe salt someone else’s steak on Instagram while sinking your teeth into a dry-aged porterhouse.