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Review: Sparks Steak House

Posted by gambit50 on May 21, 2008

Sparks Steak House, Midtown East, New York, NY

Sparks, the famous, infamous, New York steakhouse institution. Why not start with this one since I just decided to write a few steakhouse reviews?

You all know or can read about the Mafia connections, the business clientele, the cheesy atmosphere, etc. I do agree that this is definitely not the sexiest, coolest joint in town but this is about food and I do believe that Sparks has not gotten its proper due during the last few years, at least, because it is not chic or new or anything of that nature. However, there are some decently sized issues.

Whether you are a suit or a trendoid hipster, I do not think the décor at Sparks is very impressive. The general consensus of a dated, mildly cheesy interior is pretty much spot on. The rugs and furniture are in need of replacement. The dining rooms are relatively dark which is fine and the sound level is not low but speaking to your dining companions is not a problem. The private rooms are very generous in size and you might have a huge one to yourselves even with a relatively small group of 10-15. The most noticeable aspect of the décor is the collection of wine bottles, especially at the entrance. Huge bottles abound, making the standard magnum size Liliputianesque. Since Sparks is known for an extensive wine list this makes sense. I admit that I have not partaken much in their wine and certainly have not perused the list with any thought. Of course, since I am not an expert in the field it is not such a huge deal. I am confident enough to say that wine is not a disappointing aspect of Sparks. Both the selection and value are very good.

The old school, wannabe vibe of the restaurant is furthered by the attire of the staff. While some are in suits, I can do without any of those in a tuxedo. It is farcical to act is if this is 5-star dining with perfectly polished staff members. I prefer those gentlemen (OK, perhaps there is a woman server but get over my omission if this is so) who are in the white coats, far more apropos.

The maitre d’s and front of the house were always quite helpful and efficient, including on the telephone. The servers were efficient if not too congenial. I do not care for bubbly friendly, myself, but some of them were below where they should be considering that you are paying them a fair amount of money. This attitude is commonplace for older steakhouses. Get the orders, get the food, do it all relatively quickly and hand over the large bill. While, again, this is on the underside of the level of proper service, it is especially so when the affront of tuxedos is anywhere in the house. In short, I have never had any problems and the efficiency has been quite good in many instances, especially for a large party, but a touch more sunshine from some servers would not hurt the overall experience.

The menu at Sparks is typical, old school steakhouse. Beef and seafood are prevalent with other chops, salads and typical appetizers available. A large gripe amongst some people is that there is no porterhouse steak available. I agree that this is odd and would prefer that the porterhouse was there to try but the steak is, nonetheless, the second best option available in NYC. The “steak” I refer to is a boneless sirloin or what could be a strip cut. When it is on point, it is great. The doneness of the meat is usually proper and that along with the quality makes it a great teak, most of the time. There has been an occasional lapse noted by myself as well as other trusted companions of mine. The consistency is not that of Peter Luger and this along with the lack of porterhouse and a slightly lower maximum level of steak nirvana are why Sparks cannot compete for the number one ranking.

I have also had plain lobster, simply broiled or boiled with butter. Very good. Once, I believe the first time I ate at Sparks, I had a prepared beef dish, medallions with sauce and mushrooms. This was not so good and I would stay away from anything besides simply prepared meat cuts and seafood as far as the entrees are concerned.

Another gripe about Sparks that I have read is that they do not serve creamed spinach. I see it on the menu currently but that might be outdated. I do not recall having either plain or creamed spinach upon my visits. (Plain spinach is definitely available) In general, the sides are probably competent but not special. I say this because I do not recall them much which could be to their lack of greatness or my poor memory.

The appetizers are a lackluster bunch, shrimp cocktail, oysters, tomato and mozzarella, the usual bunch. Overall, not as good as the lobster quality but I would go with broiled shrimp, quite good, if I had to choose. I have never had the salads and I do not recall any desserts though I would guess it is more along the lines of the appetizers than the entrees. Less is more in terms of preparation.

Sparks is a very solid restaurant for simply prepared steak, seafood and wine. If cool digs and perfectly executed haute cuisine are in order, I suggest going somewhere that has not had a Mafia Don wacked out right in front.

NTG

Summary: A great choice for steak and lobster in Manhattan. Nothing frou frou on the menu and the less so the better at this place. Stunning décor, perfect service and a cool crowd are not in the cards here. If you are after great steak, I have never seen the best have the features mentioned in the last sentence. It is easy enough to get a table here so if that is the goal enjoy some surf, turf and fine wine. Bonus, they do a great job for private parties both in service and in keeping the quality of the food preparation up to their standard. Last visit 5/03. Cost: $85pp

Sparks Steak House

210 E. 46th St., New York, NY 10017
212-687-4855

Ratings:

Food: 84

Vibe: 80

Service: 83

Value: 81

Overall: 82

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