- Peter Luger Steak House received a scathing zero-star review in The New York Times on Tuesday.
- Pete Wells’ review of the iconic 132-year-old Brooklyn restaurant has since gone viral on Twitter.
- Wells wrote that the restaurant’s shrimp cocktail “tasted like cold latex,” that his fries were “mealy and bland,” and that the Caesar salad was “so drippy,” with croutons “always straight out of the bag.”
- David Berson, Peter Luger’s general manager and the great-grandson of its founders, told Insider: “We know who we are and have always been. The best steak you can eat. Not the latest kale salad.”
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The 132-year-old Brooklyn restaurant, which holds one Michelin star, is considered an institution in New York’s dining scene. It is frequently named among the best steakhouses in the city, which is bursting at the seams with them.
So, when Peter Luger Steak House received a scathing zero-star review in The New York Times on Tuesday, it shocked many – and instantly went viral
I've been going to Peter Luger in Brooklyn since the 90s and I've got a few things to say about it. https://t.co/mkYIXceHTc
— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) October 29, 2019
Behind the scathing critique was the Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, who in perhaps his best-known review once wrote that a drink at Guy Fieri’s now-defunct American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square tasted like a “combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde.”
Wells was no less biting in his review of Peter Luger, where he said the shrimp cocktail “tasted like cold latex” and “nearly every waiter and host seems overdue for a month’s vacation.”
“After I’ve paid, there is the unshakable sense that I’ve been scammed,” he proclaimed.
The review, titled ‘Peter Luger Used To Sizzle. Now It Sputters,’ begins with the service
Wells wrote that the once “charmingly brusque” servers now “give the strong impression that these endless demands for food and drink are all that’s standing between them and a hard-earned nap.”
“Diners who walk in the door eager to hand over literal piles of money aren’t greeted; they’re processed,” he added. “The Department of Motor Vehicles is a block party compared with the line at Peter Luger.”
He also noted that customers who order both drinks and food at the bar must order the drink from a bartender and the food from a server on the other side of the bar. When it’s time to pay the bill, Wells said, customers must do so with two separate checks and tips (one for food and another for drinks).
Wells called the restaurant’s signature steak ‘far from the best New York has to offer’ and took issue with the appetizers and sides
The critic wrote that the insides of his fries were “mealy and bland” and that his Caesar salad was “so drippy,” with croutons “always straight out of the bag” and “grated cheese always so white and rubbery.”
The German fried potatoes, once one of his favorite dishes at the restaurant, were “mushy, dingy, gray, and sometimes cold,” he continued, adding: “I look forward to them the way I look forward to finding a new, irregularly shaped mole.”
Wells noted that he didn’t always feel this way about Peter Luger, writing that the restaurant once felt like an “affirmation of life, or at least life as it is lived in New York City.”
“This sounds ridiculously grand,” he added. “Years ago I thought it was true, though, and so did other people.”
“At the end of the night my wallet would be empty. Because a Peter Luger steak made me feel alive in a way that few other things did, I considered this a fair trade.”
But Wells said the restaurant and its kitchen had come to be marked by “inconsistency.”
During one lunch at the bar, the critic noticed that he had ordered the same medium-rare burger as the two people to his right, and he observed that all three looked different.
“One of them got what we’d all asked for, a midnight-dark crust giving way to an evenly rosy interior so full of juices it looked like it was ready to cry,” he wrote. “The other one got a patty that was almost completely brown inside. I got a weird hybrid, a burger whose interior shaded from nearly perfect on one side to gray and hard on the other.”
On another visit, Wells said he found the same issue with his medium-rare porterhouse steak.
“What gnaws at me every time I eat a Luger porterhouse is the realization that it’s just another steak, and far from the best New York has to offer,” he added.
Wells acknowledged the restaurant would “always have its loyalists,” those he said wouldn’t be bothered by the staggering prices (a porterhouse for four costs $229.80) or the terse service.
He argued that those loyalists “will say that nobody goes to Luger for the wine, nobody goes to Luger for the salad, nobody goes to Luger for the service,” but, he concluded, “The list goes on, and gets harder to swallow, until you start to wonder who really needs to go to Peter Luger, and start to think the answer is nobody.”
David Berson, Peter Luger’s general manager and the great-grandson of its founders, told Insider that the steakhouse remained focused on its steaks, not its reviews
“The NY Times has reviewed Peter Luger numerous times over the years,” Berson told Insider in a statement. “At times we’ve gotten four stars, other times less. While the reviewers and their whims have changed, Lugers has always focused on doing one thing exceptionally well – serving the highest quality of steak.”
“We know who we are and have always been,” he added. “The best steak you can eat. Not the latest kale salad.”
But Wells’ review, the first for Peter Luger in The Times since Frank Bruni gave it 2 stars in 2007, has already sent shockwaves through the culinary world and New York’s dining scene
The review went viral on Twitter, and it quickly inspired a debate between Eater’s New York restaurant critics Ryan Sutton and Robert Sietsema.
While Sietsema hailed his most recent Peter Luger burger as “perfect in its austerity” and the porterhouse as “phenomenal,” Sutton said the restaurant was the “furthest thing from the type of beef our city does so well these days.”
“I’d argue it doesn’t even come close to being an essential or welcoming or important New York restaurant experience,” he added.
Insider’s video team also recently paid a visit to Peter Luger, and the producer Herrine Ro picked the restaurant’s burger as one of her two favorites in New York.
“It’s everything that you love of a burger, just elevated,” she said. “The burger … it’s more than I ever dreamed of.”
Looks as if you’ll just have to decide for yourself.
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