September 11, 2017 | BITE: My Journal
Quality Eats UES: Steaks on the Cheap
Quality Eats UES grilled Nueske’s bacon with apple and peanut butter, charred watermelon salad below.
It’s one of those rare perfect summer evenings. Blue skies and high-seventies bliss. Sitting at the edge of Quality Eats UES on the corner of Second Avenue and East 78th Street, windows thrown open just above the sidewalk café, I can relish the al fresco without the exhaust fumes.
Our table for two perches a step above the sidewalk café on a rare, perfect summer evening.
I bite into my half of the sublime patty melt club burger and take a sip of Shiraz, focusing on what I love about Quality Eats – steaks $29 or less, the perky $19 bavette, $8 dessert scoops, agreeable servers, lush sides -- and sublimating what annoys me -- too noisy, too-tiny tables too close together, the careless arm from behind bumping my back. Well, I must admit it seems a bit quieter now, with some belated soundproofing.
For me, dinner begins with the thick slices of grilled bacon on a stash of peanut butter and jalapeño jelly.
Yes, steak, we're here for steak, but the patty melt club burger with spicy cole slaw is a hit too.
After the thick grilled Nueske’s bacon on peanut butter -- chunky peanut butter of childhood reveries -- and that patty melt -- the sourdough Pullman toast sturdy and elegant, the spicy, aggressively dressed cole slaw, we scarcely need steak. But that’s why we came. The charred watermelon salad, the roasted beet tabbouleh, and the snap peas are just the warm-up.
That’s a lot of good meaty and rare skirt steak with sublime caramelized corn custard for just $29.
For the beet lover in every crowd, roasted beet tabbouleh on kabocha squash with hummus.
The hanger is tough. I send the skirt back because it’s not rare at all. No sass from the server. She takes it away.
It’s replaced, everything quite right now. The $29 cut – Creekstone Farms or Brandt Beef, the menu advises – emerges chewy, meaty, and rare. The lush corn custard brûlée that comes alongside is swoon-worthy. It’s fortunate we have two steaks, after all, because that means we each get our own sweetly caramelized jewel.
The corn elote is a generous side of creamed corn with honey and lime zest, smothered with grated pecorino.
Bomba rice with bacon sofrito and paella flavorings is sautéed crisp, then topped with chickpeas and potatoes.
I can never eat too much corn in its brief season, so the two of us are also spooning into a bountiful side of creamed corn with honey and lime zest, smothered with grated pecorino. And there’s a spicy toss of Bomba rice with paella flavorings sautéed crispy in olive oil, with bacon sofrito folded in and topped with fried chickpeas and potatoes, sent in a wrought iron pan, gift from chef Delfin Jaranilla.
I suffered in the din but fell hard for the theme of Quality Eats when it first arrived in the West Village.
It wasn’t just the cheap steak theme and unusual sides that won me, I admired the design and graphics too.
I’d hailed Quality Eats as Meat for Millenials when it landed on Greenwich Street in the West Village in 2015. Not just another ho-hum steakhouse as I had anticipated. I was amused by the quirky diversions. Butternut brioche bread pudding. The delicious overkill. A clever concept from Michael Stillman, son of the Smith & Wollensky’s Alan. I couldn't get a reservation, so I just arrived. He stood there shouting in the painful din, promising to install soundproofing.
I staggered from a similar racket the summer week he launched the uptown seedling. “I’ve already ordered the soundproofing,” he greets me. “I hope it will be enough for you.”
After bacon with peanut butter and sweet sausage on toast, you hardly need Hamachi tostada but there it is.
No bread is offered so if you can’t live without it, spend the $6 for baked potato monkey bread.
My friends and I huddled in the rear during that opening week uptown, leaning in to talk, sharing the baked potato monkey bread and the sweet sausage and pepper toast, exalting over the peanut butter and bacon. It’s not like we couldn’t have peanut butter every morning for breakfast, it’s just that we don’t. The menu offers stacked wines, three flavors for $40 but my companions wanted to start with cocktails.
Don Ameche was never a favorite actor and the steak named for him is not my favorite either.
What this town needed was creamed-spinach hush puppies and now we have them.
I was inspired to try the Don Ameche – a hodgepodge of charbroiled filet mignon sliced, served atop garlic buttered toast smeared with chicken liver mousse and topped with caramelized onion, alongside a hustle of nicely dressed arugula. It’s certainly rare enough, but much too much ado.
It doesn’t have to be beef. It can be the fine leg of lamb steak with anchovy butter and charred scallions.
My friend’s leg of lamb steak with anchovy butter and charred scallions was the better choice. Her abstemious date sought safety in the chimichurri-topped salmon, scraping away the greenery, and seemed content. He tasted the savory chickpea-skillet rice, but was wary of the creamed-spinach hush puppies, a Quality Eats invention I admire. The curly fries, piled in a little brown bag, were a triumph.
Share the black and white tart and dressed up scoops like key lime cheesecake and BBQ peaches’n’cream.
The “Dressed Up” scoops in paper cups -- BBQ peaches and summer corn ice cream, spicy pineapple sorbet, key lime cheesecake with graham cracker bits – unleash the child within. They get touted with quirky drawings on the dessert list. Orwasher’s rugelach and a pint of apricot cheesecake swirl ice cream are headlined as a $10 Quality Eats & Orwasher’s collaboration. The black and white cookie Grenache tart is a work of art, to be admired and then devoured.
S’Mores means burnt marshmallow ice cream, fudge swirls and graham cracker shortbread.
Could be that Stillman and I share the same joy in an occasional childhood wallow. “Ask your server about QE Schwag,” the menu suggests. I was always too stuffed to inquire till just now. It seems you can buy the mugs, steak knives and baby onesies. By the way, Quality Eats NoMad is next.
“QE Schwag” refers to items for sale: mugs, steak knives and these infant onesies.
1496 Second Avenue. SE Corner of 78th Street. 212 256 9922. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. Lunch weekdays 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Dinner Sunday through Wednesday 5 pm to 10:30 pm. Thursday through Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Bar opens daily at 4 pm.
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