GM CLUB STEAK
13 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre
SERVICE: Efficient and exceedingly hospitable
AMBIENCE: Friendly and casual, with a rollicking bar that can rollick into the dining room as the night progresses
ESSENTIALS: Dinner starting at 5 p.m. every night. Wheelchair accessible through rear entrance; all credit cars, valet parking Thursdays to Saturdays
They’re giving it everything they’ve got at GM Club Steak. The hipped- and hopped-up redo of the old George Martin Grillfire name-checks every trend of the last few years: small plates, craft beer, reclaimed wood, Edison lights (suspended in Mason jars, no less). There are framed old-timey meat charts on the walls and, running around the ceiling, a steel slaughterhouse rail.
Grillfire had a 10-year run in downtown Rockville Centre. George Korten, who owns seven “George Martin” restaurants on Long Island, said that its two-month-old replacement was designed to appeal to the “stylish, youthful and sophisticated diner who appreciates being on the cutting edge and is current with urban food trends.” Mission accomplished.
But there’s also a truly novel concept at work here: the merging of steaks and small plates. Korten, corporate executive chef Frank Greco and chef de cuisine James Cavorti go at it in two ways. “Small steaks,” about 4 ounces, are gussied up with inventive garnishes: a porcini-dusted flat iron sits on a bed of sautéed shiitakes; seared short ribs are given the Korean treatment with a sesame-gochujang (fermented chili) glaze and kimchee relish. The best dish here was one of the oddest: Cajun-spice-dusted Duroc pork tenderloin sliced and topped with Buffalo-sauced fried oysters and blue cheese.
Then there are six “steak boards,” large steaks that are sliced for easy sharing. The eponymous “club steak” is a 20-ounce, bone-in, Certified Angus New York strip, and ours was done to a turn. Larger still is the now-obligatory long-boned tomahawk rib eye (here called “dino steak”) that weighs in at 36 ounces and is best ordered in advance.
For a true steakhouse experience, start your meal with the steakhouse BLT salad — not re-imagined, only refined — with crisp wedges of small iceberg heads, the right amount of appropriately pungent blue cheese, crisp bacon, ripe tomatoes.
That salad is found in the “leaves” section of the menu. I’m no spring chicken, but my more-mature dinner companions were flummoxed by headings such as “boards,” “crocks,” “leaves,” “escorts,” “plates” and “bowls.” Steaks aside, there are more than 40 items on the menu, and the kitchen struggles to handle them.
The bread, for example, is served cute, in a cast-iron skillet. But the skillet is cold and the bread is a colony of squishy, undistinguished slider buns.
Actually, the sliders were served on nice, shiny brioche buns, each surmounted by a pickle slice. Oyster sliders were mostly breading sauced with sriracha mayo; beef sliders were overwhelmed by candied bacon.
Vegetables get more camouflage than love. Green beans, slightly undercooked, are buried under more candied bacon, blue cheese and balsamic reduction. Zucchini are Parmesan-breaded, fried and stacked like Lincoln logs. Harsh and chewy, the kale gratin, described by our enthusiastic server as “a modern take on creamed spinach” made a strong case against modernity.
Starches fared better. Mashed potatoes “loaded” with caramelized onions, truffle butter and Gouda had the stretchy-cheesy appeal of aligot, the great potato puree of Southwestern France. The macaroni-and-cheese was made with a blend (Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere and American) that lent the right taste, texture and color that no single cheese can confer — but why junk up the works with Goldfish cracker crumbs?
Spaghettini with meatballs (sure, why not?) got a lift from a blob of burrata. The globe trotting continued with buttermilk fried chicken wings, street tacos, goat-cheese-stuffed crepes and an ahi tuna poke bowl, whose sweet poached pears, kale and quinoa lent an unwelcome occidental note to what would have been a harmonious arrangement of raw tuna, cucumber, scallions, brown rice and avocado.
The desserts are a dutiful mash-up of popular treats and tropes. The ones assembled on the premises — bananas Foster plopped on a crepe and topped with ice cream and whipped cream, sweet potato waffles with still more candied bacon, a sludgy flourless chocolate cake — were no better than the ones brought in from the outside: a cheesecake whose surface the kitchen “brûlées” and a trio of mini ice-cream pops.
Warm, attentive service smooths out a lot of these culinary bumps. Korten obviously knows that trends come and go, but hospitality never goes out of style.