45 7th St., Garden City
SERVICE: Attentive if somewhat over-rehearsed
AMBIENCE: A theatrical blend of machismo and opulence
ESSENTIALS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., wheelchair accessible, all credit cards, valet parking
There’s a terrific steakhouse hiding in Garden City. Tucked inside the landmark Garden City Hotel, Polo is turning out porterhouses, rib-eyes and strips that are the equal of any on Long Island. Earlier this year, executive chef Ari Nieminen took over the kitchen at the 3-year-old restaurant, and he has maintained Polo’s very high steak standards.
Certainly the surroundings needed no fine tuning. With its stout crimson armchairs, paneled walls and massive, hunting-lodge-style chandelier, the hushed dining room whispers classic opulence and comfort.
The very first bites are memorable. You’ll be tempted to order another round of the gratis cheddar buttermilk biscuits served with softened butter, but this will get in the way of your beef consumption — which can start with the arrival of the steak tartare, a heap of coarsely chopped raw filet mignon cradling a raw quail egg and garnished, as it has been from time immemorial, with chopped onion and capers and toast. Raw beef has so much more flavor than raw tuna, you wonder how the ubiquitous marine upstart has eclipsed the original.
Lobster bisque is rich, but not so rich that the lobster flavor is eclipsed by cream. (The stiff berg of lemon foam in the center of the plate, however, was a head scratcher). Crabcakes were fine and meaty, and oysters Rockefeller suffered only from having cooled down by the time they reached our table.
On to the steaks: I cannot remember having a better one than the 36-ounce dry-aged porterhouse for two. Beyond the enviable char, the meat itself had great depth of flavor, a silky filet and a properly chewy strip. No one to share with? Polo’s bone-in rib-eye, a cut that is hardly ever bad, is great here. I’d consider it a sacrilege to sauce either of these steaks, but you can have it your way with green peppercorn, Béarnaise or GC steak sauce.
(If you are going for the full steakhouse experience, finish your meal with the imposing four-layer chocolate cake. Recommended pairing: a tall glass of cold milk. Disregard the excellent but extraneous hot fudge sauce; I only wish Polo had a sundae to make use of it.)
Polo’s steaks are all the more impressive when you consider the obstacles facing the kitchen. The restaurant, after all, is only one part of a vast operation that must also provide room service, cater weddings and meetings and fulfill any other culinary need that pops up in the hotel.
Nieminen, who took over in February, has the experience to keep all these balls in motion, having run kitchens at both the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown and the Water’s Edge catering hall in Long Island City, but also at smaller-scale venues like Mirabelle (when it was in St. James), Firebird and Café des Artistes in Manhattan. At Polo, he has rounded out the menu to appeal to diners who have no interest in steak.
But while the steaks at Polo are timeless classics, the more modern dishes feel dated: A well-grilled piece of swordfish is seasoned with too many Moroccan spices, flanked by hackneyed streaks of pistachio puree and reposed dutifully on a bed of couscous. What was billed as half a roasted chicken turns out to be a boneless thigh and a breast with one little wing bone sticking out. The flavor of the accompanying “risotto” of sorghum and freekeh (green cracked wheat) is drowned out by an unpleasant surfeit of tarragon. Seared tuna with jasmine rice and shiitake mushrooms could be had in a hundred local Asian fusion restaurants.
And except for that chocolate cake, desserts were careless. Bananas Foster bread pudding was unpleasantly boozy with unignited liquor; an individual lemon meringue pie had a tough crust and too high a meringue-to-lemon ratio.
One more caveat: On a Saturday night, Polo’s normally hushed dining room can be the battleground for an auditory skirmish between the live music in the neighboring Polo lounge and the pulsing bass coming through the wall from Posh Ultra Lounge. But choose a quiet evening, a slab of beef and a good red from Polo’s extensive wine list, and you are in for a prime treat.