RESTAURANTS : GO, CONSIDER, STOP
Here is the distilled wisdom of brothers Bob, Kip and Tim and other Forbes catery experts Tom Jones and Patrick Cooke.
Sparks Steak House – 210 East 46th( Tel-687-4855).Best steak house in Manhattan. Prime sirloin extra thick rib lamb chops, crab meat cocktail,big lobsters-simple and decadent.
RESTAURANTS : GO, CONSIDER, STOP
Friday dinner: First order of the weekend is for a lame lobster. We go to Sparks, where the kid ate his first major monster of the deep to celebrate his coming of age at 13. The memory has not yet faded and he longs to return.
The kid starts out with a plate of sliced tomatoes and onions The kid is impressed. So is his uncle. The tomatoes are truly vine-ripe, sliced thin and spread out neatly on :1 dinner plate. The onion is red, broken into rings and strewn over the tomatoes. It’s as good as home, which is saying a lot
As it usually is, everything at Sparks is perfect, including the service. The 4 1/2-pound lobster ($58) is sweet and as tender as 4 1/2 – pound lobsters get. At a side table, the waiter disgorges the meat from the shell with a flourish and pours the water off the platter with finesse. Uncle orders broiled halibut steak and the waiter removes the skin from the two thick slices, twirling it off the flesh with a fork. Nice show! Bravo for the beef. too. Ditto the hash browns.
The bill is astronomical, even without a drop from Sparks’ famous wine list But what price perfection? The weekend’s eating has nowhere to go but down.
“TAKE ME TO THE PALM STEAK HOUSE ” World -Renowned French chef Paul Bocuse says to the friends whenever he comes to New York City. “I can’t eat like that in France.”
Indeed, he can’t. For Bocuse, the steak house is a vacation from refinement and a scene of measure- hallmarks of French cuisine. Whereas the French go all out to disguise the essential primitiveness of food. steak houses celebrate just that. They are like temples , expensive ones, where believers come to worship at the altar of fat -marbleized and otherwise-and flavor: a salad sodden with dressing, piles of onions and beefsteak tomatoes, giant shrimp, and the piece de resistance, slabs of blood -red meat.
Another Frenchman, Roland Barthes, wrote in his adoring essay “Steak and Chips” that “steak is a part of the same sanguine mythology as wine. It is the heart of meat , it is meat in its pure state; and whoever partakes of it assimilates a bull-like strength.” Pat Cetta, co-owner of Manhattan’s noted Sparks Steak House, puts it another way: “Steak is like sex. You have to have it once in a while.”
The Steak house seems to fill a basic human need; despite cholesterol phobia and dwindling expense accounts, it continues to thrive in all its macho, anachronistic glory. From the ritual display of raw meat,through the parade of cocktails and wine and dessert-usually cheesecake-to the meal’s cigar-smoking finale,people speak atavistic ally of the experience “People come because of its primitive-ism It’s pure blood sport.” was one diner’s explanation. If anyone needs proof of that elemental truth, consider this; Mafia don Paul Castellano had such a craving for a good steak that he risked a threatened rub out for a trip to Sparks. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t make it(Said pat Cetta;” I’m sorry it happened , because he was a fine gentleman and a good customer.” Tim and Nina Zagat’s 1988 restaurant guide quipped,”Sit in the no-shooting section.”)
Played right, the game is usually not fatal, but it is serious. At Brooklyn’s Peter Luger, one of the country’s oldest- and some say the best- steak houses,waiters wear beepers to ensure that its glorious cuts are delivered while they’re still sizzling hot. Part of the game involves trying to finish everything on the plate. “You didn’t even make a dent.” is the waiters’ constant lament, even though doggie bags are readily available.
Tim Zagat uses the doggie bag as a major defense against the charge that steak houses are excessively expensive. ” They’re not expensive if you know what you’re doing,”he says. “Just split the large portions and take the leftovers home.”
SPARKS offers everything expected in a classic steak house; top-flight beef in substantial quantity. But at Sparks, presided over by co-owner Pat Cetta, flanked by chefs Horacio Escudero and John Rivera, you also find surprising extras ;warm and wining service,excellent seafood and an inspired list of American wines. Sparks Steak House,210 East 46th Street;687-4855.
In a town that prides it self on having more and better steak houses than any other urban center, it’s easy to get into an argument about the best place to order your favorite cut of beef. Sparks Steak House may be singled out as a steak restaurant that pays equal attention to the quality of its fish and other seafood. For my first meal here, in the company of beef fanciers, I perversely chose the red snapper and felt well rewarded. (Sparks serves only fresh sea peer, striped bass and lemon sole- delivered twice daily-aside from shellfish, with lobster and shrimp getting high marks.) But I’ve since delved into the steak menu that ranges from two-inch-thick filet mignon to boneless sirloin shell topped by blue cheese dressing. The Cetta brothers, before opening Sparks 17 years ago, had grown up in the butcher’s trade, and they brook no challengers to their mastery of beef.
The brothers have become much talked about for their wine list, called by some the best of any New York steak house. Pat Cetta likes to describe it as a people’s wine list. Indeed, it notes a modesty priced house Cabernet Sauvignon 37 other California Cabernet’s, The 1975 Silver Oaks Cellars, for instance, is listed at $35. There are other West Coast representatives of the outstanding vintage years of 1968, 1970 and 1974, and selections from several boutique vineyards. The white wines are equally varied.
Brass chandeliers and milk glass globes light the paneled dining rooms at spark’s fairly new location, and the general (and un-dinny) aura purveys the well- being of the American epoch of peace, before World War 1 . Like other restaurants in Manhattan’s Steak Row neighborhood, Sparks is peopled at lunch and dinner by men and women who wear success easily. The sirloin steak here is $20.75.
Travel & Leisure October 1982
Well, so the Cettas write great ads. That doesn’t mean they sell great steak. There goes my essential cynicism, setting my teeth on edge even before I explore Sparks Steak House , And every thing the Great Steak Establishment has to say about western boxed meat moist-aged in vacuum-sealed plastic convinces me I should hate Sparks’s steak. Except I don‘t. I love it, And on Sweepsteaks Day, it was clearly the champ. Not the flashiest, not the biggest or the thickest – actually, the most unassuming in its moderate mantle of char- but inside was a splendid tenderness, a proper explosion of tastes, integrity of texture. . . . A brilliant scarlet, not hot, not cool-just warm. (We’d asked for it rare . . . very rare but not blue) Brushing my fingers across the steak , I picked up a glaze of lemon or lemon pepper. ( Cetta denies it) It works.
At $14.93, potatoes and salad not included . Spark’s sirloin is no longer a bargain to boast of in two-inch type face. (It coast us $3.95 extra to split the steak.) But it’s a sirloin to savor. An other sirloin, tasted earlier, was its equal. A third. ordered “ medium.” was slightly mealy and tough. The filet mignon, a cut I never order, was text book perfect. Sparks’s salad, mostly escarole and romaine with cotton tomatoes, wears a dressing that tastes bottled but is probably just a cloddish home brew. Four shrimp, a bit warm, split to make them seem jumbo, tasted fresh enough, spicy red sauce on the side. The Potato was soggy, as if baked in foil. Hashed browns were better. A rather ingenuous walnut pie satisfied the craving for a gooey sweet.
Sparks uptown is a barn like space. No one can accuse the Cettas of saw, dust or asceticism. A real effort has been made -dark wood, floral carpet, etched glass, a few cozy corners and booths, remarkably handsome side boards with wine on display. But it still looks like “instant pub” The wine list is remarkable, the collection of a serious wine lover, with an astonishing range of great California labels you cant find anywhere retail… here at an amazingly gentle markup. The staff is young and mostly pleasant. Twice I felt sure I was recognized. The service grew too dazzling to be believed. When I spilled a puddle of wine on the table, the waiter rushed over to change the tablecloth.
Passquale Cetta is perhaps understandably paranoid, all alone up there in enemy territory. He takes off his toupee and puts on glasses to check out the competition. He claims no one ages longer than Sparks’s “giant inventory” in the aging cooler, he refused When I suggested he was shy about his boxed, plastic-wrapped and hung to dry – how long is a secret. The Cettas don’t like criticism. They sued the last restaurant critic who didn’t love them for $2 million and have spent $4,000 on legal fees so far in the quest for vengeance.
If you are going out for a steak tonight you have three choices.
Sparks Steak House
Sparks Steak House is run by the Cetta brothers whose family has been in the meat business for generations.
The Cetta brothers were trained as butchers ever since they were first able to hold a knife.
They still get up early in the morning to hand-pick their own meats personally in the N.Y. wholesale markets.
All shells are USDA PRIME, aged correctly and trimmed properly. All steaks are cut 1 ½” thick and priced realistically at $6.95 (if you were lucky enough to get this same quality at your butchers it would probably cost you more raw).
At Sparks for $6.95 you get:
A great prime steak (cut 1 1/2” thick)
A baked potato or crisp french fries
A generous green salad
Stone oven baked bread with creamy butter
A crock of sour cream and chives
Yes, a really jumbo shrimp cocktail for $1.75
At Sparks you will find the steaks to be what they should be, thick, juicy, flavorful, aged to perfection, (without that gamey, smelly taste). They are all cooked with a 100% effort to come out the way you ordered them.
Also available at a realistic price are (2) “snowy white” cold water lobster tails. If you have never had them, please try them and you will see the difference. Most houses do not even serve them because they are terribly expensive.
We bake two great desserts on the premises, a walnut pie and a peaches and cream pie.
Also available is a great cheese cake.
All desserts are 95c
Please come and enjoy a truly aged steak, served by beautiful people (shirt collars open) who are feeling and knowing that they are serving and doing a beautiful thing.
HAUTE IN PRETENSE WE ARE NOT – LEGITIMATE WE ARE.
On Feb. 24, 1972 Sparks Steak House was rated as one of the seven best steak houses in the City by Mr. Raymond A. Sokolov, Food Editor of the N.Y. Times.
Sparks Steak House.
210 East 46th Street
New York NY 10017