Critic’s Notebook: A Sprinkle, a Snapshot, a Sensation: My Dinner With Salt Bae
Because Mr. Gokce has been doing this since 2002, the brand new restaurant, which opened three weeks in the past, shouldn’t be as a lot of a mess as you may anticipate. But it’s nonetheless messy across the edges as a result of he’s now doing it in New York, a metropolis full of booby traps for the unwary newcomer.
Most of the chaos accumulates in drifts across the entrance, the place hosts attempt cheerfully however typically ineffectively to dispatch the hungry crowd to empty tables. One of my visitors was late so I can’t blame the restaurant for not seating us immediately, however as soon as we have been all there we handed a unusual half-hour on the bar. We felt invisible for a whereas, then all of a sudden three folks in a row got here and promised to seek out us a desk immediately, after which they every disappeared. For a very long time the one factor that occurred was that the bartender couldn’t discover the bank card I’d handed over once we’d arrived.
When it lastly turned up inside a server’s apron, I paid for 2 rounds of drinks for 4 folks. This got here to round $180, together with a obligatory 18 p.c service cost. This, sadly, shouldn’t be removed from the going fee for cocktails which are made painstakingly, however these weren’t. The home old school, reportedly made with ginger syrup and Scotch, tasted like rye, sugar and water. Smoked Negronis, poured from a smoke-filled wine decanter, tasted as in the event that they’d been burned.
Things appeared up as soon as we have been led to the eating room, on the far facet of an open kitchen fronted by a totally loaded meat case. In Turkey, Mr. Gokce will get his beef from a devoted ranch. In Manhattan, like all people else, he buys from Pat LaFrieda, supplemented by cuts from Master Purveyors within the Bronx.
I understood why there was a lot meat on show once I noticed the menu: It is sort of all beef, begin to end. I’ll admit to feeling aid on listening to they have been all out of an appetizer known as “meat sushi,” however I did just like the tartare, chopped and jazzed up on a tableside cart by a good waiter named Marco. He completed the job by sprinkling salt flakes from on excessive, in a pale imitation of the grasp’s fashion. Poor Marco, I believed. It have to be like having to open for Beyoncé when the one tune you recognize is “Single Ladies.”
After two nice if unremarkable salads we have been on to the “spaghetti steak,” strips of very tender seared steak gleaming with melted fats; we have been inspired to twirl the meat round our forks, like pasta.
“This is cuckoo, it’s going to melt in your mouth,” we have been instructed, and it did. For sheer softness, although, it didn’t maintain a candle to the lokum. Named after Turkish delight, that is tenderloin in skinny slices which are handed over the grill simply lengthy sufficient to mark them. I often favor steak that provides me one thing to chew on, however I used to be glad to be launched to lokum.
Then we shared a cheeseburger, lower into quarters, and drippingly stuffed with taste. It would have been higher on a brisker roll; it may have carried out with out the potato sticks. The meat was arduous to argue with, although.
Yet one thing was lacking. Or, to be precise, somebody.
And then he was there, at our desk. He wore a comfortable, white T-shirt with a skinny gold chain below the scoop-neck collar. His black hair was pulled again in an abbreviated ponytail. His eyes have been hidden behind spherical reflective sun shades. I ponder if he ever needs he’d worn one other outfit on the day “Ottoman Steak” was filmed. It is simply too late to show again now. Without the news neck and the mirrored shades there is no such thing as a Salt Bae, and Salt Bae was what all people within the room had come too see.
The ritual of carving and salting our Ottoman steak proceeded precisely as I knew it could. No surprises, no speeches, no slips, though he did put on a latex glove in deference to native well being codes. Mr. Gokce has just one transfer, however he performs it with complete confidence, and as anyone who’s ever been on a dance flooring is aware of, that’s sufficient. Somebody on the desk captured the entire thing on video, and the 4 of us took our locations as nodes on the worldwide Salt Bae community.
Oh, we ate the steak, too. It was uncommon in patches and medium-rare in others, however other than that it was terrific. The mashed potatoes have been terrible, however then Mr. Gokce has by no means pretended to be Spud Bae.
Much as I loved assembly an obliging human meme, I used to be distracted by unwelcome ideas all night time. The most annoying one was cash. The Ottoman steak is substantial, and $130 shouldn’t be an unparalleled value for a rib-eye in New York. But the spaghetti steak and the lokum have been every $70 for what I’d guess was about eight ounces of beef. The salads, a big step down in enchantment, value $25 every; the clump of potatoes, like a lot of the different sides, was $15.
One day, the costs will keep behind whereas Mr. Gokce leaves New York to salt different steaks and different laps. Without him, the eating room will likely be even stranger than it’s now.
Dessert is the one course that implies Mr. Gokce’s homeland. There is just one candy, an imported baklava baked in a spherical pan and sliced like pizza. Served in wedges, it’s a lot better by itself than with a bland layer of stretchy Turkish ice cream sandwiched inside. With it, you’ll be able to have a cup of Turkish espresso.
I like my Turkish espresso stronger and thicker, however the true missed alternative right here was that it had already been sweetened. Surely the second requires Sugar Bae.
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