What We’ve Wanted All Along: Long Island City’s S Prime
S Prime, the steakhouse that opened this fall in Long Island City, certainly has some competition from the other side of the bridge.
In 1985, Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down in front of Sparks at the behest of John Gotti, and it’s for this reason I’ve always had an affinity for steakhouses. I’m not partial to violence; I’m terrified of guns. But growing up as a native New Yorker plucked from my home city, visits back were always validated by a visit to Sparks (or Keens or Peter Luger), where the grounds of something as cartoonishly New Yorkey as a famous mob hit helps to beat on against the current of The Lion King on Broadway.
Which is to say, a good steakhouse ought not to dazzle with anything too inventive. Rather, it should give us those reminders—oysters on the half shell, thick-ass filets, buttered-up vegetables—of what we’ve always loved enough to shell out hundreds of dollars for. And it’s in this regard that S Prime knows what it’s doing.
The executive chef Joel Reiss – who’s made the rounds of The Post House, Maloney & Porcelli, Orsay, and Artisanal – strikes a blend of sincerity and not-taking-things-too-seriously that seems to get rarer in this city, between the purveyors of hipster ramen and any of those farm-to-table gastropub people the New Yorker has profiled. The only addendum to the meat itself is an optional Cajun spice rub. Every time Reiss mentioned it, he’d hold up his palms and go, “I make it myself,” all in one syllable.
The signature cuts vary a bit from my admittedly infantile adherence to filet mignon (if I couldn’t gnaw through a rib eye at 5, why try now?). A 28-ounce, 60-day dry aged rib eye is Reiss’ trophy steak, again with the self-made Cajun spice that is, indeed, spicy.
The trio of tartares is a must: smoked salmon with bagel chips, spicy tuna with wanton chips, and a steak tartare you could eat a whole sandwich of. The sides list, divided between “Good Sides” (vegetables) and “Bad Sides” (fatty stuff), features a Lap Cheong fried rice and baby brussel sprouts rolled in butter and parmesan, which are much less bitter (maybe it was the butter?) than their larger siblings and are also, as I’ve discovered, incredibly hard to find in the grocery store. And then there’s the crab cake, which is pleasantly made of crab, as opposed to celery and bread crumbs.
All this stuff is served in ample portions, and the food itself is appetizing enough that no frivolous design affects are necessary. The dining room, with tall ceilings and tufted leather booths, is night-clubby in a Queens sort of way. But the best part is that despite all the dark accents, the place is lit up enough so you can see what you’re eating.
Reiss, a Queens native, now lives in Oceanside, where he keeps a fishing boat that he takes out most mornings. “Catch a striped bass—that’s dinner for three days.” After a long whimsy about steaks, he conceded that most nights these days, it’s chicken or fish. “Twice a month I’ll have a piece of meat.” You know, as a reminder.