One of the signature retro items, in fact, the market-price lobster thermidor, which cost $56 on my visit, was the biggest disappointment. Convinced by my up-selling server, who visibly swooned while describing the dish, I ordered it anticipating that my first bite would be accompanied by the sounds of angels singing. That first bite was indeed delicious. Subsequent bites, however, revealed careless cooking. Off-tasting, mushy-textured chunks of lobster meat mingled with sweet and succulent morsels. The $38 steak Diane, another menu item that harks back to a bygone era, was similarly marred by clumsy execution; the dish’s two paillards of filet were mismatched, with one perfectly medium-rare and the other overcooked to a tough, dry shade of gray. Not only do these sloppy mistakes contrast sharply with the cool, considered look of the place; they’re shocking at these prices.
Stephen Starr obviously knows how to weave a swanky setting, polished service and good food together in a way few other restaurateurs can. Barclay Prime puts a creative twist on the steakhouse genre in a modern, adult atmosphere. Its menu strikes just the right balance between standards and little surprises, and the execution rarely falters. Cooking the classics can be a winning formula, even at these prices, as Starr understands. But only when you get them right every time.