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Is Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote NYC's Worst Place for Steak Frites?
I waited over two hours to sample this "Bubba Gump" tourist trap of the steak world
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Hey, are you interested in a meal that costs less than $40?
Well, here you go. One of the world’s most affordable steak chains reopened in a new location in Manhattan this month, following a two-year pandemic hiatus.
The timing, in theory, couldn’t be better.
As New Yorkers grapple with sky-high beef prices, Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecote — with locations in Mexico City, London, and Paris — is back with $34.95 steak dinners. For that price, patrons get a mustard-y salad, loads of golden fries, and sliced sirloin slathered in a pleasantly livery green sauce. A TikToker raved about it earlier this month (“best steak frites in the world?”), racking up 1.8 million views, while another social media proponent received over 2.4 million views.
Folks like this place. A lot. That brings up another reality: L’Entrecote doesn’t accept reservations in New York. And it doesn’t take phone numbers at the door, a policy that would let folks hang out elsewhere until their table is ready. At L’Entrecote, you simply stand and wait. And wait you will. A Financial Times reporter queued up for an hour to get into the London location this summer. And last week, I waited two hours and twenty minutes before sitting down at the New York outpost.
Should you line up for dinner too? You should not. Though to be clear you shouldn’t eat at this Groupon of a restaurant even if there’s no wait. I had quite a bit of time to kill during my visit, so please enjoy this minute-by-minute account of a…very long evening and a very bad meal.
The two hour and twenty minute wait, aided by edibles.
7:26. I text my college roommate that I’m heading to L’Entrecote. He loves the Paris original, and he texts me back that he saw MaCaulay Culkin there years ago. Cool!
7:41. I arrive at L’Entrecote. My plan initial plan was to grab a light steak meal here and then hit Roscioli downtown, but when I show up in Midtown I realize I won’t be enjoying any lush Roman carbonaras tonight. The line stretches so far down 54th street that there appears to be more people outside the restaurant than inside.
8:00. A couple in front of me decides to give up after chatting with the host. “Over an hour wait,” one of them says. That’s not a problem for me, I can just write on my iPhone.
8:15. A few other folks drop out. They say the wait is now over two hours. My evening is suddenly less fun. Multiple people are walking up and down the block filming the line with their iPhones, which means I’ll probably be on a viral TikTok tomorrow.
8:30. A bunch of guys in front of me are smoking a joint. Now this is the type of influencing I need. I could use a little THC fun to help soften the wait.
8:58. A few more people quit the line. More steak for me. I’m about halfway to the door, but equally importantly, the entire line is almost as long as it was an hour ago. The Line Law of Schadenfreude dictates that you want the queue behind you to keep growing, so you know there are lots of folks who are suffering as much as you. Sorry!
9:00. I take half a 5mg edible, a rose-flavored Turkish delight that I’ll write more about soon. The goal is to make the wait a bit more groovy, and to sharpen my palate for the steak dinner that’s soon to come.
Spoiler: The steak would not be soon to come.
9:01. I start watching a neat video on someone else’s iPhone…until she catches me peering over her shoulder and steps out of my view. Bummer.
9:05. I can smell the musky aroma of meat grilling from outside. So can other folks. This is promising.
9:16: A guy in front of me in a blue hoodie is drinking a Cutwater canned rum cocktail out of a black plastic bag. Smart idea. Of course, if this were a restaurant more interested in hospitality, the host would take your number and give you an estimated wait time — and you’d be able to hang out at a bar while you wait. Here, you simply wait outside. Bogus.
9:18. The edible is definitely hitting. Excellent!
9:44. As I peek through the window, I see a waiter spooning green sauce — reportedly laced with chicken livers — over steaks. I’m transfixed. I also see there’s no bar, which means that solo diners like me won’t get to chat it up with strangers or bartenders at a counter. I’ll be stuck at a table.
~9:50. I’m finally inside a warm foyer. And I start to think about opportunity cost (I swear I’m fun on edibles), a basic economic concept that would ask you to assess what you’re giving up in exchange for a $34 steak dinner.
What you’re giving up is over two hours of your valuable time — 140 minutes that could’ve been spent in a museum, waiting on another line (lol) for last minute Broadway tickets, finishing up a project at work — in exchange for saving some money on steak. So that steak better be one of the city’s best, right?
The steak dinner begins. It is a bad steak dinner.
9:57. I sit down for dinner. Christ.
10:00. A waiter takes my order for Champagne and steak. She — all the servers are women dressed as French maids — writes “R” for rare on my tablecloth. The tablecloth looks and feels….plastic-y, like Amazon packaging material.
10:07. My salad arrives, a pile of lettuce coated in mustard vinaigrette and topped with walnuts. Food, finally! But my Champagne is missing. A waiter explains it’s because they’re “reorganizing” the bar, which sounds like something wealthy cocktail enthusiasts in Aspen do before entertaining on a slow weekend.
10:08. I eat the salad, or perhaps the better verb is slurp. The salad plate is so warm that many of the greens have wilted into something that tastes like wet, soggy tissue paper.
10:09. A side of bread accompanies the salad. It is not good bread. It’s the type of dense, feed-the-pigeons baguette that would make you wonder whether this global ambassador for French gastronomy has given up on its craft and started outsourcing its bread from a Knights of Columbus catering hall on Long Island. It comes with no butter or olive oil.
10:14: The lukewarm Champagne finally arrives. It is dominated by notes of oak. It is as wonderful an ode to French winemaking as the baguette is to Gallic boulangerie. It costs $18.
10:22. I keep drinking the sparkling wine, not because it’s good but because at this point I’m done with the bread and I just need to keep my blood sugar up.
10:29. The pre-sliced sirloin arrives. It packs no caramelized char, like French pan-roasted steaks are famous for. It has no smoke or complex notes from, say, good charcoal or gas grilling. It’s mostly grey on the outside and cool and rare on the inside. It doesn’t taste beefy. It tastes….savory, tender, and indistinct, like lean chicken breast without the skin. There is little discernible marbling. The only flavor comes from the faintly livery green sauce.
The fries are good.
10:32. I take a sip of my pinot noir. I’d describe the flavor as lightly sweetened Kool-Aid laced with notes of tomato, butter, and grain alcohol.
~10:36. I post some photos of a few really good meals on Instagram so that my friends and exes will think I’m leading an enviable lifestyle and not trapped in a brightly lit Midtown cafeteria on a Friday night.
10:38. My waiter brings over “seconds,” a follow-up serving of sliced steak. It is about as bland as the first batch, but this pile of meat is….overcooked. It’s sad, because the magic of taking an edible before dinner is that it lets you detect minor nuances in a dish with greater ease. I find that THC makes so many foods taste even more delicious! But here, there was no magic, no nuances, no more deliciousness. It was like…when Melissandre asked John Snow what he saw when he got a temporary sneak peek of the afterlife, to which he replied: “Nothing, there was nothing at all.”
10:45. I start to wonder how a restaurant that emits such a wonderfully beefy scent onto our city streets can sell food that’s so polite and bland behind its doors. Like, does L’Entrecote buy packaged steak perfume from the same industrial food science plant that surely produces Subway’s fresh bread scent?
10:46. A young couple from the U.K. sits down next to me. They inform the waiter that they’ve been here before, just like some of my good friends. And that’s the part that really crushes me. The New York location might’ve just reopened, but this is a global chain that’s been around for quite some time. The folks who truly love this place — and the scores of first-timers drawn in by social media — deserve better.
They deserve better than warm salad, dry bread, crap wine, steak that tastes like it was ripped from a plastic box that says “Lunchables,” and 2.5 hour waits. My meal feels less like hospitality, and more like effort to shake everyone down.
10:48. I drag my bread through the green sauce. This action is for naught, because the bread is literally too dry and hard to chew. I makes a percussive sound as I toss it down on my plate.
10:51. My server drops the laminated dessert card. There are no prices, names, or descriptions, just photoshopped images of three vaguely chocolate-y things, and two vaguely creamy things. It honestly looks like a cognitive test to determine if, like, a trained crow can point its beak at a particular color in exchange for a treat.
11:01. The guy and the girl next to me, upon receiving their steaks, stop talking and individually ‘gram their red meat in silence. This is how we say grace in 2023.
11:02. I get the check and GTFO. I spend just over $80 after tax and tip for a meal that was as fun as an afternoon at the DMV.
11:06. A server blows out a few candles as I leave the restaurant. Le Relais de Venise is closed.
The escape and the post-mortem.
11:15. As I head back to Hell’s Kitchen, I think how about great it is that I got so much writing done during dinner. A little discipline and THC can do wonders for efficiency, right?
11:38. I drop by my local Cuban bar to flesh out all my notes — and to unwind with some live music. I also take out my phone’s calculator to do a little math. And I realize the following: If I went to Pastis or Lord’s instead, I probably would’ve spent an extra $50 or more on a similar meal: a salad, two drinks, and a steak au poivre. Yes, that’s a lot more money! But I would’ve finished dinner over two hours earlier.
For me, an extra $50 is worth it for shorter wait times (or guaranteed reservations). The money is worth it for being able to order off a larger menu, so both my companion and I can order something other than steak (or heck, we could just share an au poivre and save some bucks). And the higher price is worth it for one of the city’s best steak frites, instead of one that is…profoundly less enjoyable.
Around Midnight: I’m plagued, for a brief moment, by the question of whether I should go back for a second or third visit, to see how things might improve. Then I ask myself: Do you think Relais de Venise will change its bread program? Do you think they’re going to magically start purchasing beef with actual flavor and marbling? Do you think they’ll start using good stemware, and introduce a better wine list, and pour beers that are better than Heineken or Corona? Do you? Do you really, really think it’s important to wait outside, on a November evening, for a few hours, yet again? Are you absolutely out of your mind?
Alright, that’s enough for today! Happy Chompsgiving!
p.s. I’ve heard of much shorter wait times during lunch or on certain weeknights at L’Entrecote. Should you go then? I’d still say no. Skirt Steak ($45) in Flatiron is a better bet for more flavorful beef, as is Empanada Mama (for the $29.50 bandeja paisa) or Guantanamera (for the $29 vaca frita).
p.p.s. Here’s the NYT take on Le Relais from 2009.
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