One of my favorite dinnertime games is called Market Price. The rules are simple. Players guess what a restaurant charges for dishes listed as MP, the abbreviation restaurants use for wagyu, caviar, and other luxuries with prices disclosed on a need-to-know basis. The person who comes closest to guessing the price without going over, wins. The prize is the exasperated look people make upon learning what New York chefs can get away with charging.
I recently refereed a round of this game at my table at The Beatrice Inn, where chef Angie Mar has been gradually transforming her subterranean trio of West Village rooms into a Russian oligarch’s fantasy of an American tavern: a place to drink white truffle cocktails named after a Notorious B.I.G. song, inhale black truffles shaved atop burgers, eat truffle oil fries, ogle two crackling fireplaces in June, watch ducks immolated in Cognac fires — and spend untold sums on caviar-topped sole, steak infused with single malt Scotch, and creme brulee piped inside a cow femur like marrow.
Customers who order correctly will be rewarded with some of the city’s most thrilling meaty fare. How much this will all cost, however, is a different story since The Beatrice’s liberal use of MP makes the more expensive sections of the menu read like a classified memorandum redacted by the FBI.
Shall we play a game?
The shellfish platter, a conservative chophouse staple, is an effortless way to spend more than a hundred bucks in exchange for a reliable dose of corporate-friendly familiarity: raw oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster.
The Beatrice offers a fairly standard platter for $130. But Mar also hawks something more unique, more a product of her creative vision as a chef: a Grand Coquillage with smoked salt, head-on tiger prawns, lobster dressed in its own juices, snow crab claws, black anchovies with garlic, and smoked oysters with thyme. Mar writes that she used to sandwich those last two items “between crackers at her father’s beach house.”
I ask the waiter how much it costs. “Four eighty five,” he said. It took me a full second to process that he meant $485 — a heck of an upcharge for Mar’s summer nostalgia.
Instead, we ordered a few perfectly shucked Beausoleil oysters. And a few warm cherrystone clams. My companion enjoyed them with a warm glass of sauvignon blanc.
The steak for two (or three or four) is a staple at any bastion of beef, but the Beatrice’s whiskey steak is unique in being the subject of a 650-word profile in Vogue, a fashion publication that’s not particularly known for its meat coverage. An Eater video of the boozy beef has garnered millions of Facebook views.
When a waiter walks us through the menu, it’s the second dish he mentions. He does not volunteer the price, but he does explain how Mar wraps a Tomahawk rib-eye in a whiskey-soaked cloth and lets it age for half a year — a technique she learned from French celebrity butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec. She presents it with lobster butter, thyme, and summer truffles.
Those who have sampled this delicacy tell me the booze imparts the meat with notes of oak and vanilla. Curiously enough, none of the Internet commotion over the meat mentions precisely what you’ll end up paying for it.
I ask a staffer about the MP. He replies not with a specific price but with the per-ounce cost, which, that night was $14 an ounce, with a minimum of 50 ounces. That works out to over $900 after tax and tip.
I opt for the only other steak, a cote de boeuf with crustacean butter. The beef exhibits impressive tenderness, but the flavor is neutral, without any of the bovine musk or concentrated beefiness you’d expected from 60 days of dry aging. It’s not a particularly memorable cut, and yet at around $75, it might be the city’s highest entry-level price for a steak.
Once upon a time, in the mid-to-late aughts, The Beatrice was a storied social club with a door policy so tight even Amanda Seyfried reportedly had trouble getting in once. It was only after 2012 when Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter turned The Beatrice Inn into a proper culinary establishment. Sort of. The restaurant went through more chefs than I care to list and garnered a zero star New York Times review. Angie Mar was hired in 2013 but the restaurant was still more of a scene early in her tenure. During a Halloween party, where I’m certain I was the only person under six feet tall, I recall almost having my nose broken when a drunk partygoer, who I’m told was flashing people, fell onto my face.
As an intermittent regular over the past four years or so, I can confirm that since Mar bought out the prevailing ownership last year, the restaurant feels more ambitious than ever. If April Bloomfield is the city’s greatest meat chef, then Mar is starting to show some of the creativity and skill to take a shot at that title one day. She’s taken the staid and steady format of the chophouse and introduced an energizing degree of variety into it, serving up smoked $87 rabbits, $72 smoked pork chops (brilliantly juicy with too much blubbery fat), and Gruyere-stuffed lobster that costs . . . actually how much does it cost?
“It’s $90 tonight,” a waiter says. That’s actually not too bad by Beatrice standards. A few minutes later the waiter returns and informs us that the lobsters are unusually small and the dish is typically in the $120 range — just so we don’t get the wrong idea.
The steakhouse, chophouse, meatery — whatever you want to call it — has always been a quintessential American luxury, a more societally acceptable way to spend gobs of cash than on a tasting of thirty-six courses that look like Abstract Expressionist spin art. These dark and boozy institutions have championed the large-format way of life — porterhouses for two, lobsters older than a middle school graduate — decades before David Chang ever started asking diners to reserve $200 pork shoulders weeks in advance.
Even within this genre, The Beatrice veers too heavily toward the one percent. That’s not to overlook the fact that two of the restaurant’s cheapest mains are two of the best: Oxtail with prunes, thyme, and mashed potatoes ($32) is a beefy, sweet, starchy pairing of spoonable textures. And pork braised in milk ($34) is nearly dessert in its own right, the swine wafting sage in a thickened pool of barely sweet dairy.
But still. I can’t think of another chophouse where the only cooked lamb dish is a $135 rack, where the only guaranteed bread service is a $23 savory tart, where the only sundae is a $27 banana split, and where the chef has removed the affordable burger from the menu in favor of a regal $38 blend.
That dry-aged burger, with a texture that evokes pate and a flavor I’d describe as the apotheosis of beef, is spectacular. When you ask a waiter about it, the first thing he mentions is that you’re welcome to order it with a few grams of black truffles. What he doesn’t mention is that the supplement bumps the price up to $105.
You can walk right into The Beatrice in 2017, something that surely wasn’t possible for this Banana Republic-wearing critic a decade ago, but the current prices are a reminder that accessibility takes many forms. As much as Mar deserves credit for the intricate aging and infusion processes involved in the whiskey steak, it’s hard not to feel slightly unwelcome when you realize that no one has found a way to show off this compelling technique to those who lack the desire or means to blow airfare for two to Los Angeles on a single main course.
“It’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of vegetables,” Mar tells me over the phone. This is clear when I order the $32 side of ramps with summer truffles, which tastes like $5 worth of ramps with truffle flavor. A few weeks later a waiter tries to sell me some truffled snow pea leaves for the same price. No thanks.
You don’t come to The Beatrice for snow peas: You come for meat, seafood, and pie. In fact this is a rare venue where an all-pie meal is possible. You start off with that plum tart for two I was telling you about, a chewy pastry packed with stone fruit and showered with arugula and Parmesan. This splendid affair, only faintly sweet, is available even in the winter. “I don’t care if things are local I just want the best product,” Mar tells me.
Next, you order the giant meat pie, a satiny, suet-butter crust that envelops musky duck confit dressed in tarragon sauce. This is all topped with a few lobes of foie gras. It is a fine middle finger to seasonality, though you might ask yourself what this $52 dish does that The Breslin’s Michelin-starred $11 beef shin and Stilton pie doesn’t. Answer: nothing.
Finally, you finish things off with a heavily spiced fried apple hand pie, an ode to McDonald’s until you dip your fork in the caramel sauce, which is laced with a livery dose of foie gras.
I don’t have too much to say about The Beatrice’s most expensive plates. I’m not inclined to critique a bevy of dishes that so few will experience. But for what it’s worth, here’s a quick meditation on two splurges.
First, Market Price Dover sole is a preparation involves about ten ounces of fish drenched in butter, surrounded by ten or so crab claws — that deliver an oceanic tang so intense it’s almost tannic — garnished with 43 grams of Kaluga caviar.
Take note that this isn’t a true Dover sole imported from the U.K. since it’s caught off the coast of Long Island. The flesh lacks the sole’s hallmark firm, springy, this-is-an-edible-luxury mouthfeel. The texture is flakier and more like flounder. Another thing: The Kaluga caviar lacks the intense richness and lingering finish of superior Osetra, or Baeeri varieties. Now is it still an insanely delicious dish? Of course it is. But as a technical expression of classic luxury, it falls short, which is tough when the price is $135.
A more compelling choice is the flaming duck. The bird is dry aged for two weeks, cured for five more days, cold smoked, roasted in the oven and then flambeed tableside. Sometimes the skin is gently crunchy. Sometimes it shatters like glass. Sometimes it’s uniformly flabby. The layer of fat underneath has just a touch of give, while the meat is a medium-rare expression of sweet cherry smoke. Surrounding the bird is a riot of cherries, their sugars tamed by savory pan juices. Cost: $102.
I’m guessing that’s a lower price tag than the sake-marinated wagyu Mar tells me she’s working on. I’ll ask my wealthy friends how it tastes and report back. Perhaps it’s all appropriate: The Beatrice has transformed from a bastion of social exclusivity into a financial one. That’s the story of New York right there.
Ryan Sutton is Eater NY’s restaurant critic. See his other reviews in the archive.