It’s the kind of deal that makes you look thrice: eight ounces of steak, plus fries, plus a salad, plus bread, plus another serving of fries for $35. Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte, the famous steakhouse from Paris with four locations around the world, reopened in Manhattan this month after two years. New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough.
People have been waiting in hours-long lines in rain and 40-degree weather to try these famous steak frites. The French restaurant doesn’t take reservations. What choice do they have?
Before the pandemic, Le Relais was known for serving one of the best deals in town. It closed two years ago and moved to its current location at 155 E. 54th Street, near Third Avenue. The cost of some ingredients has doubled in that time. Somehow, the price of its steak special only increased by a dollar.
I arrived on Monday evening right as the doors opened for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Thankfully, my friend had beat me there. They were halfway to the front of a line that must have been a hundred people long. It stretched out of sight toward Third Avenue.
We were all competing to be one of the first 108 people in line — the number of seats in this very cramped restaurant. That matters because this is Manhattan, not Paris, and the service is slower. If you don’t get into the restaurant on the first seating, bonne chance: The wait could be as long as two hours.
Once inside, the only thing the restaurant cares about is your credit card number and how you want your steak cooked. But when I tried to order mine medium rare, our server looked at me like I was speaking another language: “We don’t do medium rare,” they said. “Our steaks are cooked well, medium, rare, and blue.”
Blue? Before I could ask, they had shuffled off to another table.
You’re seated in close quarters with strangers. To our left, a couple was engaged in a fierce debate about which Le Relais was best. They debated several invented categories — best food, best price, quickest service — and weighed the merits of not only the former and current locations in Manhattan but also the original in Paris, which has been open since 1959.
When their steaks arrived, they quickly wolfed down their share. The steak was better than before, but worse than in Paris, they concluded.
Our turn came a few minutes later. Our plates were piled with golden french fries and six slivers of steak, which appeared to be cooked medium rare. The plate was covered in a green sauce whose recipe is a secret. The taste is hard to place, but for the first time in my life, I agreed with a writer at the New York Post — it tasted like mustard.
The eight-ounce steak is served in two portions. Once your plate is cleared, servers come around again with more meat and potatoes. As our plates were reloaded, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched. We were seated near the window, and more than once, I made eye contact with someone waiting outside in the cold. It felt as if a hundred hungry eyes were watching us gorge.
When we left the restaurant about an hour after we sat down, the line had grown. Were these the best or the worst steak frites in the city? The only thing I can say is that it was worth $45 — the actual price of this “deal” after tax and tip.