Stephen Starr's take on the cheesesteak is a far cry from the paper-wrapped, whiz-topped Philly classic you know and love. It comes loaded with shaved Kobe beef, lobster, truffles, taleggio cheese and a $100 price tag at Barclay Prime.
Despite the cheesesteak buzz, Barclay turns out to be the least gimmicky and over-themed of Starr's 13 Philadelphia restaurants. Housed in the former Barclay hotel on Rittenhouse Square, the atmosphere is classy and elegant. It's more upscale than Starr's other venues, but the chandelier-lit, spacious dining room manages to feel hip and avoid any Le Bec-ish stuffiness. Among the elite crowd, we spotted celebrity chef Bobby Flay, the cute redheaded host on the Food Network.
Barclay's menu reads like a rundown of traditional steakhouse fare enhanced with Starr's interesting twists on the conventional. To begin a classic steak dinner, "The Wedge" elevates the dismal wedge of iceberg lettuce to new heights with a generous helping of lump crabmeat and a hunk of blue cheese. Enjoy a shrimp cocktail appetizer or go for the lobster version, a simple yet perfect pairing of succulent lobster tail meat and snappy cocktail sauce.
After ordering your 20 oz. ribeye or more modestly portioned filet mignon, the server will present you with a choice of four steak knives arranged on a platter. Each knife hails from a different country. Diners can also choose from an extensive list of sauces to adorn the top-quality cuts of meat. There are options like bearnaise or red wine for the traditionalist and tomato fondue, rosemary balsamic, lobster or basil/orange for the more adventurous. These little extravagancies of the Barclay Prime experience are what really make it a worthwhile indulgence.
Steaks are served solo but sides are ordered for the table. Creamed spinach soaks up a light, buttery sauce with no resemblance to the goopy, creamy stuff found elsewhere. Mashed potatoes come with or without truffles, depending on your preferred degree of sophistication. Butternut squash kissed with honey is so irresistible it could pass for dessert. Yet one glance at the actual dessert menu will make you forget how full you already are. Try the toasted peanut butter s'mores -- every element composing them is made in house, from the peanut butter ice cream down to the graham cracker.
Although very rich, one fifth of the infamous sandwich, which is about the size of your typical cheesesteak, was a bit of a tease. Sadly, Street does not comp my meals, and the rents weren't quite willing to spring for another.