Benchmark: Park Slope's New Steakhouse

When Benchmark -- Park Slope's only true steakhouse -- opened this spring without signage, it seemed to to be going for that tired "secret restaurant" cachet. Thankfully, now a large sign announces the restaurant's existence. Still, you might miss it as you walk by.

The place is tucked away off the street in a small, ivy-covered brick building that was used from the 1920s through the '40s as a way station and icehouse for goods transported on the Gowanus Canal. The storeroom and canal were linked by underground tunnels, and a small railway in back transported the borough's coal. On a summer night -- when you'll want to sit outside in the courtyard -- the place has a wonderfully secluded feeling. Plus, there's the steak.

The New York strip -- grass-fed, corn-finished, dry-aged, bone-in, 17 ounces, $29 -- is a marvel of char and blood, the meat's minerality unfurling in your mouth as you chew. Cooked medium rare and finished with a generous sprinkle of sea salt, it needs no adornment. Chef Ryan Jaronik clearly knows his beef.

A bowl of gazpacho ($9) topped with fried croutons and a bit of lump crab meat makes a sprightly summer appetizer: Sweet tomato, tart sherry vinegar, and rich crab balance each other out and leave room for steak afterward.

As for the à la carte sides, you'd be smart to get the brussels sprouts ($6). Roasted to tenderness, they're lightly spiced with what tastes like a bit of coriander and cumin. Home fries, though, are greasy, topped with rapidly hardening Gruyère and a surprisingly bland habanero salsa.

A good rule for ordering at Benchmark is the simpler the better. If it sounds overwrought, it probably is: A plate of lamb loin chops with grapes, asparagus mousse, and a fruity reduction sauce was in dire need of salt. Lobster salad with "banana guacamole," coconut emulsion, herb oil, and hearts of palm would be better if you subtracted a few elements.

Still, Benchmark is an extremely pleasant place to while away a summer evening; the wine list is affordable, the setting idyllic.

Benchmark 339-A 2nd Street, Brooklyn 718-965-7040

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