Steakhouse is too austere a description of Morton’s Grille (233 Park Avenue South, 212-220-9200), the second Landry’s concept to make its New York debut in recent weeks. Yes, there’s steak on the menu: uniformly seasoned, wet-aged, center cuts of filet mignon and ribeye. But they’re only there because that’s what you expect entering a Morton’s.
It’s everything you don’t expect here that works. The rest of the menu is sized to share, the preference of couples and co-workers on recent visits oohing while eyeing a kale caesar packed with enough hipster roughage to fill a bicycle helmet, and a white chocolate pecan bread pudding that could perfectly fit in an Entenmann’s pound cake box. But for the most part, everyone is eyeing one another; Morton’s Grille succeeds most as a happy-hour joint where ascendant pantsuits let loose to live soul covers. For a few hours every night, the energy of an Ally McBeal binge permeates the barroom.
Only steaks aren’t portioned to share; everything else will attract and feed a hungry gaggle of junior associates. In the seafood category alone that includes shrimp stuffed with jalapeño cream cheese and wrapped in bacon, towel-wrapped pans of curried mussels, and entree-sized sushi rolls.
If the vibe sounds like a ’90s throwback, don’t take that as a bad thing. It’s an investment in the unpretentious, a stripped-down theme restaurant where the food informs the casualness of the room rather than walls climbing in swag, a Cheesecake Factory for grown-ups. Sure, it’s a corporate restaurant, but it seems to be exactly what people who have always dined on Park Avenue South want. Otherwise General Assembly, Hurricane Club, and Park Avenue Winter would fill three separate storefronts, not rotate in and out of one.
And there’s a demand elsewhere for that cusp-of-the-millennium Park Avenue South vibe:
“The look here is nothing like our Kansas City and Woodlands locations,” regional manager Sakkar Thawan told us. “If this works, it will be the prototype for all future locations.”