1701 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Located in the venerable Warwick Hotel in the fashionable Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia, The Prime Rib is a classic steakhouse.. a throwback to days of yore. It’s this kind of place you can feel good celebrating your 60th birthday, knowing you are likely the youngest person in the dining room. There are also sister restaurants in Baltimore and D.C.
The leopard-skin carpet is pure kitsch, but for the most part, this is elegance that harkens back to the previous century .. or the one before THAT.
It is not an inexpensive place to dine (although they DO offer some very generous prix-fixe meals on Sundays or on weekdays before 6:00 PM.)
But you come here for BEEF … Whether it’s the Prime grade New York Strip or the boneless (signature cut) or bone-in FULL cut of the namesake Prime Rib, this is a carnivore’s house.
That’s not to say the seafood isn’t good. After a generously constructed Chopin martini and a light fresh baguette, my wife and I shared Oysters Rockefeller (not like Antoine’s but a sturdy version) as well as some diced raw yellowtail tuna in a subtle teriyaki whose flavor never overpowered of ginger, garlic or soy.
The REAL deal came when the Prime Rib was served. My wife ordered the sensible signature cut, about 16 ounces, while I indulged in the FULL cut – approximately 26 ounces (but included the bone.) Both were ordered medium rare as suggested by the friendly and knowledgeable waiter. Prime rib can be a bit chewy, and have a “jellyish” kind of texture if cooked TOO rare. These were perfectly executed.
If you are unfamiliar with cow anatomy, please allow me to shed some light on this cut. A ribeye is primarily composed of two muscles, the Longissimus muscle, and the Spinals dorsalis – the inside “eye” and the “cap” which are separated by a layer of fat. Not all cuts of a standing rib roast are thus endowed. The cuts toward the shoulder (chuck) will lack the incredible Spinals dorsalis, which many beef connoisseurs consider the tastiest part of the cow. The ribeye cap, is surprisingly, most tender and flavorful when browned. It sort of combines the tenderness of stewed short rib with the robust flavor of a skirt steak. It is also the part with the sear, which adds the magic of the Maillard reaction (caramelization) into the mix. Depending on how surgically you slice it, tender rendered fat will come along for the ride, providing a creamy mouthfeel which no other flesh on earth can rival.
As much as we tried, we each came home with a small souvenir in an elegant “doggie bag” into which the waiter was kind enough to toss some horseradish and sour cream to allow us to mix our sauce to our own tolerance for that particularly fiery garnish.
We shared sides of creamed spinach (it’s not pur favorite thing to eat, but … TRADITION. It was actually excellent. Also of interest are the potato skins – the legendary “Greenberg potato skins” which the Prime Rib is credited with creating in the 70’s. There is VERY little potato in these skins. They are fried crisp, almost like potato chips, and are consumed with sour cream. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for $10, worth trying.
Wines by the glass are reasonably priced, with reds like Malbec and Shiraz going for $11-15.
We were QUITE sated by the end of the meal, but decided to split a hot fudge sundae (it was delicious, and served with a birthday candle and a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” performed by the pianist next to whom we sat. It was also comped (because it WAS my 60th birthday.)
But the Prime Rib (the restaurant) is as much about the ambience and experience as it is the food. The pianist below, Jason Long, is an old friend and plays quite a few nights there (and when he’s not some pretty good players hold down the bench.) Sets are EXTREMELY long, and one will hear everything from Porter, Ellington and Gershwin to Otis Redding and in-between.) Jason is world-class, though, and we even delayed my birthday meal two days to be there when he was tickling the ivories.
With a generous (and well-deserved) tip, the meal came to about $300 .. not a casual weeknight dinner… for us anyway. Valet Parking is a bargain at $20.
So this place is at it’s best as a “special occasion” treat, however, the $50 or so prix fixe will probably entice us back some Sunday for no good reason other than to experience the same elegance.