Eddie V's New Luxe

Plaza fine dining gets a fresh face.



Hot bananas Foster butter cake

   We decided to chance Eddie V’s Prime Seafood Restaurant on a Saturday night without a reservation. The restaurant, located in the former Ruth’s Chris Steak House space at 700 W. 47th St., was only three weeks old at that point, after all, and there are plenty of other places on the Plaza to get fancy — including The Capital Grille and Seasons 52, restaurants owned (like Eddie V’s) by the Orlando, Florida-headquartered Darden Restaurants.

   But at 8 p.m., Eddie V’s was booked solid, and the bar and lounge area was overflowing with eager diners who were awaiting tables in the plush dining room. My companion and I put our names on the waitlist — “An hour, at least,” the hostess informed us with an unfalteringly bright smile — and ventured out for a brisk bout of window-shopping through the neighborhood to pass the time.

   A little after 9 p.m., we were ushered to a high table in the lounge area, a few feet away from a jazz trio — “As long as you don’t mind loud music,” the same hostess had told us, her smile unbreakable — and we opened the heavy, canvas-bound menus.

   Luxury is an essential part of the experience at Eddie V’s. The decor is swanky and expensive-looking, reminiscent of a corporate law firm from the early aughts; the servers wear white button-ups, black bowties and white jackets.

   Likewise, the menu is meant to impress: East and West Coast oysters are listed prominently near the top; a decadent chilled shellfish tower suggested as an appetizer (for a cool $73); imported Chilean sea bass and Georges Bank scallops; a range of steaks, all aged in-house for 28 days, and available to upgrade with things like a “lobster indulgence” (a broiled half-pound of South African lobster tail with drawn butter).

   The invitation to be extravagant was not lost on us. As our server, Erica, warmly guided us through our selections, she dutifully inquired if we would be starting with fresh oysters.

   “When in Rome,” we agreed.

   Our half-dozen West Coast oysters ($24) — three each of Kusshi from British Columbia and Salt Nuggets from Washington — were accompanied by a tangy mignonette and horseradish. Kusshi are notoriously small with deep shells, but somehow, the ones offered at Eddie V’s seemed just a fraction larger than average. I prefer my oysters with the politest squeeze of lemon so that I can get the full flavor of the meat, and slurping one of these Kusshi was like swallowing silk. The slightly larger Salt Nuggets, true to their name, were a good deal more briny, but the sweet melon finish on the end made these a favorite.

   The jumbo lump crab cake ($19) — an Eddie V’s staple, Erica assured us, and a best-seller — is exactly what all crab cakes should be. Tender forkfuls of crab are packed loosely together by a rumor of bread crumbs and sauteed ever so lightly; a fine layer of crunchy golden bread crumbs finishes the top. There’s a zig-zag of chive aioli, but this is not the dry Costco patty you’ve had to choke down with tablespoons of mayo at budget happy hours. No, this crab cake — roughly the diameter of a hockey puck — verges on weightless, so dreamy that it seemed to float directly from the plate into our mouths.

   Initially, and although it was entirely our own fault, I had been disappointed when we were deprived of what must be considered prime seating in Eddie V’s dining room: The low tables were clad satisfyingly in white tablecloths, and I glimpsed merry, beautiful diners leaning into richly upholstered booths. An aura of romance and prestige seemed to exude from the room, and being shunted to the lounge high tops, wrapped around a crowded and noisy bar, felt for a moment like being relegated to second-class steerage.

   But these high tops, too, were covered in that same starched white linen, our seats just as lush. Because of our proximity to the bar, I appreciated even more the promptness with which our cocktails were delivered. I observed the bar staff — a suspiciously attractive group — bustling and moving, smiling and pouring; I watched the guests around me, blissfully unaware of the action and the (rather excellent) jazz band, leaning into their drinks and conversations. The pace in the lounge was lively but unhurried. Lost in conversation with my companion, I had almost forgotten our entrees until they appeared.

filet mignon swordfish steak Eddie V's

8-ounce center-cut filet mignon and Swordfish steak

 

   The swordfish steak ($34) was broiled — not grilled, as most Midwestern diners have become accustomed to seeing it — and topped with a pretty salad of lump crab, chopped avocado, strands of cilantro and microgreens, and chunks of red chili pepper. The swordfish could have been sent out naked; the browning and seasoning it got in the skillet added just the right touch of bright acidity that nothing — not even some pretty grill marks — could have improved it.

   My 8-ounce center-cut filet mignon ($40) was fat with promise. The medium rare was just shy of bloody, and I admired the ease with which my knife sliced into it, then the layer of interior colors: a sturdy ring of dark chestnut, a cheerful rosy pink, a bold ruby red. I loved this steak even before I gleefully poured a boat of cognac peppercorn créme sauce ($4) on top. Each bite affirmed that the human race is, indeed, meant to consume red meat. And if the sauce was on the salty side, well, that didn’t stop me from dragging every beefy forkful through the pool of it on my plate.

   The a la carte sides are every bit as indulgent as the mains: crab fried rice with mushrooms and scallions ($14); grilled asparagus with prosciutto and shirred egg ($13); butter-poached lobster mashed potatoes ($18). We asked aloud: Who needs to top mashed potatoes with lobster? Apparently, the table next to us, for no sooner had we wondered this that a heaping bowl of cloud-like mashed potatoes dressed with proud, fleshy chunks of lobster appeared to the delight of our neighbors.

   The sheer excess of some of Eddie V’s dishes border on obscene, but that certainly didn’t deter us from inhaling the truffled macaroni and cheese ($13).

   Here is a truth: I struggle with ordering mac and cheese at restaurants, especially high-roller restaurants like Eddie V’s. It’s one of those quintessential American dishes that everyone, aged 9 to 90, is already predisposed to like, and no matter how the recipe is dressed up — I have seen it done with expensive goudas, oxtail and even foie gras — it always ends up tasting like, well, mac and cheese.

   Eddie V’s recipe is no exception to this, though I will admit that their macaroni and cheese was one of the best renditions of this dish I have had. Bell-shaped gemelli noodles drown in a creamy bechamel sauce, and the downright liberal application of sliced truffles has to be some kind of lucky oversight. The bewitching perfume wafting from this dish alone was enough to compensate for its lukewarm temperature.

   Guests who prefer a particular brand of service will be pleased to know that management seems to make a point of touching every table at least once during dinner, including the jerks who show up without reservations on a Saturday night (us) and are seated in the lounge. Our attendant introduced himself as “one of the managers,” and he waxed poetic for a moment too long about Eddie V’s commitment to premier dining experiences, an unctuous note to his voice. He cleared our plates expertly, though we never did get the remaining half of our truffled mac and cheese back in the promised to-go container. Oh, well.

   Decadence continues unabashed on the dessert menu, with no less than eight sweet temptations. The hot bananas Foster butter cake ($11) — which is flambeed tableside, should you care to capture the moment for Instagram — is nothing short of inspired. There’s a warm, sticky bread pudding mold, thick and moist with butter and topped with caramelized bananas, with a generous scoop of butter pecan ice cream on the side. Somewhere in paradise, saints dine on Eddie V’s bananas Foster, their gold-plated spoons clinking blissfully across their gilded plates, capturing every last transcendent taste.

blackberry cobbler Eddie V's

Blackberry Cobbler

 

   The blackberry cobbler ($10) is served hot in a skillet with vanilla bean ice cream, and it is very good, if a little on the soupy side. But a bite of this after the bananas Foster is a bit like getting to heaven and then being sent back to wait at the pearly gates — you can’t stop thinking about the superior thing you’ve already experienced.

   There are 14 Eddie V’s locations scattered throughout the country, and the menus — overseen by Darden’s corporate chef, Ray Comiskey — are largely identical. I would expect the same bananas Foster experience at the Eddie V’s located in San Diego or Dallas. And therein lies the great conundrum of high-end chain restaurants: Once you get past the shocking exorbitance of the dishes, is there any heart or character left? If Crystal Morris, the executive chef for Eddie V’s Kansas City location, is to be judged by how closely she imitates Comiskey’s recipes, what are we to learn about her?

   The plates at Eddie V’s will not win any awards for creativity. They are attractive — artful, even — but they are not innovative. That’s OK. In addition to the allure of opulent displays, Eddie V’s relies on a bit of American steakhouse nostalgia to pull in guests: Once upon a time, someone somewhere decided to court cardiac arrest by putting lobster and steak together on a plate. Eddie V’s seems to believe that there are still plenty of people for whom the prospect of fine dining means little if it does not involve “surf and turf.”

   That particular phrase does not appear on Eddie V’s menu; Comiskey is more modern than that. There is nothing particularly kitschy or vintage about his dishes; it just so happens that a few things — like seared ahi tuna and filet mignon — never go out of style. The dishes at Eddie V’s are tried and true, and they may be borne of corporate recipes that are replicated in more than a dozen other corporate kitchens, but Morris and her kitchen clearly tender each order with precision and care.

   One of the refrains in dining trends of the last few years has been the sentiment that high-end seafood and steakhouses like Eddie V’s are going out of fashion: Most Americans don’t need lobster mashed potatoes or a $40 steak to be either impressed or satisfied. Culinary trends, too, continue to show a move toward restaurants that favor small shared plates and broad-spectrum flavors (to get a better idea of what this looks like, swing by the very buzzworthy Antler Room in Longfellow).

   But earlier in the evening, as my companion and I drifted around the Plaza, we passed by a handful of neighborhood staples — including Darden’s sister restaurants, Seasons 52 and The Capital Grille. These places appeared just as busy as Eddie V’s.

   There is, it turns out, a hearty contingent of the population that still wants its surf and turf, no matter what you call it. After a night at Eddie V’s, I can see why.

   700 W. 47th St., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 531-2537, eddiev.com. Open daily at 4 p.m.