Well, so the Cettas write great ads. That doesn’t mean they sell great steak. There goes my essential cynicism, setting my teeth on edge even before I explore Sparks Steak House , And every thing the Great Steak Establishment has to say about western boxed meat moist-aged in vacuum-sealed plastic convinces me I should hate Sparks’s steak. Except I don‘t. I love it, And on Sweepsteaks Day, it was clearly the champ. Not the flashiest, not the biggest or the thickest – actually, the most unassuming in its moderate mantle of char- but inside was a splendid tenderness, a proper explosion of tastes, integrity of texture. . . . A brilliant scarlet, not hot, not cool-just warm. (We’d asked for it rare . . . very rare but not blue) Brushing my fingers across the steak , I picked up a glaze of lemon or lemon pepper. ( Cetta denies it) It works.
At $14.93, potatoes and salad not included . Spark’s sirloin is no longer a bargain to boast of in two-inch type face. (It coast us $3.95 extra to split the steak.) But it’s a sirloin to savor. An other sirloin, tasted earlier, was its equal. A third. ordered “ medium.” was slightly mealy and tough. The filet mignon, a cut I never order, was text book perfect. Sparks’s salad, mostly escarole and romaine with cotton tomatoes, wears a dressing that tastes bottled but is probably just a cloddish home brew. Four shrimp, a bit warm, split to make them seem jumbo, tasted fresh enough, spicy red sauce on the side. The Potato was soggy, as if baked in foil. Hashed browns were better. A rather ingenuous walnut pie satisfied the craving for a gooey sweet.
Sparks uptown is a barn like space. No one can accuse the Cettas of saw, dust or asceticism. A real effort has been made -dark wood, floral carpet, etched glass, a few cozy corners and booths, remarkably handsome side boards with wine on display. But it still looks like “instant pub” The wine list is remarkable, the collection of a serious wine lover, with an astonishing range of great California labels you cant find anywhere retail… here at an amazingly gentle markup. The staff is young and mostly pleasant. Twice I felt sure I was recognized. The service grew too dazzling to be believed. When I spilled a puddle of wine on the table, the waiter rushed over to change the tablecloth.
Passquale Cetta is perhaps understandably paranoid, all alone up there in enemy territory. He takes off his toupee and puts on glasses to check out the competition. He claims no one ages longer than Sparks’s “giant inventory” in the aging cooler, he refused When I suggested he was shy about his boxed, plastic-wrapped and hung to dry – how long is a secret. The Cettas don’t like criticism. They sued the last restaurant critic who didn’t love them for $2 million and have spent $4,000 on legal fees so far in the quest for vengeance.
Sparks Steak House, 210 East 46th street, 687-4855.