On the Spectacle of Nusr-Et Steakhouse, Salt Bae’s NYC Restaurant Debut
You don’t come to Nusr-Et Steakhouse in New York City for the food but for Salt Bae himself (aka Nusret Gökçe). And that’s the point.
Across the street from currently scaffolded MoMA and just steps away from Brazilian steakhouse chain Fogo de Chão lies Nusr-Et Steakhouse.
You know Gökçe for his round shades, white v-necks and toned biceps. He’s mesmerized the Internet with his sensual knife work, signature slap of the meat and dramatic flourish of salt that earned him the nickname—and hashtag. And that’s what Nusr-Et Steakhouse is all about: the man. Not the food.
Consider it the Infinity Mirror Rooms of the restaurant world. It’s a blockbuster exhibition, an art world term used for hyped, moneymaking museum shows meant to draw in hordes of visitors. You go, you show the world you’ve earned that cultural currency (Instagram! Snapchat!) and you leave. And that’s exactly what I did last night when I dined at Nusr-Et Steakhouse. (Full disclosure: I was invited to dinner by the restaurant’s PR, but I paid for my meal and did not receive any special treatment, as noted below.)
Everything about the restaurant feeds the Salt Bae experience. Only ordering a handful of steaks gives you access to Gökçe. It’s similar to reserving a table at Hakkasan in Vegas, which requires buying an overpriced mixer combo of Grey Goose, orange juice and sparklers. My friend and I ordered the thinly sliced lokum (underseasoned, weirdly, and Salt Bae-less) and the ribeye, which came with Bae.
His arrival is like lightning. An attendant follows him around the restaurant holding his Maldon salt, and Gökçe carries his own knife. Wordless, he arrives, quickly slicing the ribeye into thin, fatty strips and grabbing a small handful of salt to scatter all over your table. I barely had time to snap a photo. The ribeye was fine, juicy and well-seasoned. The lokum was meh, especially at $70 a pop. But in that brief moment Gökçe graces your table, you forget the price tag and realize you’ve made it into the meme—and it’s glorious.
You wonder, though, how the restaurant will fare when Gökçe needs to tend to the other locations of Nusr-Et Steakhouse. (He’s opening a branch in London this year.) That’s where my dinner pivoted even more into art happening territory. The Nusr salad, a droopy mix of mesclun, goat cheese, walnuts and raisins, gets a musical prelude with the waiter clanging the salad tongs against the ceramic bowl. The baklava, which wasn’t bad at all, is sliced in half the Salt Bae way and sticky Turkish ice cream is smashed somewhat stylistically in the middle to form some kind of baklava ice cream sandwich. The Voss bottled water—no tap here. Seriously—was consistently poured with tea ceremony regale. The sad matchstick fries, however came with no such show.
After I socialized my experience like everyone is required to do here—hashtags headline each page of the menu to remind you—people asked me if the meat was good. It’s not—especially when a meal for two totals nearly $375. But honestly, that’s not the point of Nusr-Et Steakhouse. That would be like saying you go to Hooter’s for the wings.
You’re here for the spectacle of Salt Bae, the thrill of being pulled into his orbit for a few seconds and the pride in telling everyone you got in. Maybe the food doesn’t deliver, but the restaurant delivers on that blockbuster experience.