If only I were an animagus from the world of Harry Potter. I’d transform into a mouse and crawl into a sparkly clutch bag that some young woman places on the bar at STK. From this vantage point, I’d watch as her girlfriends arrived, all wearing flowing crepe mini-dresses and high-wedge sandals. They would gather for a round of libations called “Not Your Daddy’s Manhattan” ($14), the mix of bourbon and vermouth turned Cosmo-sweet with the addition of fruity Licor 43.
From my hiding place, I’d follow them as they trailed behind a tall manager wearing a fitted suit and a Secret Service-style listening device coiling to his ear. He’d usher us past a wall mural composed of scores of plaster steer horns to a scalloped white leatherette booth in the dining room. All eyes would turn.
The ladies would order a second round of cocktails and shrimp rice krispies ($14) — a clever assemblage of fat prawns and undulating puffed shrimp wafers. The waiter would pour rich, silky shrimp bisque atop it, and the crackers would crackle like cereal. What fun. More cocktails!
Peeking out of the purse, I would espy the bopping head of the DJ in his booth. Is he really spinning “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc.? Indeed, he is. It’s all ’80s all the time here. Maybe the ladies will — like so many before them — climb the steps to the central raised platform ringed by booths and start dancing. Maybe they’ll do the Bump. People did the Bump in the ’80s, right?
STK advertises itself with an image of a leggy woman in red stiletto heels carrying a raw ribeye on a meat hook as if it were a Kate Spade bag. Its tag line is “Not Your Daddy’s Steakhouse.” Based out of New York, it has branches in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and here. The steaks themselves will come in junior miss sizes if desired and the “waistline conscious” menu features loads of salad and light entrees.
What exactly is STK? A steak house for young women and the guys who want to ogle them? A restaurant straining to morph into a nightclub? A celeb hangout for the new Hollywood of the South?
All of the above, and I have to say: It sure feels right for the moment. Set as it is in the heart of the glassy new curve of Peachtree Street that we call the Midtown Mile, it not only gives the city center a venue for NeNe Leakes and Matty Ice sightings, it fills a niche. STK is really a cannily updated supper club with a good-natured sense of glamour. You can come here for dinner and dancing, whether you actually remember the ’80s or not.
The menu has a kind of corporate-honed contemporary edge that slices into the he-man ethos of most other steak houses. The cuts of beef come in three sizes (like Starbucks lattes), and they can be goosed with all manner of sauces and toppings. Clever sides, raw-bar offerings and tricked-out entrees that seem straight from an Asian fusion restaurant round things out.
In two visits, I’ve found it mostly competent, sometimes surprisingly good, and sometimes surprisingly off. Prices do add up to the point that a not-very-drinky dinner for two with tip hits $200. Your reaction to that figure (and to the prospect of a night of INXS and Duran Duran) will tell you whether this restaurant is worth it for you.
What should you order? Well . . . steak. The 16-ounce sirloin ($42) from the list of medium-sized cuts has a salty, crunchy sear and comes at a spot-on medium temperature. It had been well-rested. An add-on of truffle butter ($10) features plenty of actual black truffle bits, almost justifying the steep price. A 6-ounce filet ($27) cooked to a fine medium-rare satisfies the waistline-conscious member of my party. Of all the toppings (Oscar garnishes, foie gras, lobster) and sauces (chimichurri, blue butter) she opts for the house STK sauce, which has the sweet, pickley tang of British HP Sauce.
Clever sides (all $8) range from terrific chunks of roasted salsify (like the love child of artichoke and parsnip) to wild mushroom pot pie (in a cream sauce under a tender pastry lid) to forgettable creamed spinach.
This quality steak house fare makes me want to better explore the surprisingly varied and affordable wine list. (The paltry wines-by-the-glass program needs work.)
Appetizers, apart from the trippy fun of those shrimp rice krispies, haven’t much moved me. The signature iced seafood platter ($20 per person) looks smashing but shouldn’t worry the folks at Oceanaire across the street. The two of us share three oysters, a well-cleaned but flavorless mini-lobster, two small lengths of king crab and a whole lot of pickled shrimp. The chill and vinegar conspire to toughen the shrimp and bring out its iodine notes. Shredded pear and endive tossed with arugula and blue cheese crumbles ($11) is fine.
So how does this kitchen do when it actually cooks something more complicated than a steak?
I’m not sure yet. A braised beef short rib ($28) with a swipe of carrot butterscotch purée has got it all — the fork tenderness, the rendered-out fat, the sticky edges, the deep flavor that earns its sweet accent of sauce.
But a special of sea scallops ($38) with paddlefish caviar that arrives in art-school splotches of beet purée on an enormous square plate is all out of whack — everything we fear in trendy food. Too sweet, too salty. The scallops aren’t those meaty diver ones but those jiggly ones that need a coating of flour to get any kind of browning. And — gulp — they’re $38.
So here I am, sitting in a cute little booth for two, paying close attention to my food, and coming to the conclusion that it is more promising than you’d expect from the club-like vibe, but more inconsistent than it should be.
But I want to turn back into a mouse.
I want to crawl back into that purse and be there when the party comes back from dancing and pulls out gift bags, because they’re here to celebrate a birthday. And, look, there’s real birthday cake ($8) on the menu! Rosettes of pink icing. Swirls of chocolate.
They love STK. There’s no place in Atlanta quite like it.STK