This is by no means a new restaurant. Owned by chef Travis Masiero, who first opened Spruce, it was his intention to channel the vibe of a classic American oyster bar. To be honest, although we’d read rave reviews and heard very good things about the place and the food, the prices put us off. I was hesitant to pay $80 for a steak or $75 for a veal or lamb chop, at what I assumed was a fairly casual, almost diner-style place.
They have some slightly more affordable offerings at lunch time though, so we decided to check them out. The ambience completely threw me off. I expected simple wooden tables and jovial staff, but instead the waiters were formally dressed in bowties and waistcoats, and the tables were covered with starched linens.
To start with, we were given mini corn bread muffins with paprika-spiked butter. These were pretty yummy, but crumbled so easily that the wooden paddle that they provided was of no use at all. I ended up just using my regular knife, but I’m just wondering – if that paddle doesn’t really work, why give it to us?
We tried their Caesar Salad, which costs $24 without fried oysters and $27 with 3 deep fried oysters. Quite a no brainer then. I liked the Caesar dressing, and the oysters were very fresh despite being deep fried, but I didn’t like the very hard croutons.
There was an item called MFK Fisher’s Oyster Pan Roast, with sea urchin toast, smoked paprika and bottarga. That description alone was enough to make me order it. The waitress told me it was an oyster stew, but I was still surprised to find that it was actually more like a thin soup, not even the consistency of chowder. It had an intense briny flavor, and the oysters in there were very fresh, but I was very disappointed with the toast. All I tasted was bread and paprika, with no hint of either sea urchin or bottarga. At least they were nice enough to split it into 2 mini Staub cocottes for us.
The lobster roll is only available at lunch time, which was one of the reasons we decided to try this place for lunch. Again they split it for us, which made it much easier to share. I’m not sure if they gave us more salad and fries because they split it, but there was an inordinately large amount of both. The lobster roll was good – the lobster was nicely cooked and the roll was really soft and buttery, but was it worth $45? I have my doubts.
I thought portion sizes would’ve been bigger, so we ended up ordering a half dozen oysters to round off our meal. These are definitely their forte. The oysters were extremely fresh and very well shucked – one slurp and you got a mouthful of oyster, vinaigrette and all of the wonderful oyster liquor.
It’s probably unfair that we came here the day after a fabulous meal at Esquina. Comparisons are inevitable, and there’s no question that I’d rather go to Esquina. The prices at Luke’s are simply too prohibitive for me to really enjoy myself. $150 can get us a very satisfying meal at Esquina, whereas it only barely scratches the surface at Luke’s. I think to get a proper experience at Luke’s, you need to be prepared to spend a whole lot more than that.
Great food. Great service. But is it enough for me to spend so much? Probably not. Recommended only if you print money.
20 Gemmil Lane
Mon to Sat: 12 noon till late