Place Names: The Place
I am certain that the Four Seasons has or can afford high-paid consultants specializing in restaurant naming. Hence my disappointment with the brazenly insipid nomenclature a la “Aqua” and “Steaks.” The 4 Seasons did two things wrong here. I suppose naming a steak restaurant “Steaks” is a stab at being trendy, but restaurants, like indie rock bands (in prefacing any word with “The” as a band name), have something akin to a free rider problem in that they all want to cultivate a unique brand identity but also need some way to signal to the trend-crazed public that aligning their personal brand with said restaurant or indie rock band will mark them as hip or successful. But then these naming conventions become played out by constant (re)iteration, so restaurants aspiring to hipness have to think of a new gimmick. The current one in New York is to do something a little old-timey sounding. Stanton Social and Schiller’s Liquor Bar immediately comes to mind. I think this has to do with the fact that as white people move back into a neighborhood, in Brooklyn or LES or wherever, they attempt to reconnect with a time when the neighborhood was home to the white working class, fetishizing and sanitizing that past in order to forget the lived reality that most currently displaced-by-gentrification residents are minorities.
Exacerbating the broblem or perhaps ameliorating it, I’m not sure, is the fact that most steak houses strive to be the opposite of hip, instead seeking to maintain a clubby old-boy network atmosphere, a delicate balancing act because they must make real old boys comfortable but also serve as a sort of theme park where non-old boys and girls can pretend they are part of that rarefied world. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes they descend into self parody since real old boys have retreated behind taller walls as barriers to entry in some of their old hangouts have fallen. Thus one finds steak houses with family names (Morton’s, et al.) or even names of individuals (Peter Luger, which ups the machismo factor by sharing a name with a gun).
To sum up, naming their steak restaurant “Steaks” was an odd conceptual move on the 4 Seasons part, subverting the steakhouse naming narrative in one regard whilst simultaneously embracing an utterly conventional if archaic restaurant-naming practice. If I were a consultant I would advise the Four Seasons to follow Haagen-Dazs’ lead in just making up a venerable sounding name for their steakhouse. I believe that would be more consonant with the 4 Seasons corporate identity.
The general problem with eating steak in a halal (halal still shows up as misspelled on MS Word, btw) and/or kosher setting is that all blood is drained from the animal, rendering steaks and other animals whose flavor is in part dependent on blood-retention less savory than in other, less dietary-law abiding locales.
- Caesar Salad: “It was okay- there’s nothing special about it. Once you put some salt and pepper on it it was better. There were no anchovies. It was the best quality lettuce I’ve ever had in Egypt,” said Matt. (Interview conducted on 12/20/2008)
- French Onion Soup: Must love French onion soup. This was a competent version. It was too hot when it first came out so I let it sit for a couple minutes.
- Bread (served with beef confit): I thought the brown bread served with the meal a bit dry, and the beef confit they served in lieu of butter did not enjoy great ease of spreadability. Others liked the bread more than I did, however.
- Macaroni and Cheese with Truffle Oil: This was the standout side dish of the evening. It met universal acclaim.
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes: I make better mashed potatoes. More whipped than mashed, to the point that they could’ve been made from powder and we wouldn’t’ve been the wiser.
- Asparagus mit Sauce Béarnaise: The asparagus was slightly crunchier than I prefer, though very fresh, as were all the vegetables we sampled. The sauce was good, particularly when compared to the other sauces served with the steaks.
- Glazed Carrots: They tasted like fresh carrots.
- Pistachio-Encrusted Lamb Chops: “I ordered them medium-rare and they came medium rare which was very impressive. [ed.:???] You get four chops cut into two pieces. They were thick. They look small but were surprisingly filling. They’re served with a dollop of mashed potatoes which are not as good as the order of mashed potatoes. They were the best lamb chops I’ve had in Egypt but they were different than the lamb chops you get at Magharbil, so I just wanna make that distinction,” said Matt. (Interview conducted on 12/20/2008) (Editor’s Note: Egypt has a venerable lamb chop tradition. In fact they might be TBE’s favorite food here. Magharbil in Doqqi, whose fate remains unknown, (Editor’s addendum: This was written a long time ago. Where were you during the great Magharbil scare of late-2008?) is a fine example, as is the restaurant around the corner from the Townhouse Gallery (in the auto repair district of downtown. The chops served at these restaurants are much smaller than Steaks’ but have an amazing flavor nonetheless). I don’t think that restaurant has a name.)
- US Angus Rib Eye: The beef was presumably better than most beef to be found in these parts. It couldn’t measure up to steakhouses in non-halal locales, because draining the blood is inimical to optimal juiciness, as noted above. Steaks are available in different sizes, and US Prime Beef is also available, but is much more expensive. The steak was less marbled than I had hoped, and the fat sort of clung to the sides like on a cheap steak, rather than being integrated into the beef. The Prime presumably is better in this regard. It tasted like butter, so I think they braised it with butter. The sauces, of which I sampled wild mushroom and au poivre, were terrible, though the leftover béarnaise from the asparagus was nice.
- Australian Wagyu Rib Eye: This was the best steak on the table. It had a deep ruby red color that I could stare at all day, and the fat was better integrated than in the Angus rib eye.
- Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Chocolate Wafers: I had exceedingly high hopes for this, and they were dashed. The peanut butter ice cream had that ice crystallization I associate with freezer burn. The chocolate wafers did not taste like chocolate. In fact they tasted like communion wafers. Also there was some berry sauce slathered all over the dessert. My biggest dessert pet peeve is when restaurants add berry sauces not listed in the menu description.
The service was fine, except the table was quite large, necessitating two ashtrays. When they came to replace our ashtrays, they inexplicably took one away. Then we got it back, only to have it taken away in the next round of replacements.
The Four Seasons Nile Plaza is sooooo rachachay, yall. The décor is cheap-looking, in the restaurant and in general. The one in Giza is way nicer. If you want to stay downtown, go to the Semiramis or the Hyatt if you don’t drink, or go to Zamalek and stay at the Marriot.
I don’t think I’d go again unless I get rich. If you do plan to go, know these things: They let you bring your own alcohol if they do not serve that brand or type. We brought a bottle of wine that we drank with dinner. The corking fee is LE 250, a tad expensive but since drink prices are astronomical it’s probably worth it. They have an extensive liquor selection, though, so it might be hard to bring scotch or whatever. The side dishes are very small, about enough for two people to have 4-5 bites each. They are cheap, so order several.