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Monday, July 2, 2012

Peachy Picks Sparks Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

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Everyone who is anyone knows Sparks, and we are absolutely thrilled to finally announce it totally trumped most dinner reviews and is the latest and greatest entry in Peachy's Picks! We were really looking forward to working with this temple of carinvorism.  Since 1966 which is quite pre-Peachy, Sparks has been exemplifying excellence in fine dining.  It was created by Pat and Mike Cetta.  We love how they are also enthusiasts of older family pictures (see Deegan girls to the right...)

There are a lot of well-known restaurants in Manhattan that have worldwide reputations, however, not all of them live up to all that they are known to be, and you know we never write if we don't have a positive experience.  Some that have been winners in the past have grown tired and old and stodgy, but Sparks today is so relevant.  What you should know about Sparks is that they are all that you have heard, and even more.  Every culinary pursuit of theirs that we tried was tops, and our only wish would have been that we had the good fortune to meet one of the Cettas, however, maybe another time!  The Cetta family created this winner, first detailed in Tasty Tidbits:

We look forward to their August 25th birthday!  It has been at its current location, at 210 East 46th Street since 1977.  As an entree, Peachy Deegan tried the Prime Sirloin Steak, shown in a close-up above, that we hope spurs you on to ring up Sparks to make your dinner reservation promptly!  A note for all of our Eagle readers-we even met another BC grad at the bar (shocking that Peachy does not know all of them in Manhattan still!) which furthers our positive opinion of the quality of people that frequent Sparks.
All of the staff that we encountered from the office to the table did a fantastic job, but all credit goes to the Cetta family, who of course created Sparks and intelligently hired them all.  At the suggestion of Sparks, we began with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to get the juices flowing, along with some phenomenal seafood.  You should know that Sparks is much more than a steakhouse.  It is a singular sensation enterprise that boasts a diverse menu and caters to a crowd that is not only corporate (Peachy has been to Sparks before in her Wall Street days) but also has a strong presence in family gatherings and dates, we saw.  Terribly social, it is clearly one of the best spots to be seen in Manhattan.
The best place for fine crab to be seen is in Peachy's stomach.  The queen of crabbiness could not resist the hot appetizer: lump crab meat and bay scallops!
Close up, it entices your tastebuds even more:
It arrived at an ideal temperature and the scallops were delicate and a superb size.  The freshness of this dish was incomparable and the lumpiness of the crab was perfect.  If you are going to Sparks, Peachy Deegan believes this is the appetizer of the summer!

Sparks believed we should try the Shrimp Cocktail, which furthered our belief that their seafood is among the freshest!  A total classic, this Shrimp Cocktail continued to ignite our appetite that was in the heaven that is spelled S-P-A-R-K-S.  Note how beautiful the presentation is as well.

Peachy is not a cocktail sauce enthusiast, so the fact that she ate the shrimp cocktail sans sauce confirmed the quality of these babies!  So juicy, so delicious, so flawless is the shrimp cocktail!
A terrific balancing act to any great steak is a salad.  In over 150 dinner reviews in Peachy's Picks, we've seen salads that were too simple, salads that are way too overdone with ridiculous components, salads that aren't fresh enough, and salads with too much dressing, affirms Goldilocks Peachy.  She is looking for the salad that is just right, even if she needs to sneak into the house of the three bears.  And in this age of obesity (we support you, Mayor Bloomberg!) and disease caused by imbalance and lack of moderation, a salad is a total must at dinnertime.  When you go to Sparks, you can be assured that the salad is not only fresh, not only creative, not only smartly served with dressing on the side, but it can also be bespoke.  This specific salad created for Peachy was half of the Cold Asparagus salad and half of the Sliced Tomato and Onion salad-we suggest you try this as well.  
Of course, as it is a STEAKHOUSE, Sparks's piece de resistance is the Prime Sirloin Steak: a boneless shell steak from premium steers.  It was grilled to perfection-medium, just as Peachy requested.  Every bite was pure crowning glory meriting our highest praise.  A beautiful cut, a beautiful flavor, a beautiful dinner is what is quintessential Sparks.   Obviously, Peachy was too busy with the steak to hold the camera still...

It is also of crucial importance to understand how fantastic the wine list is as well.  From Sterling Vineyards to Justin, the wine we sipped with our entree ideally accompanied the meal.  They must have been reading as well as Cabernet is Peachy's favorite American wine.  We were absolutely thrilled to see the strong American representation on the wine list as you know we are devoted to finding excellent American brands.
The side dishes lived up to every expectation as well.  Certainly you would want them to be of equal caliber to the meat and seafood, and they were.  Sparks is known for their Hash Brown Potatoes:
Their sauteed mushrooms:

And their sauteed spinach:
This was akin to the Holy Trinity of Vegetables and Peachy particularly found the Spinach to be commendable.  Most other places serve only creamed spinach, but this sauteed spinach in garlic was so to-die-for and so much better for you as well.  For Peachy, you know there is no such thing as too much garlic, so she probably would have added even more.  Normally we wouldn't use the word creative at a steakhouse-as steakhouses are quite straightforward, however, these mushrooms were a creative addition to our meal.  Peachy cannot remember a time where they were highlighted as a side at a premium steakhouse, and every bite of them confirmed that they should be!  Just fantastic.  The mushrooms were delicately delicious and as you know Peachy is Irish, she found the potatoes to be Celtic-approved and wonderfully crispy.

The grand finale?  In summer you cannot beat the Mixed Berries a la Mode!  They go for the gold with not one or two but count four different types of berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries!  Swimming in a decadent vanilla ice cream, these are the perfect ending to a phenomenal experience.  Jump in!

Our esteemed panelist adds:

I have always felt that a steakhouse faces a greater challenge in "wowing" the 
diner than a restaurant of a specific culture, due to the nature of the cuisine. With no professional training 
whatsoever, most of us have had the pleasure of taking a superior cut of beef, 
combined with a well heated outdoor grill, and churning out a steak that is as 
mouthwatering as any you will taste. The same is not true for a perfect osso 
bucco or a seafood risotto. Likewise, the basic salads (e.g. sliced tomato and 
onion), rudimentary sides (baked potato, sauteed spinach, asparagus) typically 
don't involve exotic sauces or creative new interpretations.  
So how does a steakhouse meet the challenge? 
First, it creates a dining experience which is clearly distinct from donning 
a bar-be-cue apron and hitting the grill in 90 degree weather. The steakhouse 
must bring together the finest and freshest components, and orchestrate the 
timing and delivery of the courses. Of 
course, the service needs to shine from beginning to end. 

Second - meat temperatures must be spot-on. This is non-negotiable. There is 
nothing more frustrating than receiving your beef entree only to find it is 
not cooked to your stated preference. Faced with the wait for the 
"replacement" while everyone goes on with their meal - I have often just 
decided to accept the error - chalk it up to "you can't win 'em all" - and k
eep away in the future.  
Third, it must stray just far enough off the "meat and potatoes" highway to 
get interesting without being overly cute or pretentious. 
Finally, a good steakhouse and a substantial wine list are inseparable. 
Sparks Steakhouse proved up to the challenge - and then some.

I chose to start with a lump crabmeat cocktail. Although there is little 
culinary legerdemain involved in serving a crabmeat cocktail, it reveals some 
basic qualities - or lack thereof - in a very straightforward manner. The 
crabmeat was fresh-tasting and exhibited perfect firmness and texture. No 
sogginess or staleness to be found. It was notable that in the course of 
consuming a very healthy portion of lump crabmeat I did not encounter a piece 
of shell. No small feat. In addition, you can tell that the kitchen 
is there to suit your specific tastes - not impose theirs - by the 
presentation of cocktail sauce with horseradish and lemon on the side. I can't 
say how often I have been served a crabmeat cocktail with a premade sauce, 
requiring me to "wait" while the necessary (in my estimation) additional 
horseradish makes its way to the table. Often after everyone else has finished 
their appetizer.  
The tomato and onion salad which ensued, coupled with the cold asparagus 
stayed on track. The tomato was just right (not too seedy - I know it sounds 
overly analytical - but how much can you say about a tomato) and the crumbled 
blue cheese (on the side - again letting me control some aspects of my dining) 
made for a perfect classic steakhouse opener. Asparagus was fresh and firm 
with just a hint of dressing which allowed the flavor to shine.

I resisted the temptation to go with the "signature" prime sirloin steak (see 
earlier comment), and instead chose the Beef Scaloppini. This was essentially a 
wonderful filet mignon sliced about 3/4 inch thick and topped with a delicious 
pepper and mushroom sauce in a wine base - not my typical backyard cookout 
fare). The request for medium-rare was executed to perfection. There were 
ample seafood options which all looked fabulous, but I was in full-fledged 
carnivore mode this particular evening. 
The shared sides did not disappoint either. The highlight for me were the
hashed brown potatoes which were finally prepared just the way I like them - 
very well done so they achieve a wonderful crunchy texture. If I had any 
complaint at all, it was that the sauteed spinach was far too timid in the 
garlic department.  
When it came time for dessert, my heart said Walnut Pecan Pie, but my stomach 
and head said fresh berries topped with home made whipped cream. Again, simple 
but delicious - the emphasis on the quality of the ingredients. While the 
dessert menu boasted a healthy selection of dessert wines and single malt 
scotch whiskeys (both weaknesses of mine), my 90 minute drive precluded me 
from indulging - but it was nice to know that they were there if the 
circumstances had been different.

Finally, without turning this into a wine review, I was impressed with the 
wine list on several counts. For one thing, it offered a very wide range of regions 
and properties without being overwhelming (a seventy-five page wine list is an 
entertaining read for me, but my fellow diners are more likely to want to "get 
on with it" ). For example - the selection of ten fine brunellos is really more 
than adequate. The bordeaux were broken down by vintage allowing you to 
easily peruse your options for a given year. Some very high quality 2nd and 
3rd growths allowed you to sample some fine vintages without breaking the bank 
(for example a 2005 Beycheville St. Julien for just under $200). I found the 
prices to be reasonable without so many of the "triple" markups I have often 
seen on steakhouse wine lists. I could go on and on about other regions (they 
really have California incredibly well represented) or the half bottle and 
large format options. But I will leave you with this notable item that caught 
my eye - a 1967 D'Yquem magnun - yes MAGNUM!! - now that would have to one large group!!!).  
In short - I found Sparks to have no problem making sure that the steak 
matched the sizzle! 

Peachy Picks Sparks!

Sparks is Highly Recommended by Whom You Know.

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