Barclay Prime

237 S. 18th Street
(215) 732-7560

It was opening night just last year, a glorious October evening on Rittenhouse Square.

“May I offer you folks a celebratory glass of champagne?” asks a waiter with his first words. We, as offerees, accept. Later, our check includes a $20 charge per flute.

Since its debut, the restaurant’s neon name has added a glow to an otherwise bland building’s façade. Inside, moreover, is a spectacular lime “library chic” made perimeter-pensive by pervasive collections of glossy books.

Huge crystal chandeliers from the original hotel ceiling are usually kept dim, but a low glass-cradled candle on your marble dining table provides flickering luminary acumen. The chairs are huge, leathery and soft-bottomed for comfort, but one has an initial “sinking feeling” in one’s stomach as said belly plummets well below the surface of the aforementioned candle and table.

I’m not going to kid you about the noise. If you’re over 40 in either age or I.Q., I don’t think you’ll take calmly to it. The sounds make “thinking” an afterthought. Trendy, loud, pounding and brassy intertangle with hard-beat, Western and Sci-Fi cacophony. But I’m an older member of the Bar, and therefore younger attorneys could state an objection that what I say about music must be taken with a crane of salt.

The menu is extensive. Only the most edacious and most prosperous could survive a complex meal including, inter alia, drinks, appetizers, sides and sauces.

Make things simple for yourself, and only relatively costly. For two, order the Gachot & Gachot 20 ounce, 21-day aged Rib-Eye “medium” ($44), and the 12 ounce filet mignon “medium rare” ($38), with sides of whipped potatoes ($9) and a Caesar Salad ($10), all to be served together. The “sides” are super-family sized and should be shared.

I prefer beer here (served elegantly in tall Pilsner glasses) at about $6 per bottle. The prices for wine will astound you. There is no nickel and diming. This is outright “winedentity theft.” Beer is a humble, but fine beverage for what’s to come.

Forego all sauces ($3 per tub), as they detract. Let me reiterate. The best of all meals at this steakhouse is unadorned “meat and potatoes” with a side of Caesar.

Just prior to claiming your steak, your waiter allows you to stake your claim on a choice of knives. The gimmicky routine seems to be a game to allow bonding between a patron and the staff. Needless... there’s no defending befriending when what is required from a tuxedo shirted waitperson is inconspicuous expert service and perpetual attentiveness. Since my first visit, the staff is less glib and more graciously gallant.

The Filet Mignon is heavy, nearly three inches high at its middle, and four inches long. Its edges are medium done, and not as juicy as more center-slivers. That’s why if you prefer a very pink coloration from tip to top, this cut must be ordered “medium rare.” Its quality brings genuine satin chunks of beef, whose tenderness is paramount. Forkfuls of mashed potatoes add light fluffy flurries to one’s tongue, while garlic from the salad’s soaked crunchy lettuce and croutons culminates in superb, breathlessly aromatic swallows. Beer-bathe your palate and start anew.

The Rib Eye is even more fabulous than the Filet. It’s presented on a large white plate, lying flat, almost undulating in its steaminess. It’s of even height throughout its wide, rectangular appearance. A serrated knife needs no pressure to sever a chunk of sunrise-colored silky loin ready to ooze exquisitely flavorful natural juices. Cut another hunk larger than the first, to engulf your mouth. The steak slowly dissolves, melting within your cheeks. Neither jaws nor teeth have hardly moved.

I could bloviate about Barclay Prime’s bovine at length. These cows’ parts jump over the moon.

Senescence usually requires a restroom stop before departing for home. This restaurant’s restroom is all-in-one-unisex, a large frame-mirrored room with doors lined up alternatively marked “M” or “W,” leading to rooms the size of a narrow stall shower. It’s occasionally disarmingly noisy. “The-girl-next-door” takes on a rather uncomfortable new meaning. Looking at someone of the opposite sex then wash his or her hands in the communal wash-basin area afterwards seems too “liberal-college-dorm-roomy” for me.

Barclay Prime is Stephen Starr’s 13th adventurous endeavor in Philadelphia. Each eatery has indelible personality of which you may or may not be enamored. Here, focus your sights with rib eyes, and wish upon a Starr.


Copyright 2005 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back