By Rory Winston
It seems almost sacrilegious to settle for terms like ‘surf and turf’ when referring to the non-plus ultra in steak and seafood fare. Distinguished establishments like Benjamin Steakhouse and its illustrious spinoff, The Sea Fire Grill, have earned culinary reputations the likes of which are usually reserved for haut cuisine. This is in no small part due to the caliber of their respective chefs, Arturo McLeod and Ted Pryor – the first of whom is a scion of the Luger dynasty and the latter of whom attended the renowned École Ritz Escoffier prior to being catapulted from executive chef at other well-known, New York City establishments to the Sea Fire Grill.
To fully fathom the vision behind each restaurant, think: ‘The Benjamin Boys’ – a feature film starring McLeod and Pryor. For both chefs, this is a blockbuster sequel. Split Screen: McLeod, a man with a wide smile, sits holding court. He is ensconced within a leather upholstered oak paneled world; Sinatra heard crooning. Screen Left: Pryor treads across the ivory tiled floor of a more contemporary set, fillet knife in hand. Soft blue lights wash over the mirrors.
“The best cuts are those with marbling,” says Arturo preparing a New York Strip while eying the Rib eye. “Fat factors into the tenderness and juiciness. 3 minutes on a hot grill for each side is perfection. Those with a ‘reputation at steak’ (sic), we go to the meat markets ourselves. I dry-age all six cuts right here.” His large hand continues to stir a spinach roux.
Pryor prepares Yellow Fin Tuna with Sesame Soy Vinaigrette and Baby Bok Choy. “Quality is no mystery,” he says: “It’s all about how we source our fish. We have 10 different companies scouring the markets to find the freshest seafood. Then, it’s mostly about searing at a high heat. I recommend Tuna to be eaten rare; with most others medium or just undercooked.” Pryor sets some prepared asparagus with Buerre Blanc alongside the East Coast Halibut and says, “Yeah, it’s a popular dish.”
McLeod gives way to a laugh, “What’s our most popular dish? Our sizzling Porterhouse – it combines both filet and sirloin and can be served for parties of two and up. It’s a Benjamin classic.”
Cut to: Sumptuous Lobster Bisque, varied oysters, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Pan Roasted Scallops, Alaskan King Crab Legs, and Organic Scottish Salmon.
“As far as non-seafood goes,” says Pryor, “I’d have to say my favorite dish is our Colorado Lamb Chops. In terms of steak, it’d have to be NY Strip.”
“Of course, I enjoy fish,” admits McLeod. “Chilean Sea Bass served with our creamless (sic) cream spinach is my number one choice. Earlier you asked about changes to the menu… As far as that goes, most nuances are the result of seasonal flexibility. Keep it fresh; keep it solid.”
Pryor enthusiastically chimes in, “I’m looking forward to Wild Black Sea Bass as it heads back up our coast.” The right half of the screen is filled with close-ups of customers. “We’ll be pairing it with heirloom tomatoes and sweet bi-colored corn,” continues Pryor as he prepares Cornmeal Crusted Calamari. Both sides of the screen are now entirely filled with the respective diners of each venue. Over the hubbub, McLeod’s voice resumes, “It’s the energy – the energy that’s exciting. The energy in the kitchen as my amazing staff pulls together for prime time and seamlessly pulls off a perfect meal. Lunch, dinner, day in day out, the rush, we’re always on our toes. It’s challenging, but very rewarding.” Close ups of satisfied faces, as McLeod’s voice crossfades with Pryor’s, “Oh it’s tough alright. Modern chefs have to wear lots of hats beside the toque. There’s PR, kitchen maintenance, delegating… the one thing that doesn’t change, however, is cooking what you love and sharing the experience.”
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