A Successful Formula, Down to the T-Bone

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A Successful Formula, Down to the T-Bone
NY Times
12/10/06
A Successful Formula, Down to the T-Bone
By DAVID CORCORAN
AMONG the artifacts to be found on a tour of Roots Steakhouse in Summit is a set of posters from the
original Roots, an upscale clothing store that occupied the building for many years. One poster shows a
Theodore Roosevelt look-alike in a “one-button cutaway frock for corpulent men.” That image should put
you in the right frame of mind for a meal at Roots, a four-month-old restaurant that is a perfect fit for its
prosperous hometown.
Roots is the first steakhouse in the thriving empire called Harvest Restaurants, founded a decade ago by
Chip Grabowski and Bob Moore of Summit. (Their first venture was the Trap Rock Restaurant and Brewery in
Berkeley Heights; more recent, equally popular outposts include Huntley Taverne in Summit and 3 West in
Basking Ridge.) Harvest’s well-honed formula for success is in full force at Roots.
It begins with the designer, Morris Nathanson, who has a talent for opulent gents’-club settings. It continues
with the executive chef, Bruce Johnson, who cooks in a stylish, crowd-pleasing New American idiom. It
includes an expertly choreographed cast of servers. And at this new restaurant, it adds steak. What’s not to
like?
A few inconsistencies in the kitchen, perhaps a result of Roots’s tender age, keep it from a higher rating.
But if you have an evening (and about $100 a person) to invest, you are unlikely to go home disappointed.
Let’s get those inconsistencies out of the way, so we can bask in the flattering glow of Roots’s bronze
hanging lamps and the welcoming shadow of its capacious, mahogany-beamed bar.
An appetizer called Kobe sliders, a special on both our visits, deserves a swift retirement. A slider is a White
Castle-style mini-burger — a thin patty of bland ground beef on a blander white-flour bun. No problem if
you’re paying a dollar, dredging the thing in ketchup and wolfing it down in your car; preposterous if you’re
paying $19.95 for three and trying to divine the ineffable Kobe-ness of the meat. When it’s a quarter-inch
thick and grilled medium-well, who can tell what kind of beef it is?
And two seafood entrees didn’t come close to the promise of the surroundings. Halibut was seriously
over-salted, and grilled rare ahi tuna with mixed greens and mango salsa was ordinary in every way.
Seafood appetizers, however, were on the money, especially an herbed lobster stew and a plate of crunchy
fried oysters. Salads like the red and golden beets, and the mozzarella with grape tomatoes and basil pesto,
were executed with panache.
But you didn’t really come here for salad and seafood, did you? Mr. Johnson modestly says he is still learning
to cook steak, but I’d say he has earned his doctorate. He gets superb cuts of beef from the supplier J. Vrola
and grills them under an 1800-degree broiler to produce crackling, brown-black hunks of New York strip
and T-bone and filet. They yield under your knife to expose voluptuous red interiors flowing with savory
juices.
Be sure to enlist a compatriot to share the 40-ounce prime porterhouse for two. It comes to your table
carved, in a stunning, theatrical production: a towering bloody bone surrounded by thick red slices of strip
steak and filet. My fellow carnivore and I polished off the entire platter.
This being a steakhouse, the meats come unadorned, and you’ll want to opt for a couple of sides —
especially the browned and buttery spaetzle; the fine, crisp French fries, or the obligatory creamed spinach.
(Spinach with garlic was oddly short on flavor, and onion rings were a grave disappointment, doughy and
undercooked.)
Desserts are beautifully turned out, from an apple crisp with wondrous maple-ginger-snap ice cream
to a porterhouse-size slab of carrot cake. One member of our group asked for an after-dinner drink, the
sumptuous Inniskillin ice wine from Canada; our server brought us four glasses, on the house. It was the
openhanded gesture of an establishment that may be in its infancy but already knows just what it’s doing.
>> Roots Steakhouse <<
401 Springfield Avenue, Summit (908) 273-0027 www.rootssteakhouse.com
THE SPACE A lovingly renovated former bank and clothing store with 95 seats (and 16 at the bar).
Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Casual but well-heeled couples and foursomes. THE STAFF Cordial and attentive.
THE BAR A gorgeous, spacious construction of mirrors, mahogany and high-end bottles.
The wine list is long, well balanced and fairly priced.
THE BILL Lunch entrees, $10.95 to $19.95. Dinner entrees, $26.95 to $40. All major credit cards.
WHAT WE LIKE Mozzarella salad, beet salad, lobster stew, crispy oysters; all steaks; apple crisp,
carrot cake, ice creams and sorbets.
IF YOU GO Open daily. Lunch: Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday to Thursday,
5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended
(necessary on Friday and Saturday). On-street parking can be hard to find; try the municipal lots
on side streets.