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Peter Luger Used to Sizzle. Now It Sputters.

Although the fries are reasonably crisp, their insides are mealy and bland in a way that fresh-cut potatoes almost certainly would not be. The sole — yes, I’m the person who ordered the sole at Peter Luger — was strangely similar: The bread crumbs on top were gold and crunchy, but the fish underneath was dry and almost powdery.

Was the Caesar salad always so drippy, the croutons always straight out of a bag, the grated cheese always so white and rubbery? I know there was a time the German fried potatoes were brown and crunchy, because I eagerly ate them each time I went. Now they are mushy, dingy, gray and sometimes cold. I look forward to them the way I look forward to finding a new, irregularly shaped mole.

Lunch one afternoon vividly demonstrated the kitchen’s inconsistency: I ordered a burger, medium-rare, at the bar. So had the two people sitting to my right, it turned out. One of them got what we’d all asked for, a midnight-dark crust giving way to an evenly rosy interior so full of juices it looked like it was ready to cry. The other one got a patty that was almost completely brown inside. I got a weird hybrid, a burger whose interior shaded from nearly perfect on one side to gray and hard on the other.

The same issue afflicted a medium-rare porterhouse I was served one night: The fillet was ideal but the other side of the T-bone, the strip, ranged from medium-rare to medium-well. I could live with this; big cuts of meat don’t always cook evenly. What gnaws at me every time I eat a Luger porterhouse is the realization that it’s just another steak, and far from the best New York has to offer.

[Melissa Clark shows you how to cook a steak at home.]

Other restaurants, and not just steakhouses, can put a formidable crust on both sides of the cut; Luger caramelizes the top side only, while the underside is barely past raw, as if it had done all its cooking on the hot platter.

Other restaurants, and not just steakhouses, buy beef that is tender, richly marbled and deeply flavorful; at Luger, you get the first two but not the third.

Other restaurants, and not just steakhouses, age that beef to make flavor grow and intensify and double back on itself; dry-aging at Luger still results in a tender steak, but it rarely achieves a hypnotic or compelling or even very interesting one.

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