NUSR-ET. That’s what this is blog is about: An experience I found to be fascinating, fun, a little weird – and loaded with “high camp” – at a restaurant called… Nusr-Et.
Some back story: Nusret Gokce is a Turkish chef who opened an eponymous steakhouse in Istanbul in 2010. He has since grown his empire to eleven restaurants in locations ranging from Ankara and Istanbul…to Dubai and Abu Dhabi…then Miami (on Brickell Avenue), and now New York, on the ground floor of “Blackrock,” former home of China Grill, at 60 W. 53rd Street.
When Joanne and I were in Miami in January, we noticed that a placed called Nusr-Et was getting a lot of buzz. So of course we had to go.
We were welcomed at the front door by a bevy – yes, a bevy – of beautiful hostesses who, while pleasant, cheerful and earnest, seemed to be hopelessly disorganized.
We were shown to an immense dining room, but because it was such a beautiful evening, we chose to eat outside on the palm tree-loaded, sultry, tropically-flavored “front porch.” This proved to be a brilliant choice for a couple of geezers like ourselves because, as the night wore on, the noise in the dining room became deafening….BOOMPA, BOOMPA, BOOMPA!
No problem, though, because the volume level outside presented no problems. By the way, if you choose to eat on patio, request table 305, 306 or 307 – all four-tops, and all-set a respectable distance apart. You’ll be pleased.
This place is ALL ABOUT STEAK. And lest you forget, the see-in meat locker and fully loaded meat case in front of the kitchen are there to remind you. If you’re ordering fish or chicken, clearly you don’t understand why you are here.
The first clue that something was amiss came when our server approached the table and asked if we’d like water. I ordered, “Miami’s finest tap water, please.” I was then informed that Nusr-Et does not serve tap water – only VOSS at a whopping $9 a bottle.
Joanne said, “Hmmmmmm.”
(And I almost said, “F*** You!” for forcing me to pay for water)
I was told that we MUST try the Meat Sushi for an appetizer. My curiosity trumping my better judgment, we took our waiter’s advice. It wasn’t very good. BUT WHAT A PRODUCTION.
A cart was ceremoniously wheeled tableside and out came the blowtorch to put a sear on Paper-thin slices of beef wrapped around sushi rice, plated with avocado cream and shoestring potatoes for $20. There’s a reason why sushi is seafood-centric.
Salad was next, and we shared the Nusret Special Salad – which was good. It featured greens, walnuts, goat cheese, black raisins and pomegranate molasses. Good thing we shared, though, because all salads are $25 each!!
And then…..HE APPEARED!!!
NUSRET HIMSELF….in his snug white t-shirt, gold chain, round mirrored sunglasses and a jet-black pony tail. But…he is no longer Nusret Gokce. He has become….
SALT BAE!! SALT BAE, THE SALT SLINGER!
Maybe you’re familiar with the Youtube clips of him. If not, I’ll explain in a second.
I learned that initially he was a butcher in Istanbul. But now his sole purpose seems to be to travel from table to table, carving and slapping the house signature Mustard Marinated Grilled Rib Eye (called “THE OTTOMAN”) which, as part of his final tableside act, he very SLOWLY and SENSUALLY SALTS by letting the flakes trickle down his forearm and finally flicking a blizzard of white crystals at (but not always hitting) the Rib Eye on the table.
Then, without uttering a word, SALT BAE LEAVES.
SALT BAE. I got the “salt” part, but I wasn’t sure about “bae.” Well, apparently the “bae” is a slang expression for “sweetheart” or “babe.” So I guess he’s “SALT BABE.”
What can I say? This guy is absolutely “chock full” of himself. He’s a put-on. He’s an actor (and it is ALL an act). He’s a consummate showman. And he’s AMUSING AS HELL. This guy knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.
As The Eater said, “He’s like watching a “cheezy movie.” Yes, he’s THAT GOOD. And he has gone viral, racking up millions upon millions of views on various platforms, becoming a full-fledged MEME that people just feel COMPELLED to share with one another.
And all the guy’s doing is flicking salt.
Check him out. He loves to pose for photos with the guests – frequently with macho steak-eating men, but more often with pretty girls. And he never, ever smiles.
Now, Nusr-Et reportedly has a great hamburger. It better be. It’s $30.
The $15 mashed potatoes, however, were not so hot. But then again, as Pete Wells wrote in the New York Times, “He’s not SPUD BAE.” The Pistachio Baklava served tableside is really good (considering his Turkish pedigree and the $15/slice price, it should be). Joanne and I finished up with a deep, thick Turkish coffee…also good.
A couple of things to stress. Nusr-Et is really expensive. The New York Post critic, Steve Cuozzo, recently called Nusr-Et’s NYC outpost “public rip-off #1.” And yet…and yet…”People still flock to see SALT BAE in action.”
Expect to pay at least $125 per person, without wine.
So here’s my take on Nusr-Et. As Robert Sietsema of The Eater wrote, “If you are viewing Nusr-Et as a steakhouse, you’ll probably be disappointed.” The steaks are not the quality of Peter Luger’s…or Manny’s…or St. Elmo’s. Maybe that’s why “The Ottoman” rib eye is marinated in mustard. “If, on the other hand, you appraise the place as ‘dinner theater,’ you’ll probably find it quite satisfying…BUT ONLY IF SALT BAE IS IN THE HOUSE.”
At our dinner in Miami, SALT BAE was in the house, just not at our table. Our tableside carver was pleasant enough and competent enough, but I guess I wasn’t pretty or macho enough to merit a visit. I wish we’d gotten one, though!
Not even Donald or Bernie can fill his shoes.