The weekend before opening his fifth restaurant, restaurateur John McDonald was having trouble sleeping — he was still searching out the perfect light bulbs to illuminate his Bowery Meat Company. On Thursday, the new dining outpost will open its doors in New York City, sitting at the crown of Houston Street in the growing culinary epicenter of NoLIta, NoHo and the East Village. As the name suggests, the focus of his newest venture is meat, with Manhattan’s classic steak house institutions as a guiding inspiration.
“Conceptually, what I do is somewhat selfish in terms of what I want for myself and how I eat and how I live,” McDonald explained from one of the restaurant’s spacious booths, still looking casual from an earlier workout. “I’ve always wanted to do an interpretation on a steak house without it being straight at it, like a [Peter] Luger or Wolfgang’s. I really wanted to create something here that was both physically and culinarily a little bit different.”
McDonald, echoing chef co-owner Josh Capon and executive chef Paul DiBari, was adamant about what the restaurant isn’t: another modern interpretation of a steak house. “The word steak house is a bad word because it immediately gives you a snap judgment. Whereas with meat company, it just hit us,” he said.
The menu reads like a concept mash-up, invoking a gamut of cuisines — including a raw bar section, appropriately culled from McDonald’s SoHo seafood hot spot, Lure Fish Bar. The top half of the menu is market-driven, playing vegetables into the meat theme — roasted cauliflower steak and zucchini carpaccio — but still leaves room for richer starters, such as BBQ pork belly and fois gras parfait.
“I want to go beyond the whole steak house thing with rib eye and New York strip. I want to do all sorts of meat,” said DiBari, who has known Capon since 1995. “You could eat here almost every single day and have a different experience.”
For their patrons seeking steak options, there are plenty, and served without the usual slathering of butter and condiments. The restaurant sources their 40-day aged hormone-free beef from Diamond Creek Ranch by way of superstar butcher Pat LaFrieda in New Jersey — in other words, they’re serving the 1 percent of the beef market.
“I just don’t think these rich, rich meats need to be finished with such excess of butter,” Capon contended. McDonald nodded knowingly. “Like anything, how you dress it and how you surround it is really what makes the difference.”
The restaurant itself is surrounded by a growing hub of big culinary players: Up the street, Lafayette and Bar Primi; Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen further down the block — David Chang is even moving his Momofuku flagship, Ko, to a side alley nearby.
The dining room is warm and wooden — and much like the meat, is meant to appear aged. “If you can accomplish one thing and make people feel like the restaurant’s been around subconsciously, that end result is fantastic for the user,” McDonald explained. The 130-seat space includes a bar and private dining room, in which hangs a hand-painted Thirties photo of an airplane. The furniture was all purchased vintage and refurbished — patrons who score one of the booths will be dining over butcher block tables. And circling back to the issue of light bulbs, all of the vintage lights in the main room were refitted to work with incandescent bulbs.
Although the space is surrounded by windows, large curtains in the dining room conceal the natural lighting. “I wanted the main dining room here to really block out the outside world. It makes you feel like you could be anywhere,” McDonald continued. “It takes the newness of the building away a little bit.”