Salt Bae was perhaps the meme of 2017. The image of Nusret Gökçe’s slicked back hair, dark sunglasses, and angled elbow spread quickly to all corners of the internet. And in the midst of this viral fame, it was easy to forget that Gökçe, the man behind the meme, had another job: restaurateur.
Gökçe, also a butcher, has several steakhouses in Turkey, and now, propelled by his internet stardom, he’s giving America a chance to witness his salt-slinging ability in person. He recently expanded his Turkish steakhouse to the U.S., first to Miami in November 2017, and this January, to New York City.
It’s been less than a week since Nusr-Et opened in New York, but already the critics are weighing in on the spectacle that is a Salt Bae steakhouse. See what they’re saying below, and stay tuned for updates — we’ll add more reviews as they come in.
The Major Ripoff News
The New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo calls Nusr-Et “Public Rip-off No. 1.” On a Sunday night in its first week of operation, the critic and his two companions spent $521.45 on dinner — and they left “craving a snack.” He writes, the “up-and-mostly down meal for three, where each of us had just one cocktail and one glass of bad wine each” didn’t begin to merit that cost.
The $25 salad was composed of “days-old iceberg lettuce and mystery greens with tasteless goat cheese and a few walnuts, raisins, and pomegranate seeds,” while french fries were “high-school-grade.” Steak, the star of the show (aside from Gökçe himself, of course), wasn’t any more appetizing.
The “mustard-marinated Ottoman steak,” subject to a table side slicing from Salt Bae, was a “shoe-leather-tough bone-in ribeye, which, for extra fun, was loaded with gruesome globs of fat.” Although other meat was “luscious,” Cuozzo concludes, “we want more substance with the smoke and salt — and dishes that not only sultans can afford.”
The Salt Trousers News
New York Times critic Pete Wells came away with a bigger souvenir than most after dining at Nusr-Et. “I had a pair of trousers that Salt Bae had seasoned like a steak,” he writes in his Critic’s Notebook piece. As thrilling as this was, the overall experience was “messy around the edges.”
According to Wells, the Negronis “tasted as if they’d been burned,” and the “mashed potatoes were awful, but then Mr. Gokce has never pretended to be Spud Bae.” But the meat, Salt Bae’s specialty, was good. The steak, sprinkled by Salt Bae, “was rare in patches and medium-rare in others, but apart from that it was terrific.” Wells also liked a tenderloin named for Turkish delight, writing, “I usually prefer steak that gives me something to chew on, but I was glad to be introduced to lokum.”
Wells regards Salt Bae with respect. “Mr. Gokce has only one move, but he performs it with total confidence, and as anybody who’s ever been on a dance floor knows, that’s enough,” he says. And, he considers the restaurant for what it represents: “In its perfect circularity, its pure subordination of lived experience to mediated experience, Nusr-Et may be New York’s first true 21st-century restaurant.”
The Dinner and a Show News
“If you are intent on judging New York’s new branch of Nusr-Et only as a steakhouse, you’ll probably be disappointed,” begins Eater NY senior critic Robert Sietsema in his first look at the restaurant. “If, on the other hand, you appraise the place as dinner theater, you will find it satisfying — but only if Salt Bae is in the house.” However, the show — the meat slicing and salt sprinkling the internet knows well — “is slightly weird and also slightly gross” when performed in real life at every table in the restaurant, according to Sietsema.
That unappealing luster doesn’t end with Salt Bae’s tableside performance. Sietsema says a sushi cart, “the other half of the dinner theater aspect of the restaurant,” was the setting of the “grossest act of the evening,” in which the person manning the cart “liberally lubed up the gloves with oil before forming four tiny lozenges of rice and wrapping very thin pieces of filet around them.”
The taste of the food at Nusr-Et, though, was fine. Sietsema says the “Istanbul steak” was “good” and a $30 burger “thick and juicy.” But, like Cuozzo, he left “still hungry” — after paying a $320 tab for two.
The Hard to Hate It News
Bloomberg food editor Kate Krader dined at Nusr-Et expecting a “train wreck of a restaurant,” but although there were some disappointments among the dishes she tried, on Krader’s visit, a lot had changed since Sietsema, her dining companion, first experienced the restaurant.
According to Krader, Nusr-Et was in the middle of a health department investigation into Salt Bae’s signature technique, and Salt Bae now wears black gloves. The restaurant started serving tap water upon request (“It’s poured from a Voss water bottle so other tables don’t get the wrong idea,” Krader says), the burger comes with fries, and the meat, served medium before, is now rare. But, Krader writes, “one thing that hasn’t changed is the upsell.”
However, the $286.74 check isn’t enough to takeaway from the of joy of seeing Salt Bae do his thing. “You want to hate the place, to dismiss it,” she says. “Yet, when Salt Bae shows up to slice and season our steak, it’s embarrassingly thrilling, like watching your favorite cheesy movie.”
The Memes on Memes News
Grub Street’s Adam Platt visited Nusr-Et, not as “a high-minded restaurant critic (what kind of self-respecting member of the shark school reviews a place after it’s been open for 10 days?),” but “more as a jaded citizen of the digital universe, half hoping to catch a glimpse of the living meme while at the same time witnessing (and yes, maybe recording) a high-minded gastronomic train wreck.”
Platt notes that the meme obscures “Gökçe’s obvious talents as a salesman and hardworking restaurateur” and complements the staff on their sales technique: “The merry, cap-wearing waitstaff that swooped down on our table bearing bottles of $9 Voss water were as well-trained at the art of genial upselling as the practiced salesmen in ancient tourist bazaars.”
But, in the end, the meme is what matters and Platt’s proximity to Salt Bae allowed the critic to create his own bit of viral internet fodder. Platt posted a brief video of the Nusr-Et bartender to Instagram that became “a mini-meme of its own.” He writes, “Are these refracted bits of Salt Bae alchemy worth the hefty price of a mediocre dinner, or even just the 20 or so bucks you’d spend on a drink at Nusr-Et New York City? My click-hungry editors will offer a hearty ‘yes and thank you’ to that, and after some reflection, your grumpy critic will, too.”
The Food Isn’t the Point News
In an in-depth piece for GQ, Joshua David Stein determines that he and his fellow diners aren’t at Nusr- Et for the food, rather, “we approach this glistering Midtown temple of meat in the hope that some of Gökçe’s immortality might land on us, or at least our Instagram accounts.”
After appraising Gökçe (“His hair, long and jet-black, is lustrous; his goatee is well-kempt and his eyebrows, emerging from a pair of small, round sunglasses, arc over his brow like the wings of a majestic eagle”), and the space (“One urinates under the benevolent gaze of Marlon Brando”), Stein gets to the food. He writes, “The steak is mundane, somewhat tough and rather bland. The hamburger is overcooked. The tartare is over-chopped. The cocktails are terrible and the water — which we ended up buying — is $9 and does little to quench our thirst.”
But again, Stein isn’t there for the food. He writes, “One visits Salt Bae like one kisses the Torah as it passes or touches the barnacled-skin of blue whale in the water as it drifts by: to connect to the infinite. One visits Salt Bae to see for oneself that that the mythic creatures of the internet also walk among us, that the endlessly replicating realm of memes can include us, too.” And unlike his fellow critics, he doesn’t balk at the exorbitant prices: “Is it really absurd to pay a mere $500 for Salt Bae to slip into our feed? No, it is human. And humans are idiots.”
• Salt Bae’s underwhelming steakhouse is a ripoff [NYP]
• A Night at the Church of Salt Bae, America’s Newest Celebrity Chef [GQ]
• What It’s Like to Dine at Salt Bae’s NYC Restaurant [ENY]
• Dining at Salt Bae’s Controversial New Steakhouse [Bloomberg]
• A Sprinkle, a Snapshot, a Sensation: My Dinner With Salt Bae [NYT]
• Thank You, Salt Bae [Grub Street]