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"So…it's sex," said our dining companion, a meat-and-potatoes Chicagoan, as he wiped his face. Meat juice had squirted onto his cheek during the tableside theatrics. Salt Bae had come, short and silent, and writhed so performatively in his tight, white deep-V (and black pants by Sherwin Williams) that his nipples visibly hardened over the course of the show. He pressed his bare fingers into our $130 ottoman steak as he sliced it. He walked away without saying a word, smirking from behind his bow-chicka-wow-wow shades. Did you see that?! Damn, it was awesome!
But no, it's not exactly sex. And it's not exactly food either. Nusr-Et is the global-chain brainchild of Nusret Gökçe (aka Salt Bae, an Internet sensation adored by 11 million Instagram followers, including Leonardo DiCaprio). As a brick-and-mortar meme, it's a miracle. As a restaurant, it's a mess.
"Sorry, we don't have tap water," our waitress said, pushing $10 bottles of still Voss instead. Later, she offered unbidden a confession that she knew only a few words of Turkish, including the word for "dolphin." Similarly, another server rambled that he had been an EMT and Allstate insurance agent but had lived enough of his life behind a desk (he was 23). A third server spoke about Salt Bae with mafioso reverence: "Chef is very loyal. If you're good to Chef, Chef is good to you. I'm talking trips to Dubai, Miami, all expenses paid." A fourth inexplicably made choo-choo train sounds as he carried our $20 slice of baklava from his tray to our table (that was the best thing we ate, by the way). The staff traffics in the kind of simpleness and gullibility usually seen only in infomercials—none of the exacting expertise typical at venues with $200-plus entrees. One of the other Turkish words the waitress knew was "hurry," which was clearly a mantra restaurant-wide.
Our $70 şeşlik milk steak was mostly milk—more like steak yogurt. Nobody asked us how we wanted our meat prepared, but it arrived medium rare, closer to rare. It was tough, dull, overly spiced and impressive only in size. Imagine an Arby's transformed by Jeff Koons into an 18th birthday party for a Saudi prince. Our food was so oversalted that we used our Metrocard to cut up the Maldon flakes into lines on our table.