The Trump Grill has been the subject of brutal critique.
In December, Vanity Fair published a harsh takedown of the Trump Tower restaurant, saying the grill “could be the worst restaurant in America.”
The next day, the president-elect tweeted: “Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!”
Eager to get to the bottom of the controversy, Business Insider visited Trump Grill after Trump’s election but before his inauguration to see if the restaurant deserves the media’s hate or Trump’s support.
Trump Grill (or Grille -- the naming is inconsistent on signage) is located in the basement of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street.
Visiting Trump Grill in December 2016 is a very different experience than it was even a year ago. To get into Trump Tower, you need to be searched, and the building is mobbed with press, Trump supporters, and gawkers.
When we arrived at 3 p.m., the hostess told us the wait would be 20 minutes but that she would call us when our table was ready.
We took the opportunity to explore the labyrinthine atrium a bit more and check out the holiday decorations. (While Trump has said that people will say 'merry Christmas' under his presidency, our waiter wished us 'happy holidays.')
The atrium, open to the public, is festooned with fleshy pink marble and flashy gold -- or maybe bronze -- plating. Dotting the walls of this marble-and-gold pit are plaques bestowed upon the numerous Trump brands by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, an awards group that has questionable ties to Trump.
Trump Grill was packed, primarily with couples who seemed to be visiting New York and visiting the tower as part of a sight-seeing journey.
The restaurant is deceptively small, and the back section where we sat was confusingly elevated from the entrance and bar area.
Looking at the menu, the first thing that jumps out is how expensive everything is. Trump's infamous taco bowl alone costs a bout $A24.
Spending that much on something that Qdoba perfected for $A10 requires a drink. So we ordered the You're Fired and The Fifth Avenue.
The You're Fired bloody mary is packed with salt and likely fistfuls of pepper -- similar to an aeroplane bloody mary if it were watered down with an oversized glass full of ice. Vanity Fair described the drink as 'chunky shrimp-cocktail sauce, heavy on the horseradish, mixed with ice and a lot of vodka.' We don't disagree.
Vanity Fair said the Fifth Avenue 'tasted like vodka mixed with Crystal Light, the ultimate drink for an 18-year-old pledging a sorority.' Again, no disagreement here. The super-sweet concoction seemed to contain no alcohol at all. In fact, it tastes eerily similar to a watered-down glass of PediaSure fruit juice, but without the dubious health benefits or fun animal mascots.
For our main course, we ordered what could be considered the trifecta of Trump Grill staples: the taco bowl, burger, and filet mignon.
The taco bowl is a mess of vaguely passable Mexican-esque components, slightly elevated by a fresh and crunchy bowl. It was … fine. For $810 we'd buy it again, but there's no reason someone should pay $24 for this faux Tex-Mex jumble.
Much has been made of President-elect Trump's preference for steak well done, but that would have been preferable to our nearly raw 'medium rare' filet mignon.
The sear was perfectly fine, but the gelatinous center of the meat -- served without a steak knife -- left us gagging.
The Platinum Label burger is plagued with problems common to 'classy' burgers: a desire to demonstrate its gourmet elements to the ultimate disadvantage of the burger's quality. The brioche bun was simply not as good a simple potato roll. It was too big, instantly mushy from the onions, and it even tasted slightly stale. Price is poor proof of actual quality here.
As we finished up our meal, we ordered two dirty martinis in an effort to fact-check a viral tweet showing a Trump Grill martini served with ice in a wine glass. Our martinis were served in coupe glasses -- not martini glasses, but close enough, and certainly closer than a wine glass. The bartender told us that the wine glass was probably used because the restaurant ran out of coupes.
The martinis tasted like rubbing alcohol. But that's what we think most martinis taste like, so don't trust our negativity. They were extremely strong, however -- we didn't finish ours, but we were stumbling when we left Trump Grill.
At this point, most people had left the restaurant, which curiously serves only lunch and brunch -- not dinner. The few people who remained were loudly engaged in conversation about how much they loved Donald Trump. The woman sitting next to us went as far as writing a congratulations note to Trump.
'You'll never find a Democrat in this building -- if you did, they'd have to be killed!' a woman eating with her friend yelled at a man sitting at a table across the room.
Other nuggets from conversations impossible not to overhear as we paid the bill:
'The real Democrats voted for Donald Trump. The communists did not.'
'What's wrong with getting along with Russia and some of these countries that are strange?'
'You're a woman -- you could sleep with Trump! What a beautiful man.'
It seems you won't find anywhere else on earth -- except perhaps a Trump rally -- where more people love Trump than Trump Grill. Although opinions at Trump Bar upstairs may be more lubricated.
Ultimately, eating at Trump Grill isn't about the food -- it's about the experience. If you want to celebrate Trump's election, the grill has everything you could ask for: Trump's signature gaudy opulence, supportive dining comrades, and even menu items approved by the president-elect. If you want well-crafted, creative, or good food, look just about anywhere else.
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