The casual date is the albino tiger of the dating world — much talked about, highly sought after and questionably accessible. Yet it seems New Haven, and Yalies, have found their sleek white cat: Prime 16, New Haven’s new beer bar-cum-trendy American cuisine restaurant promises a break from the world of coffee dates.
A chronic problem arises when trying to identify a perfect date location: Ibiza is far too expensive, Hot Tomato’s too noisy and Rudy’s too much of a dive. While Mamoun’s doesn’t hurt the pocket, the falafel on paper plates and the hyper-active music can have a tendency to kill the romance. Enter Prime 16 — an upscale, though moderately priced, American restaurant and beer bar featuring what may be New Haven’s most extensive, and impressive, beer selection with over 70 beers on the menu, 20 of them on tap. With the perfect mix of causal beer drinking and an upscale creative take on the burger, its menu appeals to both the New York set and the frat crowd.
The key to Prime 16’s success is its variations on a tied-and-true theme — a burger and a beer. Its menu boasts more than 15 varieties of the American classic, ranging from the excellently executed New York Steakhouse Burger — a mélange of swiss, bleu cheese, beef and fried onions — to its more innovative wasabi-glazed salmon burger. The Miya’s of burgers, Prime 16 takes risks with its dishes, but not all of the restaurant’s combinations clear the bar, so to speak. The lime-glazed mahi-mahi “burger” left something to be desired — the Vermont cheddar did little to hide the dry fish, and the chipotle mayo was less bravo than bland. Even the namesake lime was curiously absent.
But do not let this one failed dish dissuade you — even the best of experiments can turn out poorly. Consider the lamb burger: a far cry from Yale Dining Service’s grease-soaked lamb patty, this burger ties in the winning combination of cilantro, feta and lamb, promising an original spin on the red-meat staple.
While the entrees provide little negotiation in terms of non-red-meat, the appetizers and beer alone could be enough to garner a crowd. Working on their successful model, Prime 16’s appetizers are an interesting take on some bar classics with the inclusion of a few innovative dishes not traditionally seen on your favorite bar menu. Present of course are the requisite hot wings and spinach and artichoke dip, but this last dish proves one of the lightest and most successful versions of this dish around; not overwhelmingly cheesy and creamy, this green dip is served with hot pita baked until crispy. The light salty creaminess and warm crunch are perfect with one of their myriad India Pale Ales — try the Avery Maharaja IPA, delightfully floral and just the right amount of bitter.
A particularly noteworthy appearance on the appetizer list is the sexification of meatloaf. Prime 16’s meatloaf muffins are more like meatballs, but make for a fantastic and unexpected inclusion in a bar menu. Served with Prime 16’s signature bleu cheese mashed potatoes, this unusual dish is worth enough hype to compete with BAR’s mashed potato pizza. Try coupling this one with the Ithica Apricot wheat beer — with neither too much wheat nor too much apricot, this surprisingly fresh but not cloying beer pairs well with just about everything on the menu.
The dark décor may be a little uninspired, but the friendly waitstaff, the innovative menu and the staggering beer list makes this place the perfect place for that second date. Go ahead and skip the coffee.