NEW YORK — A fake steakhouse in New York City that began as an “elaborate joke” among some tech industry friends went viral after opening for a “one-night-only” dinner in Manhattan.
The restaurant, purportedly located on East 83rd Street in Manhattan, only existed as a Google Maps listing, according to The Guardian.
But the steakhouse had a near-perfect rating on Google, with 91 reviews touting the food and service, the Times reported.
“Best steak I have ever had in NY,” “Words cannot explain how phenomenal the steak was” and “Chef Mehran is a genius-god among men,” “reviewers” gushed, according to the newspaper.
“Never have I tasted something so delicious and exquisite,” one reviewer said, according to The Guardian. “As you take a bite, your entire being is transported to pure bliss and serenity. It’s evident that the steak was cooked by the hands of God.”
Even the website for Mehran’s tantalized New York diners, who are used to long waits for tables.
“The steak house is fully booked for the next six months,” the restaurant’s website still notes. “Leave your telephone number below, and we will be in touch when tables are available.”
The actual address listed on Google Maps is a four-bedroom brownstone building occupied by 16 people working in the tech industry, the Times reported. The residents included Jalali, Riley Walz and Danielle Egan, according to the newspaper.
Jalali actually cooked top sirloin steaks for his roommates, and Egan renamed the address as Mehran’s Steak House, the Times reported. There are few safeguards when creating fake reviews on Google, and Jalali’s friends were more than happy to embellish the alleged dining experience.
“I am unwilling to say any more about the details of this excursion as it was a deeply emotional experience that I will remember for the rest of my life,” one reviewer stated, according to The Guardian.
A week after the listing was posted in March 2022, prospective patrons showed up at the address listed for the restaurant, the Times reported.
“A couple walked in like, ‘We’re here for the steak,’” Jalali told the newspaper.
His roommates turned them away, but the listed telephone number “rang off the hook.”
That is when Walz, 21, built a website that included a waiting list.
In May 2023, food writer Anne Kadet decided to solve the area’s “steakhouse mystery” in her Substack newsletter, Café Anne, the Times reported.
The friends, who by then had moved to the West Coast after their lease at the brownstone expired, began to panic.
“If more people look into it, the whole thing is going to come down,” Jalali told the Times he was thinking at the time he was contacted.
So the friends decided on a one-night dinner stand, booking event space in Manhattan’s East Village and contacting people from the online waiting list, which by then had grown to 900.
More than 60 staff members greeted diners for the coveted dining experience. They were friends of Walz and Egan and were mostly college students and tech dropouts, the newspaper reported.
The menu for the 35 tables included Meadows Bring Life (a mixed green salad), Youth: Ever Precious, Ever Fleeting (veal meatballs) and Agrarian Synergies (bruschetta with mozzarella), the Times reported. But some diners became suspicious.
“We were laughing because it was like, ‘Do you think we’re being punked?’” Leigh Wade and her husband, Richard Iuorio, who had waited for a reservation since February, told the newspaper.
Several people noted online that Jalali and his friends’ stunt was not unique, The Guardian reported.
“For people who never heard of The Shed at Dulwich, I guess these folks decided they would steal the bit,” one person wrote.
That London restaurant, set up by Oobah Butler in 2017, followed the same script as the New York tech friends.
After declining bookings for months, Butler opened his “restaurant” in his backyard and served patrons ready-made meals and cans of soup, The Guardian reported.
Reviews about the food at Mehran’s were not as stellar as the Google listings, although some people liked the entrees.
Some diners praised the steak, but others sent theirs back, the Times reported.
One man said his “was like at a wedding buffet.”
Kathryn Shrader, a hospitality manager, who had an invitation, said she realized the restaurant was a gag.
“It seems like more of a theater production than a dinner,” her dinner companion, Kyle Hertzog, told the newspaper. “There’s a shtick here. I don’t know what it is, though.”
“We are experiencing the punch line of some online joke between a bunch of friends,” Schrader told the Times. “I’ve spent more on less. It got us out of the neighborhood.”