Make no mis-steak — choose Morton’s over Peter Luger

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The king is dead. Long live the king: Peter Luger is no longer the best steakhouse in Brooklyn.

That stunning piece of news was ushered into 2009 on a gorgeously charred, deliciously marbled, gloriously juicy bone-in rib-eye steak served to me at the new Morton’s the Steakhouse, which opened last month on Adams Street in Downtown.

Though Peter Luger has been a steak-lover’s paradise for more than 100 years — and has remained Mr. Zagat’s favorite steakhouse in the city for most of the thin red duke’s history — it needs to be said, and said loudly: Peter Luger is an over-rated, obnoxious, pompous, unsatisfying, overpriced and underwhelming restaurant that serves a single, well-prepared dish.

By comparison, Morton’s is a full-service restaurant. Yes, Peter Luger is the true steakhouse. But I do not spend $100 to eat. I spend it to be treated well in a restaurant.

The central conceit of this story was a meat-lover’s dream: to eat consecutive steak dinners at Peter Luger and Morton’s and write to tell about it. My meal at Morton’s made the job of eating enjoyable. My experience at Peter Luger made the job of writing easy.

Despite a reservation, I arrived to find the dining room closed and was offered no explanation for the 20-minute delay. Expecting customer service at Peter Luger is like expecting beef curry at an Indian restaurant. Menu offerings are discussed joylessly. Food is slapped down, diner-style.

And then it dawns on you: Being a customer at Peter Luger is like being an extra on a Hollywood movie set. Your presence is necessary, of course, but it entirely incidental to the main action.

Indeed, the primary customer at Peter Luger is the painstaking cultivation of the steakhouse’s decades-old mystique, the notion of the steakhouse as an unbending taskmaster, a place where any smiles, common courtesies, any chit-chat or, indeed, any other palatable menu offerings besides porterhouse steak would reveal that the restaurant is, in fact, not the carnivorous caretaker it purports to be.

In other words, pay no attention to that porterhouse behind the curtain. It’s the best you’ve ever had. So shut up and pay — oh, and it’s cash only, if you please.

And then there is the steak itself.

The amount of obsequious ink that has been spilled over Peter Luger’s mouth-watering porterhouse could fill the Library of Congress, some of it dripping from my very own pen in year’s past.

Yes, the porterhouse ($85, serves two) remains a thing of beauty. It arrives on a still-sizzling platter, its outer crust charred just enough to give a salty contrast to the juiciness inside.

But the softness of the meat reveals Peter Luger’s essential failure: the meat is missing an essential beefiness. Each bite releases a pleasing mouthful of rich juice, but only the faintest taste of steak.

A Peter Luger porterhouse is a meat pillow, the equivalent of the softest down comforter in the ritziest hotel in a city of which you have grown exceedingly bored.

Yes, the dining room at Morton’s does resemble the generic restaurant you’d find in that same dull city, but on every other standard that matters — smoothness of service, breadth of menu, quality of food, size of portions, enthusiasm of staff, beefiness of the beef — Morton’s is clearly the better restaurant.

I started my meal with something that would be unthinkable at Peter Luger: appetizers. At Morton’s, there are close to a dozen first courses: the delightful oysters Rockefeller, with the briny mollusk covered in buttery spinach; chunky crab cakes; the so-called “colossal shrimp Alexander,” which lives up to its name (and would be even more accurately dubbed “delicious, juicy, tender colossal shrimp Alexander”); and bacon-wrapped scallops, which tasted a bit too much of bacon and a bit too little of scallop, but were enjoyable nonetheless.

I took a brief sojourn through Saladland not just because I could — unlike Peter Luger, Morton’s offers actual fresh, crisp greens — but because the Caesar-styled “Morton salad” offered a nice palate-cleanser for the lipo-fest to come.

And what a fest it was.

The porterhouse is by no means a featherbed of meat, but it is beefy and chewy like a great steak should be. Better still was the restaurant’s signature cut, a bone-in, Chicago-style rib-eye. Thicker and richer than the porterhouse, this Flintstone-sized chop is the gift that keeps on giving. Bite after bite, it barely seems to get smaller.

Best of all, unlike at Peter Luger, every bite of the Morton’s steaks remind you that you are eating a steak, which should be the least thing to expect when you’re shelling out so much money for a meal.

Even the side dishes — including a better version of Peter Luger’s one nod to vegetables, creamed spinach — show care that is absent at the Williamsburg steakhouse. And the desserts are far superior, too.

At meal’s end, my conclusion wrote itself: Morton’s is the better restaurant. Yet I remain unsatisfied with the realization that no amount of negative reviews will destroy the Luger hegemony. It will, no doubt, continue for decades, fueled mostly by hype and history — two things that a chain restaurant, no matter how great, can’t overpower in just a month.

Morton’s the Steakhouse


339 Adams St., between Willoughby and Tillary streets in Downtown, (718) 596-2700.

Lunch: Mon–Fri, 11:30 am–2:30 pm

Dinner: Mon–Sat, 5–11 pm.

Recommended appetizers: Colossal shrimp Alexander ($19), Oysters Rockefeller ($16), Morton’s salad ($10.50).

Recommended entrees: Rib-eye steak ($51.50), porterhouse ($53.50).

Recommended desserts: Legendary hot chocolate cake, carrot cake.

Specials: “Power Hours” at Bar 12-21 with happy hour drinks and mini burgers and steak sandwiches, Mon–Fri, 5–6:30 pm and 9:30–11 pm.

Credit cards: Amex, Discover, MC, VISA and Diners Club.

What the stars mean:

Zero — Do not go
* — Decidedly average
** — Good
*** — Very good
**** — Excellent
***** — One of the 10 best in the borough

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Reader Feedback

james from kew gardens says:
You have no idea what you're talking about, did morton's pay you for that review??
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:20 am
JB from Long Island says:
Been to both more than once. Morton's does not even come close to Luger's. Morton's must be paying the reviewer off in underwhelming steak dinners.
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:26 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
Am in total agreement with the other two commenters, and sadly doubt the sincerity of this article. I hope that the paper has checked to be sure that there are no external motivations for this piece.

Seperately, I think author confuses good service with chit chat and folksiness.
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:32 am
Ben from Brooklyn Heights says:
I agree that the mystique of Peter Luger's is somewhat overrated -- but the beef is not. Luger's has rested on its laurels for a while and the experience of eating there is no longer as charming as it once was. That said, the steak is still perfect and far better than anything you'll find at Morton's. If you really don't like having to pay cash and want cozier service, then go to Wolfgang's. But to claim a chain restaurant found in every Hyatt and Mariott across the company has better steak is just absurd.
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:41 am
val from windsor terrace says:
AMEN! Just went to Morton's and had an excellent meal with my family! I've always hated Peter Luger's and I'm glad that you did this review!
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:46 am
Alex from Park Slope says:
Hear Hear!
I am so pleased someone is brave enough to tackle the most overrated restaurant in history. (I mean that literally)
There are so many wonderful options for steak, and many can be found at restaurants that do not serve it up with a side of attitude.
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:52 am
DW from PS says:
Jan. 7, 2009, 12:33 pm
Mor(t)on says:
If you go to a steakhouse to eat spinach or oysters then by all means go to Morton.
Jan. 7, 2009, 12:33 pm
Queen of the Click from Bay Ridge says:

Now that I read your review, I'm going to have to try Morton's.

Peter Lugar's stead is good - no doubt, but Peter Luger Steakhouse does not accept any credit cards except the Peter Luger Card. So carrying enough cash to pay for a party of ten is ridiculous. Maybe Lugar's will wisen up and get with the times now that it has some friendly competition.
Jan. 7, 2009, 12:37 pm
fsrg from Park Slope says:
This review definitively and forever proves that you....Gersh Kuntzman.....have no idea what you are talking about.
Jan. 7, 2009, 2:34 pm
nl from ps says:
Why can't they both be good for different reasons? When I go to Lugers I know what to expect - and I get it...bacon, tomato "salad" STEAK (with butter, please) and those no-fabulous but old standby sides. And the martinis are good, too. That said, I am looking forward to trying Mortons...isn't Brooklyn big enough for two steaks?
Jan. 7, 2009, 2:35 pm
EC from EV says:
I'm sure Luger is at least somewhat overrated but Morton's really does not impress me. To be fair I tried it in a different city but it was terrible both times. Both times they did not cook it to order properly and the second time the service was atrocious.
Jan. 7, 2009, 2:38 pm
CM from Brooklyn says:
Morton's is a chain restaurant that serves "boxed beef", meat that is nationally distributed and held in cryovac until ready for preparation. It is literally sitting in a bag of its own blood. Peter Luger is one of a handful of restaurants in the country that serves hand selected Prime beef that is dry aged on premises for a period over 21 days. And I actually find the service to be not to bad at all, and, most of all, incredibly efficient. If you want to find a better steakhouse in Brooklyn, try Embers. Although I have not been, I've heard good things.
Jan. 7, 2009, 2:48 pm
freddy from slope says:

i love the luger atmosphere.

but some of us need to be handled in a warm baby blanket. like gersh.
Jan. 7, 2009, 3 pm
TY from PS says:
"need to be handled in a warm baby blanket"

As opposed to needing someone to cut up my steak for me?
Jan. 7, 2009, 3:12 pm
S from Williamsburg says:
In my opinion (and others have agreed), the best steakhouse in Brooklyn is DeStefano's. Best food, unbelieveable service, reasonable prices.

89 Conselyea Street (at Leonard), Brooklyn 11211
Jan. 7, 2009, 4:47 pm
trace from Park Slope says:
Did you know the government of MEXICO is refusing American beef, in addition to South Koreans who are rioting because they don't want our beef. Do you also know that all animals poop when they die, but the poop does not have to be cleaned from the meat - just irradiated? (i.e., you are eating poop, and the Health Dept. thinks it's ok.) GACK!
Jan. 7, 2009, 5:53 pm
Frank from New Jersey says:
I go to eat phenomenal steak. You're wrong about this and Morton's is not quality food, and I find the service condescending.
Jan. 7, 2009, 7:18 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
your review of peter lugers versus mortons can only leave a person scratching his head...peter lugers is the king. period ! mortons is convient and local. but that is it !
Jan. 7, 2009, 9:30 pm
Chris from Park Slope says:
You prefer a chain over an institution? I've eaten at Mortons & it was fine, i eat at Lugers twice a year & its amazing. LUGERS, LUGERS, LUGERS.
Jan. 7, 2009, 10:22 pm
fiona fapple from metroTech says:
that morton's steak look's horrid.
I think one reason why people hate luger's is that you have to share. it's like prison, no one touches my food, get your own.
Americans are not used to sharing or eating family style.
Jan. 8, 2009, 12:58 am
PS from Brooklyn Heights says:
Luger's is an institution and they do have a brand and a reputation to uphold, but their treatment of their customers is very cynical.

(That said, Morton's, as many have noted before me, is hardly a proper replacement for Luger's, and anyone professionally reviewing restaurants in NYC ought to be capable of recognizing as much.)

Eating there is a very one-sided experience, and some balance would serve it well. Keep the menu very limited, but improve the quality of the appetizers, sides and desserts...I'm all for a nice rare porterhouse, but that alone isn't what I want for dinner. Keep the service gruff, but accept credit cards (once a place starts serving bottles of wine or entrees over $50, it's just absurd to remain cash-only). Keep the dining room spartan and and a bit worn, but get rid of the awful lighting and never let it look shabby.

Many commenters assert that Luger's is King, but at this point, the King is increasingly doddering, cantankerous, and plain out of touch.
Jan. 8, 2009, 1:16 am
212 from soho says:
anybody interested in the connection of lugers people to zagat family by way of marriage? never see that discussed...
Jan. 8, 2009, 1:34 am
Tony from Bay Ridge says:
Hahahaah.. you must be out of your mind Gersh... Picking a chain steakhouse over lugers??? First of all you are looking at the situation the wrong way... When you want a porterhouse, there is no other place to go... If you want bacon wrapped scallops, then, I guess, you could go to mortons... People dont go to Lugers for variety, they go for the porterhouse.. Period..
Jan. 8, 2009, 4:39 am
Ben from Australia says:
You must have had the fish. Frankly, Gersh this seems more like an attempt to stir up a bit of brouhaha than a real review as evidenced by your slapstick comparative table. Yes, Peter Luger's is treated as holier-than-thou and perhaps undeservedely so, but to say that a hotel chain is its superior is at best poor judgment if not foolish attention-mongering.
Jan. 8, 2009, 5:09 am
chris says:
You are so right, Peter Lugers is over rated, its nice once every few years for nostalgia but as an enjoyable meal...not so much.
Jan. 8, 2009, 9:38 am
P from Z says:
In the last portion of the Peter Lugar steakhouse article, change "deserts" to "desserts." ("And the deserts are far superior, too.")
Jan. 8, 2009, 10:31 am
JJ from Brooklyn Heights says:
The vastly inflated myth of PL's porterhouse has needed a good puncturing for a long time. Gersh may not be the man to do it -- a real food critic should have the guts to say it -- but essentially he's right that Luger's is one of those joints, like Grimaldi's, that people defend and overpraise more out of knee-jerk tradition than reality. The steaks are in fact mediocre, the service is in fact cold and awful, the cash-only policy is in fact a ridiculous annoyance at those prices. Never been to Morton's and am highly dubious of Gersh's glowing praise, but the Luger half of his review is correct -- and a much-needed correction to the myth.
Jan. 8, 2009, 11:04 am
danno from new york city says:
Morton's is a mediocre chain, always has been, always will be. I've eaten at the new Morton's in Brooklyn and yes, the steak was excellent, but not as perfectly cooked as the Lugers steak from their brick oven which chars the outside and leaves the center perfectly cooked for that exquisite taste combination that has become an addiction to so many, as the author noted. I will say though that the creamed spinach was sublime. If you want the best steak, go to Lugers. If you want a restaurant experience, with the BEST service and food, go to Jean-Georges or Daniel.
Jan. 8, 2009, 11:50 am
Sam from Avon, CT says:
I have been eating at Luger's for 35 years and have been to about 15 Morton's throughout the US and Puerto Rico. I always enjoy Morton's, but there is no equal to the steak at Peter Luger's anywhere and I mean anywhere in any steak house. The porterhouses are always prime, perfectly aged and perfectly cooked. The flavor of the steak is incomparable. The waiters are great there. Paying with my PL credit card is convenient. Along with 21 Club, this is the only restaurant I still get excited about going to.
Jan. 8, 2009, 1:46 pm
J kunty from morningside heights says:
stupid stuff. lugers is quality across the board.
Jan. 8, 2009, 4:19 pm
Christopher from Bay Ridge says:
I think its time Gersh is let go.
Jan. 8, 2009, 7:13 pm
KT from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Who paid for Gersh's meal? This is the same "reviewer" who made a promotional video for Morton's at the time of it's opening and put in on line. Morton's charges $15.75 for a Martini and doesn't come close to filling the glass.
In this economy, let's see who survives between the Brooklyn Mortons and Lugers.
Jan. 9, 2009, 2:53 pm
Chris from Bay Ridge says:
Mortons is excellen!!! Really if you want to pay for just a steak and a tomato o.k. go to PL. If you want a real dining experience go to Mortons. Better service, More choices, better quality steaks, period...
Jan. 9, 2009, 10:47 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Gersh, you have become an old fogy. You want a tough steak not one that is aged and marbled. I also must tell you I have always had outstanding service from Peter Luger's....yes some times you wait a few minutes...wait until Morton's begins to get crowded and you will wait too!
What do you mean no appetizers and no salads? You obviously have never ordered the onions and tomatoes. Luger's tomatoes are better than the steaks(most of the time....

You must love out backs steaks too...

I can cook a steak as well as other places except Peter Lugers. I go there a few times a year and can honestly say I never had a bad meal there. I can't say the same thing about Morton's in Chicago or Ruth Chris's or the Capital name a few...Shula's has always been great as have a couple of places in St Louis.....and Peter Lugers service has been on a par with any of them...
Jan. 10, 2009, 10:52 pm
Sherry says:
I have to agree with this review of Peter is way over-rated. I had made steaks from Costco on my grill two days prior to going there with clients and they were way better. I went once and never went back....service was far from great! Don't wsste your money.
Jan. 10, 2009, 11:56 pm
jd says:
Morton's is not even one of the better chains, much less the real steakhouses... It must be the first steak he has ever eaten.
Jan. 12, 2009, 3:04 am
bklyn90 from cobblehill says:
Gersh should find another line of work. Maybe he can review outback next, I hear the service is excellent and lots of apps. Sounds like his feelings were hurt by the twenty minute wait. Suck it up.
Jan. 12, 2009, 9:53 am
Grant from Williamsburg says:
love the audacity of this paper to do a video like this and Gersh Kuntzman call himself a "food critic" picking Morton's over Peter Luger's - Your a joke and so is the Brooklyn Paper.
Jan. 14, 2009, 2:32 pm
Jay P from Mill Basin says:
While I agree that for overall experience Mortons is the superior choice, when I choose a steakhouse I choose it for the steak and not the appetizers,and I do not even think to compare a Ribeye to a Porterhouse (That's like comparing Fruit of the Loom to an Armani, Jeez!!) If you are on a date and you want to impress, you choose Mortons. On the other hand, if you are already married and all you care about is the quality of the meat, there is no choice. It's Peter Luger's. Just like Porsche, there is NO Substitute!
Jan. 21, 2009, 3:40 pm
stan from brooklyn says:
shulas in miami lakes , best steak hand down.
Went to Peter lugs and was not impressed, definetely overrated.
Feb. 4, 2009, 12:10 pm
Paul from Cobble Hill says:
We ate there tonight. ——ing horrible. Epic fail. Lugars beats Morton's Brooklyn, sides, mains, cocktails and everything else.
March 27, 2009, 6:23 am
jordan says:
terrible review. i've eaten at morton's and i've eaten at luger's, and luger's blows it away.
June 21, 2009, 2:17 pm
jordan from NJ says:
also, anyone saying luger's desserts aren't good is out of their mind. best chocolate mousse i've ever had in my life.
June 21, 2009, 2:30 pm
Derf from Carroll Gardens says:
I ate at Peter L yesterday, what garbage passing as food.

Yes the steak was fair, but only fair -- considering the prices. I have had far better in many home barbeques.

But what was truly awful were the sides.

Potatoes which were limp and tasteless, I have had frozen ones at Greek diners in the city which were better.

The onion rings, if you could call them rings, a lumpy, greasy disaster.

The spinach OK, but such a tiny portion!

The tomato salad, an embarrassment by any standards.

The deserts, anywhere in an diner... just big and bland.

The service, where did these guys learn to eat, at a pig trough? I especially liked the little plates to put the meat plate on an angle, was there a reason to pool the sauce?

Ugh, you have to be pretty desperate to eat at Peter's. Poor air conditioning, dirty feeling in the whole place.

I will just have my steaks at the Odeon, and save a fortune. And I mean a fortune, for what we paid we could have had real food.
Aug. 11, 2009, 3:03 pm
Derf from Carroll Gardens says:
I ate at Peter L yesterday, what garbage passing as food.

Yes the steak was fair, but only fair -- considering the prices. I have had far better in many home barbeques.

But what was truly awful were the tiny tasteless sides.

Potatoes which were limp and bland, I have had frozen ones at Greek diners in the city which were better.

The onion rings, if you could call them rings, a lumpy, greasy disaster, a portion for barely one person.

The spinach OK, but such a tiny portion!

The tomato salad, an embarrassment by any standards.

The deserts, anywhere in any diner... just big and bland, cheap ice cream, cheap sauce, I have no idea what the whipped cream was made of, but it looked like something MacDonald's would come up with, that does not need refrigeration.

The service, where did these guys learn to eat, at a pig trough? I especially liked the little plates to put the meat plate on an angle, was there a reason to pool the sauce? They throw the food. The waiter seemed to want to order for us, and badgered us to order more, we had to ask for menus! He was right, the portions were abysmally small.

Ugh, you have to be pretty desperate to eat at Peter's. Poor air conditioning, dirty feeling in the whole place.

I will just have my steaks at the Odeon, and save a fortune. And I mean a fortune, for what we paid we could have had real food.
Aug. 11, 2009, 3:08 pm
Chris from Orlando FL says:
The bread was great. The five slices of tomatoes on a plate for $12.95 is the biggest joke in the world. The steak for two was good. The spinich was nothing to write home about. They serve the coke warm with a glass of ice. coke should be at least 40 degrees or less. Please explain the tomatoes. I will try one more time. But will not get tomatoes, coke , or the spinich. I will get the steak bread and tap water.
Sept. 24, 2009, 9:56 pm
Steve from Moriches NY says:
I've eaten in PL's since the early 70's. I have NEVER had a bad meal. I've also eaten in Mortons when traveling for business is different cities. There is no way Morton's can come even close to Peter Lugar's.
Ruth Chris's could be a second to PL's but that is the difference between Rolls Royce and Mercedes. Mortons rates about a Chevrolet compare to the other two.
July 23, 2010, 3:47 pm
Dennis & Judy from Tampa says:
My soon to be wife and I miss Mortons. We moved down to Pinellas County FL From the NY/NJ area and we are waiting for them to open a Mortons down this way. We have been to Burns in Tampa. They are a good steakhouse, but we still miss the Mortons way of combining Service with a great meal!
Aug. 31, 2010, 10:39 pm
dermot from staten island says:
Been to Morton's around the country, not in the same taste league with Lugar's. The only one I've found on a par with Lugar's is the "Filet on the Bone" at Abe and Louie's in Boston or Boca.
Sept. 27, 2010, 2:41 pm
DJ from Jersey says:
Steve from Moriches is a crack smoker. any place that puts butter on a steak like Ruth Chris' should not even be considered close to Mortons.
Jan. 6, 2011, 5:44 am
john from lindenhurst ny says:
The Great Neck branch of Morton's is as good anything out there. nobody is going to tell me any different!!
July 24, 2011, 2:19 pm
elt from Mountainside, NJ says:
Let me try to make this brief. I've had a PL card for 20 years or so, so I understand what's going on. You go to PL for the steak, period. Their aging room is on par with any other room you will come across, and they only buy the best of the best USDA Prime steaks (and I know the wholesalers). You don't need a menu. Get the tomatoes and onions (that's what the sauce is for), the bacon, and steak for two, black and blue. That's for one hearty steak lover. We don't need ambiance, or friendly waiters, or a convivial atmosphere. We're here for the steak. I have brought many clients here over the years, and there were no complaints. Morton's, Smith & Wollensky, Ruth Criss, Shulas, Delmonicos, Frankie and Johnnies, Sparks, Gallaghers are all nicer dining experiences, and I've been to them all. Nice restaurants. But if you want a real STEAKHOUSE, go over the Williamsburg Bridge and make the first right...
July 22, 2012, 10:42 pm
Patrik Antonius1111 says:
I ordered PL's yesterday and cooked the porterhouse at home. Seared it at very high heat
and then broiling at 550 with c butter and pepper to charred and rare. Make no mistake this was an excellent steak; very tender and meaty. However flavor was a b at best. I really expected better. I know you can't compare a ribeye and porterhouse, but outside the realm of wagyu I've had better dry aged steaks than the pl ph at home before, primarily filets and ribeyes. It was still an exceptional steak but there's no denying flavor was a letdown.

July 25, 2012, 1:24 am
Patrik Antonius1111 says:
Update on the PL I ordered

Defrosted the 2nd steak and seared and grilled it this time. Best steak I've ever cooked at home. Amazing. Flavor was great this time
Aug. 2, 2012, 1:41 am
Jerry from Astoria says:
Mortens pretentiously displays their "condom wrapped" meat for your selection. Do they also cut it up for you? Lugars is not "nice" to you. Boo hoo. It's real steak vs, strip mall cyrovac chain beef. I get the ambiance, more selections, cash only inconveniences, fine. However, the bottom line here is the "steak" and Mortens doesn't even come close. I begrudgingly say that after more than 40 years of PL pleasure, Wolfgangs does a superb job, and they have all of the extra "niceties" that you state you need in a steakhouse.
Nov. 7, 2013, 2:32 pm
Ray from San Francisco says:
I have eaten at both Morton's (chain) and Peter Luger's (Brooklyn). Peter Luger's is one of the best steak houses in the world. Morton's is overpriced meh, I rather eat at Ruth's Chris than Morton's any day. The author is entitled to his opinion, just as I am entitled to mine.
Oct. 7, 2014, 12:29 pm

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