Smith & Wollensky’s is the epitome of what you think of when describing a classic, old school steakhouse; the dark walls, white linen tables, and comfortable, but manly feel. In a culinary day and age, when transformative dining experience is in, this Midtown staple, sticks to the classics, and does it well. It seems as if the restaurant hasn’t changed since opening in 1977, still attracting the businessman clientele who crave their cowboy-sized steaks.
Like most high-end New York steakhouses, the prices are not for the faint of heart, but the portions are gigantic. Without my parents, I would never have made my way to Smith & Wollensky’s classic green and white doors without the assistance of Restaurant Week, which made this upscale establishment affordable for a few short weeks.
I met my friend Steve at 9:30pm to find a packed restaurant, filled with couples and large groups of older men in suits. We were seated towards the back, next to a VIP area with a round table of rowdy businessmen, with bottles of wine, elaborate seafood platters and gigantic steaks whizzing past us.
Glancing over the restaurant week menu, we had studied for weeks in anticipation; we quickly made our meal decisions. But the waiter didn’t come. He was paying a little too much attention to the large party next to us, with a bill and potential tip clearly surpassing ours. It’s tough as a paying customer to feel neglected at a restaurant where you expect impeccable service.
Finally after about 10 minutes, a waiter or bus boy, I couldn’t really tell, not assigned to our section came over to take our order. He was a little confused with his explanation of the restaurant week wines, and asked us a few times to repeat what we had wanted to order. We ordered our appetizer and entrée dishes, while sipping on water.
Our appetizers arrived at the same time as our wine, which seemed a little out of order. But after trying the dishes, I stopped minding about the slow and inattentive service. I ordered the Caesar Salad and Steve opted for the Fried Calamari.
This Caesar Salad was one of the best I have enjoyed, with crisp pieces of lettuce, fresh shaved parmesan and a light, fresh dressing, with the flavor of anchovy shining through. I easily devoured the salad, enjoying each bite. The portion size was surprisingly large, especially for restaurant week, when you tend to expect skimpier dishes.
I also tried Steve’s calamari, which was good, but nothing extraordinary. Once again, the portion was gigantic, with him opting to take the extra home.
We both ordered for our main course, the 10oz filet, medium rare. I also decided to go off the restaurant week menu and order a side of hash browns. When I had read Ruth Reichl’s book, Garlic and Sapphires, she described her son’s love of the hash browns, deciding Smith & Wollensky and The Palm’s had the best.
Our large pieces of steaks arrived, with the gorgeous charcoal color on the outside.
The steak was good, really good, but not great. The filet was well aged, and had a beautiful char on the outside, encasing the juicy, bloody interior, which was a gorgeous pink color, cooked to my desired medium rare. The addition of steak sauce seemed really necessary.
The sauce reminded me of a smoky, bar-b-que sauce, lacking the kind of tomato flavor you can find in other sauces. It was a great accompaniment to the piece of filet.
Finally, I dug into the hash browns, which were easily my favorite part of the whole steak meal.
The crisp crunchy outside, with a creamy, fluffy interior is the sign of a delicious hash brown. There was no need to add any salt to this perfectly seasoned pile of potatoes that easily put a smile on my face. I now understand why this dish was so popular and worth the extra money.
When Steve and I asked to pack up our left over pieces of steak, the waiter laughed at me as I asked to pack up the scraps of potatoes left. I had devoured this part of the meal even more then the steak, but needed to measly remains to take home for enjoyment the next day.
Finally, despite being so full, the Cheesecake arrived. And even when I thought I couldn’t eat anything else, I found myself holding back from devouring the entire piece of cake.
The house made cheesecake left me in a state of lemony bliss. The filling was divine, light but absolutely creamy with the subtle hint of lemon flavor. When your fork finally hit the crisp graham cracker crust, it added an element of crunch and sweetness to the otherwise rich and decadent cake. I requested to take the rest to go, and continued to sneak bites in the fridge trying to savor this cake for as long as humanely possible.
We paid our bill and left with our green bags in tow, stepping out into the bitter cold. Our full bellies, and the comfort of our delicious pieces of cheesecake in our bags, kept us warm.
Overall it was a good meal, and especially at restaurant week prices, I was thrilled to step out of the restaurant with my wallet still somewhat in tact. However, on a regular night, I strongly suggest making the trek to Brooklyn instead for a taste of Peter Luger’s, the best steak in the city. But if you don’t have the or transportation, Smith & Wollensky’s will do. Just don’t expect to have your mind blown.
Smith & Wollensky’s – 797 Third Avenue – New York, NY
Smith & Wollensky
Location: Midtown East, NY
Perfect For: Big Groups, Special Occasions, Business Dinners
Reservations: Recommended, via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Caesar Salad, Hash Browns, Cheesecake