Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dinner at Smith and Wollensky's (Restaurant Week)

My first experience with the high class steakhouse chains was Morton's. Even though the whole push cart presentation of the menu got old really quickly, the food was still very good and the prices were definitely not cheap. In fact, when I ate at Morton's in Hong Kong about 4 years ago, they were asking US$55/lb for lobster. Yikes. Since then I've also tried Ruth's Chris, but I never made my way to Smith and Wollensky's, even though they took up the space at the historic and impressive Castle at Park Plaza in Boston. So when my friend asked if I wanted to join her group to try S&W's for Restaurant Week, I decided it was worth stopping by because if I liked it, I'd have an excuse to visit the castle next time I was in Boston.

Atmosphere: Not a fancy power-lunch steakhouse crowd, this place was filled with diners chatting away amongst themselves and occasional tables with small children. The place was clean and there was lots of white and some green in the color scheme. The same white and green combination was on all the servers' jackets and it was just not for me.

Service: While not being a Del Frisco's type of atmosphere, this was also definitely not Del Frisco's type of service. Thick New York accents and dishes being almost dropped onto the table instead of being gently placed, the service reminded me more of Peter Luger's except that this wasn't a Peter Luger steak. Instead of coming back and refilling my water frequently, they just dropped off something that looked in between a jar and a decanter filled with water so that I could do it myself. Which wasn't bad in a way, but didn't ooze class.

Food: So for the Restaurant Week prix-fixe, you get an appetizer choice, an entree choice which includes a 12-oz filet, and a dessert choice. Except that the filet isn't dry-aged. This is exactly what I was writing about in my post on Restaurant Week. They end up going out of their way to serve something that wouldn't be on their menu regularly. With the filet not being dry-aged, it kind of defeats the purpose of coming to a big steakhouse. I'm sorry but I am definitely a steak snob. I don't order grilled skirt steak (unless Argentinian or Brazilian) when I go out and I shudder at the thought of paying US$20 for USDA Choice steak at Outback. So in our party of five, only one ordered from the prix-fixe and the other four ordered off the menu. We decided on the double sirloin for two and the chateaubriand for two as well as an order each of creamed spinach and wild mushrooms as our sides. The portions were not big and I ended up ordering a piece of chocolate peanut butter cake with a scoop of ice cream for dessert because I needed to eat more. Not something I usually do. Usually for me dessert at a steakhouse is purely indulgence.

Double Sirloin: The double sirloin wasn't bad but it certainly was not anything exceptional. I would have thought that any big hunk of steak would come on the bone, but there was none. Maybe that affected the (lack of ) flavor. The accompanying steak sauce which as usual is some variation of the A1 style, wasn't needed to cut into the richness of the steak because it wasn't that rich.

Chateaubriand: The chateaubriand is a classical preparation of a thick cut of the tenderloin. It is not always seen on steakhouse menus because, like all filets, it is tender but not as naturally flavorful. As such, S&W's at least did bring some Bearnaise sauce to go with the filet. The seasoning on the outside edge was actually quite tasty, but it didn't permeate and I definitely needed the Bearnaise sauce for most of the meat. Unfortunately, the meat was quite inconsistent, as my three pieces were correctly medium, while my dining mate had 2 pieces that bordered on medium rare and beyond.

Creamed spinach: Again not my style. Not only tasted like a spinach dip, but the texture was definitely more like a spinach dip than any other creamed spinach I've had at the big steakhouses.

Wild mushrooms: Sadly, this was perhaps the best part of the meal. Nothing that couldn't be replicated elsewhere, but it had a nice herby, earthy taste.

Chocolate and peanut butter cake: Again, nothing that can't be repeated anywhere else. Except that they'd probably do it better at most other places. The crust was crisped rice covered in chocolate except that the rice wasn't crispy and the whole crust was more chewy. And yet it wasn't the nice gooey chewy like a real rice krispie treat.

Overall, a huge disappointment. For the price, there are just too many steakhouses in NYC with better meat and better service. That being said, we probably should have just stuck with our original reason for going there. The restaurant week menu, at US$35 and including a 12-oz filet, is pretty decent value for 3 courses.

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