Restaurant (Week) Review: Smith & Wollensky

100210-smith-wollensky-1-aAs I have mentioned before, I think that Restaurant Weekdinners can go one of two ways.  One angle is that the restaurant treats it like a simple PR event, cobbling together a cheap menu so that they can have their name included on the Restaurant Week list and in all of the press coverage for as little investment as possible.  Another approach is that the chef tries to develop a menu that, while limited in budget and abbreviated in scope, still tries to give a full sense of what that restaurant is capable of on a nightly basis with the ‘long-view’ hope that the dinner will bring diners back for the full restaurant experience.

So with much trepidation I approached last Friday evening’s Restaurant Week dinner with some friends at Smith & Wollensky.  I had never before been to Smith & Wollensky and the occasion is rare that I find myself headed to a steak house with a jones for some meat.  And since the ’steak plus sides’ concept is not something I am normally attracted to I was worried that their Restaurant Week menu would be even less considered than other restaurants.

Well, I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Smith & Wollensky.  The restaurant itself is a casual comfortable photograph-and-tchotchke filled space of the ‘old-school’ variety.  Upon entering we hung out in the adjoining bar with beers and were seated with no fuss when the last of our party showed up twenty minutes late.  A very graceful start.  Smith & Wollensky’s Restaurant Week menu was a sampling of dishes that are typically on their regular menu.  Of the seven main course selections four of them were some type of meat.  And within those meat selections two of them, the ‘Surf n’ Turf’ and the ‘14oz. Dry Aged Sirloin’, had $10 supplements associated with them.  A clever feature I thought.  It not only gives diners a glimpse of Smith & Wollensky’s larger, more expensive, menu but it also allows them to access it with a small ‘up-sell’.  And they are still left feeling that they got a good ‘Restaurant Week’ deal.  Clever indeed. 

Another nice feature of their restaurant week menu is that on the back of the promotional menu sheet that each person is given is a list of about ten wine selections, chosen ’specially’ for Restaurant Week, all for $40 a bottle.  This makes the ’should we get a bottle?’ decision a no-brainer (the answer being ‘yes’ in case you were unsure).

On top of all of that I think Smith & Wollensky also benefits from how their normal menu is already structured.  Since Restaurant Week diners are convinced they are getting a deal they may be more likely to also order a few side dishes from the regular menu.  Which we, of course, did.  Something that another restaurant, that doesn’t typically feature side dishes, might not be able to take advantage of.

For the first course a friend’s fried ‘Calamari’ was very good, nice breading and tender meat.  My ‘Split-Pea Soup’ was straight forward in presentation and relentless in its’ khaki green color, but good.  The ‘Mixed Greens Salad’ and ‘Caesar Salad’ the other guys got were nothing special.  But salad is never really the point when eating at a steak house is it?  Seeing their salads made me wonder if people at steak houses think of the salad that they order as a sort of pre-penance for the ridiculous amount of meat they are about to consume.

For our main courses, everyone else ordered either the ‘Filet Mignon’ or the ‘14oz. Dry-Aged Sirloin ($10 Supplement)’.  So I naturally ordered the ‘Colossal Lump Crabcake’.  Naturally.  Sauteed Spinach and Hashed Browns side dishes came also.  As well as healthy pile of shaved horseradish to share.  The meat was all very good.  Straight forward, done medium rare, and enjoyable.  Of course, for that price not the most meltingly tender piece of meat you will ever have, but still very good.  The crab cakes also turned out to be good too.  Good texture and a nice ‘crab-y’ taste.  Although I will say that, with all the heavy food I was consuming, those two breaded cakes had me up to the gills.

But wait!  Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, the dessert course arrives.  The Restaurant Week menu offered four of Smith & Wollensky’s typical desserts so we ordered one of each to pass around.  Conspicuously absent from the offerings was their ‘famous’ carrot cake.  Another clever move I think.  Leave the Restaurant Week eaters wanting more.  Of the desserts, the ‘Cheescake’ and the ‘Chocolate Mousse Cake’ were the best.  Both rich and decadent.  The ‘Bourbon Pecan Pie’ was good although the filling was a little more jelly-like than I would have wanted.  The ‘Hot Deep Dish Apple Betty with Vanilla Sauce’ was o.k.  But I think it suffered from the apples that were used in it.  I am no apple baking expert but I do know that some types of apples hold up to the baking process better than others.  These apples seemed too ‘light’ tasting and didn’t stand up too well to the other ingredients in the dish.  But, otherwise, the desserts were good and all achieved their purpose in turning our ’rich food’ meter up to eleven.

I must say that, overall, I think the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Week dinner was a success.  Granted, going in I had the bar set fairly low.  No offense, but to me steak houses serve fairly simple and straightforward food.  Nothing to the level of detail or complexity that some of the other restaurants involved in Restaurant Week typically serve.  Others may disagree with me but I don’t know that I would even call a steak house ‘fine dining’.  Sure there is some serious wine and a certain level of service, but the food is of a completely different sort.  I might, instead, think of it as high-quality (and high-priced) casual dining.  But, categorization aside, I think to the level that a restaurant typically serves, the Restaurant Week menu should then be gauged.  And here I think that Smith & Wollensky did very well.  I think the meal that I and my friends ate that night was an accurate, if lower tiered in some respects, picture of the food that the restaurant serves on any other night.  To me they were wise in (possibly) bending their margins temporarily in the hopes that people like me that ate there during Restaurant Week would enjoy their experience so much that they would want to come back on another, regular, night.

For myself, because of my Restaurant Week experience, I will definitely say that if a friend called up and said, “Dude, let’s get steaks!”, I would be happy to meet them at Smith & Wollensky.
Smith & Wollensky on Urbanspoon