Editor's note: With "In the Midnight Hour," Zachary Feldman will take you to a different late-night eatery every week.
Open Until: 2:00 am, 7 days
Drinking Until: 2:00 am, 7 days
Food Until: 2:00am, 7 days
Like most steakhouses, Smith and Wollensky's is a power scene—a place for women and men of business to soak their stresses in red wine and beef fat. And though it's an impressive 33 years old, the space feels older, dressed in dark woods, cream tones, and soft lighting nestled into atmospheric fixtures—suggesting money as much as meat. But unlike most steakhouses, this one can go late-night.
It's Wollensky's Grill, located around the corner from the main stage on 3rd Avenue, that's the party-hard member of the steakhouse set. It applies the same stylistic touches in a more casual barroom setting with an abbreviated menu and strong selection of red wines by the glass.
It's a great alternative to the pricier main dining room and a real gift for the area—not to mention a fantastic place to observe the well-heeled and inebriated.
A self-professed soccer mom in the midst of "ladies night" greeted us by the entrance, wobbling a cocktail back and forth in her hand as she teetered on the sidewalk. "I grew up in this place. I'm from the Upper East Side," she assured. During the course of our dinner, the woman howled with a group of suits, at one point giving one of them a "high ten." A bald man hit on Soccer Mom's friend, trying to convince her to come home with him... it was, frankly, a difficult show for mere food to upstage.
But the grill grinds their Wollensky's Burger ($16.50) with trimmings from prime dry-aged beef, and that's enough to pull my attention away from most things. Burger expert Nick Solares tackled this towering hunk during the lunch rush, but at night, when things are a little quieter (aside from the howling), the kitchen is able to take their time and it shows.
Our burger arrived cooked to temperature—which I requested on the rare side of medium-rare—sporting a nicely burnished crust and set atop a bun toasted dark, which imparted a pleasant smokiness. The toppings—lettuce, tomato, red and white onions and a ramekin of thinly sliced pickles swimming in sweet brine—were sufficiently fresh, and a miniature toque cradled French fries that had a clear potato flavor without being too mushy.
The beef resonates with prime-aged funk, and though I'd never knock a cheeseburger, this patty doesn't beg to be topped with the stuff, standing proudly on its own meaty haunches (and for the price, it had better).
After a burger like that, sides are almost an afterthought. That old steakhouse favorite creamed spinach ($11.50) was just short of being soupy, with a forest green hue and the texture of velvet. The flavor of the spinach was able to shine through despite the dish's inherent heaviness.
The portion of fries that accompany the burger was modest, so we were happy to have a baseball glove-sized portion of hash browns ($10.50)—cubes of potato fried crisp on the outside revealing a tender center and looking like an oblong latke. When we ran out of ketchup, spooning the sauce-like greens onto the hash browns made for a surprisingly tasty combination; the potatoes' crust softening under a blanket of cream.
Around us, other couples supped on burly steaks and creatures from the deep. The soccer mom shouted to her businessmen cohorts, "I love you guys!"
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