The dining room
Once an auto body shop, the room has gone industrial gothic.
The open kitchen
Cinnabon Cake ($11)
The towering cakes for the most part are toothachingly sweet, such as this white cake layered with gooey cinnamon bun innards.
Red Velvet Cake ($11)
A dark ruddy brown thanks to coloring from beets rather than food coloring, the cake is plagued with a coarse, fudgy crumb and cream cheese frosting overwhelmed by sugar.
Its crisp, caramelized edges and abundant hazelnut-flavored cream will keep you smiling your whole trip home.
Sacher Torte ($11)
This more demure cake would have been great were it not for all the weeping in its crumb and ganache frosting.
The dining room
Didn't believe me about the auto shop? There's the [non-functioning] door.
Meals at M. Wells Steakhouse begin with a few curious minutes of snooting out the entrance.
The street outside
Few fine dining restaurants can get away with planting roots in a Raymond Chandler part of town. This one does.
Solomon Gundy ($14)
A savory potato pancake cooked in a waffle iron, littered with pickled smelts and topped triumphantly by a quenelle of crème fraîche and a fistful of roe. It's a dish borrowed from an alternate reality where diners are run exclusively by surrealists (o hai), and it's awesome.
The smelts nestle into the waffle's notches like pats of butter.
Stuffed with excellent, not-too-salty taramasalata, they're a brilliant idea that could have used more brilliant cheese puffs.
French Onion Soup ($14)
It's so full of caramelized onions it leaves little room for broth, but hiding underneath that blanket of broiled cheese is a marrow bone, because clearly French onion soup isn't rich enough as-is. If it's a step down from the heart-stoppingly good onion soup served at M. Wells Dinette, it's a small one.
Crisp pretzel on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside, and served with softened butter and a nose-clearing mustard.
Coquilles Saint Fereol ($16)
A retro dish that doesn't make a comeback, good reason to keep cheese and seafood separate.
Cocktails ($10 to 16) are subtle but hardly understated, such as this sidecar refreshingly light on the sugar. Instead there's a dusting of maple sugar on the glass for you to take at your own pace.
Wedge Salad ($12)
Straight-up iceberg soused in a cool, barely sweet buttermilk dressing with bacon in crisp-chewy batons. But in this version, sad slices of cottony winter tomato are replaced by shards of tomato paste concentrated into brightly flavored crackers, space food designed by Alice Waters.
Pommes Aligot ($12)
You can stretch them a foot into the air, so loaded are the spuds with butter and tangy cheese curds.
Most of the steaks come from DeBragga's dry-aging facilities, but our T-Bone bore little dry-aged flavor. While the wood-fired grill left our steak with a great crust and meat correctly cooked to temperature, it tasted like food with training wheels compared to the rest of our meal.
Premium steaks have never been better, and these days an ordinary, good-enough steak just isn't good enough.
Beef Butter ($25)
Maybe it's best to bypass the big steaks in favor of a side called Beef Butter, a wee piece of especially fatty Kobe strip loin. It costs $25 and tastes like a cow sent through a car crusher and condensed to the size of a Metrocard.
Bursting with the funky, mineral flavor of premium beef fat, it can and should be your steak for the evening. Trust me, you won't go hungry.
The bone is easily removed.
For all its ribbed tromp l'oeil, it's ultimately one more cheffy burger in a town full of cheffy burgers.
The brisket and aged trim grind is undone by over-compacting, overcooking, and a flood of shallot jam and tartar sauce.