I don’t often eat at steakhouses but I’d been curious about Wolfgang’s because of its back story. For those not familiar with the restaurant scene in New York City , Wolfgang’s is the creation of Wolfgang Zweiner , who retired as a headwaiter after 40 years at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse ,across the river in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Peter Luger is only the most famous steakhouse in New York , if not America, and Zagat’s has crowned it the best of the best 26 years in a row). When Zweiner decided to hang up his apron , he had no intention of opening a steakhouse. Many other waiters had opened restaurants after leaving Luger’s but Wolfgang did not want to add to their number. His two sons , Steven and Peter, had gotten their MBAs from Wharton and the University of Chicago respectively and all he wanted was to bask in the Florida sunshine .However , Peter had different ideas and inveigled his father into opening a steakhouse in Manhattan. It would be a shame to waste all his knowledge , he argued, and thus Wolfgang’s was born in 2004. Having eaten at Wolfgang’s , I can only say that I’m glad Peter talked his father out of retirement.
Wolfgang’s is located in what used to be the Vanderbilt Hotel, a building that dates back to 1912. When you enter the restaurant , you are immediately transported to another era. The high , tiled, arched ceilings , the wooden floors , the brick walls , the typical steakhouse ambience , the white aproned waiters gliding among the linen topped tables create a feeling of déjà vu. We were a party of fifteen so we were ushered into a spacious private room to the right of the main dining area.Unburdening ourselves of our coats and gloves ,we took our seats at the large table and perused the menus that we’d been handed . The fare was considerably more varied than we’d expected. You can judge for yourself . Here is the menu: www.wolfgangssteakhouse.net/menu .
We started our dinner with Wolfgang’s Caesar salad and many of us felt that it was the highlight of the meal. Traditionally,Caesar salad consists of crisp Romaine lettuce and croutons bathed in a Caesar dressing made with Parmesan cheese, lemon juice , olive oil, garlic and black pepper , sometimes with the addition of anchovies. At Wolfgang’s , so perfectly was the dressing mixed that I couldn’t tell the ingredients apart; it was a harmonious whole . What really made the salad memorable was the grilled, thick cut Canadian bacon that was served with it . Hitherto , the Canadian bacon I’d eaten consisted of circular pieces that tasted not much different from ham . At Wolfgang’s , we were served a rectangular piece of bacon ,about 4″ by 2″, fully 1/3 rd of an inch thick and grilled to perfection. It was hot , it was crisp, it was salty… it was delicious. When the waiter asked if anyone wanted a second piece, almost everybody’s hands shot up . I restrained myself but, out of concern for my wife , I did take half of hers.
My praise of the Caesar salad as the highlight of the meal is not a criticism of the steaks that followed. As at Peter Luger’s , steak at Wolfgang’s means porterhouse. Other cuts are available but porterhouse is the star of the steak menu and it is simply listed as Steak for one , Steak for two etc. While we waited for our steaks we had a lively discussion of the term ” porterhouse”. Basically , a porterhouse is a thick cut T-bone steak ( at least 1.25 inches thick) which contains both a tenderloin and a top loin ( New York strip steak), two of the most highly prized pieces of beef. The central bone helps distribute the heat more evenly and as a result the there is less shrinkage or drying out during cooking. The name itself is somewhat of a mystery but I think the steak is named for the Porter House , a very popular name for restaurants in the 19th century. It is impossible to which one of them lent its name to the steak.
Porterhouse steaks are very large and are too much for one person to handle , so we asked for ours to be served family style . The steaks were sliced and served , re-assembled around the bone , two to a platter, with the platter properly tilted at one end to allow the steak juice to pool at the other. Some traditionalists turn up their noses at the idea of steaks served already sliced but I’m not in sympathy with them . It’s the only way to serve steaks if they are to be shared by diners.Our steaks , which were ordered ” medium ” , were cooked just right ; the steak connoisseurs among us pronounced them ” perfect”. I did not, however, care for Wolfgang’s Old fashioned Steak Sauce , which I thought was too sweet by far. It is supposed to be a near-exact facsimile of Peter Luger’s Steak sauce , which I didn’t care for either. Give me A-1 steak sauce any day !
With the steaks came a variety of sides : sautéed mushrooms , thin-cut onion rings , German potatoes , creamed spinach and all of them were excellent . Particular mention must be made of the German potatoes ( hash brown potatoes fried with onions) and the creamed spinach ( rich , creamy, a dense dark green) which were outstanding.
Already sated with the main course and sides , we decided to share several desserts just to taste them . We ordered Creme Brulee, Key Lime Pie, Assorted Sorbets ( raspberry & lime), Chocolate Mousse cake , Apple Strudel and Hot Fudge Sundae . Several of them were served with schlaag ( the thick German whipped cream) . All of them were very good but the pick of the lot was the Creme Brulee with it’s crackly surface concealing a rich custardy interior.
The dinner was washed down with several bottles of wine and that led to an amusing incident. My niece was going to select the wines and when the sommelier asked whether anyone else wanted to see the wine cellar , I put up my hand. It wasn’t what I expected. I had visions of descending the stairs to see hundreds of bottles lying on their sides in racks. In fact, the ” cellar” turned out to be a glassed in space in the main dining room with barely enough space for the three of us to enter. It was more a large cupboard than anything else.
Wolfgang’s is very expensive ( $$$$$) but the ambience , the excellence of the steaks and the feeling of being pampered makes dining there an experience to be savored.
Wolfgang’s seems to be doing very well , having expanded from its midtown location to outposts in Tribeca , Beverly Hills, and Waikiki.There was a bit of a spat with restaurateur Wolfgang Puck in 2007 when Wolfgang’s Steakhouse opened in Beverly Hills , barely a block from Puck’s eatery. Puck felt that the diners were confused by the name into thinking that it was one of Puck’s many restaurant ventures. Puck was not mollified by the fact that the sign for the steakhouse carried the legend ” Owned by Wolfgang Zweiner ” ( albeit in small print) and took the case to court. No doubt he would have preferred the sign to read ” Wolfgang Zweiner’s Steakhouse”. The court, however , found for the defendants ; a just decision, I think ,since Wolfgang is a not uncommon name in Austria and Wolfgang Zweiner has been around longer than Wolfgang Puck , though not in the restaurant business.