Cigar Aficionado

In Defense of Steak

A good friend of mine maintains that there are far too many steakhouses in Manhattan. I disagree. Bring ‘em on.

I’m an unabashed steakhouse fan. A steakhouse dinner—start with a selection of raw oysters, then a salad with bleu cheese dressing followed by a medium-rare steak washed down with rich, red wine—is my favorite meal. And you can hold the cheesecake for dessert—give me a cigar instead.

I have several favorites here in New York City, and unlike my friend I revel in experiencing new expressions when I try a new steakhouse. Here are a few of the newer ones I find interesting, plus a selection of old favorites.

Primehouse New York
, 381 Park Avenue South
There used to be a very ordinary sports-themed restaurant with dull food directly across the street from our offices. New owners took this space and transformed it into a steakhouse. Genius. The steakhouse is grand and stark, and the selling point is an aging room lined with Himalayan salt. I don’t know if the salt does anything at all, but I really enjoy one of the lunch dishes, which has a very reasonable pricetag. It’s a hanger steak, served churassco-style with chimmichuri sauce. (This is best enjoyed rare.)  Outdoor tables are available on sunny days—if you ask nicely, they might even let you smoke a cigar.

Benjamin Steak House, 52 East 41st Street
This beautiful restaurant sits only a block from Grand Central Terminal and excels in steak for a group—large porterhouses sliced off the bone, served on a blazing hot platter. On a recent visit, the matire’d presented slices of the sirloin cut, and brushed each against the hot platter with a sensational sizzle to cook it more, if needed. For the truly hungry, the restaurant also serves a full breakfast. Yes, you can have a sirloin steak at 7 a.m. The restaurant is around the corner from the Barclay Rex smoke shop on 42nd Street.

Porter House New York, 10 Columbus Circle
Boasting some of the best views of any New York restaurant, Porter House treads familiar ground with many of its meat cuts, but goes out on a few steakhouse limbs. On a winter visit with European editor James Suckling, I was treated to an amazing dish of root vegetables, and the current menu offers a duck steak in brandied cherries, something I’ve not seen on any other steakhouse menu. The chef is a well-known name, Michael Lomonaco. As an added bonus, the restaurant resides in the Time Warner Center, home to a Davidoff cigar store.

Quality Meats, 57 West 58th Street
This arm of the Smith and Wollensky group is a gem with a wonderful bone-in ribeye served tomahawk style. (Looks like a really big beef lollipop.) The décor is striking: the front door looks like something you would find in the days of King Arthur, and the chandeliers are made from old meat hooks. True carnivores will appreciate the bone marrow appetizer. For a post-dinner cigar, walk a block south to De La Concha, which has a spacious smoking lounge.

Sparks Steak House
, 210 East 46th Street
Sparks is steakhouse simplicity done right, and I always enjoy myself here. Sparks serves two types of steaks, a sirloin and a filet mignon. You will not find a better sirloin anywhere. The restaurant still has a fine selection of cigars for sale, even though you no longer can smoke there. When you finish your meal, you’re within walking distance of the Barclay-Rex on Lexington Avenue near 51st, or the Cigar Aficionado lounge inside the Cigar Inn on Second Avenue between 53rd and 54th.

Del Friscos Double Eagle Steak House, 1221 Avenue of the Americas
Del Friscos serves the best-seasoned steak in the city, with plenty of salt and black pepper. You ought not to miss the crabcakes (almost all crab—no cake), and the house salad also comes with several strips of bacon, which I appreciate. Like Quality Meats, it’s close to De La Concha.

Rothmanns Steakhouse, 3 East 54th Street
Rothmanns makes a great steak for two, three or more, served in a dish of rich juices. The interior is gorgeous, but cigar smokers ought to reserve one of the few outdoor tables, where cigar smoking is permitted. (The folks at Davidoff, only a block away, are frequent visitors.) It’s a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

"Dave, I don't believe the two are related. Blackstone's in NY does have a sister restaurant in Soyosett called Sagamore Steakhouse, but I have not eaten there yet. If you do make it to Teller's, please let me know." —June 10, 2009 23:53 PM
"Pete, does Blackstones have a sister restaurant in Norwalk, CT? If so, I've eaten there and have enjoyed it very much. We do our annual fantasy football dinner wrapup party there. Never heard of Tellers but I'll commit it to memory. Sounds great." —June 9, 2009 09:38 AM
"David,Unlike your "friend" (and I cannot imagine to whom you might actually be referring) who believes there are too many steakhouses in Manhattan, I believe there are too many steakhouses in the nation. I, too, love a great steakhouse dining experience, but I find too often that the steak is not up to my expectations. So, let's distinguish the two. Many steakhouses can create a great experience. Many simply don't come close in providing the same level when it comes to the beef. I won't quibble with your reviews of NYC steakhouses, but you and I both know that there are many in the nation that just don't live up to the billing of "great" when it comes to the center of the plate.As you know, I love Sparks. The sirloin is as you describe it, but it's also a very good restaurant that has a superb wine list. You don't have to have steak there. I once spent $900 there and can't remember having more fun. Still, even if no one had ordered steak, nothing about the evening would have been diminished.The corollary here is that many, if not all, of the places you mention are run by great restaurateurs whose menus happen to focus on steak. Life it too short, but if we had a second go around, I could take you on a tour of utterly horrible steak places in America. Many charge more than some of the most expensive on your list. And they're not in Manhattan. In the meantime, as you already know, you have a standing invitation to come to California where I will happily throw the two-and-a-half inch prime rib eyes on the grill. They can be the appetizers and once the brisket is ready to come out of the smoker, we'll have dinner. We can invite some of our cigar-making friends and have a real night of it. Of course, I'll also accept your invitation to Carnevino during the Big Smoke in Vegas. See you soon,AB" —June 5, 2009 18:20 PM
"Dave, The rib eyes are merely the amuse bouches. We'll have hangar steaks as apps, in chimichurri so that there's SOME fiber. Then we'll have the brisket with side dishes of sausage. For dessert, we'll have an angioplasty.AB" —June 9, 2009 21:56 PM
"I second the recommendation of Teller's in Islip. The building, in itself, is a marvel and the food is decisively good. I remember smoking cigars at the well stocked bar years ago. Alas, this is no longer the case..." —June 11, 2009 14:27 PM
"There can never be too many steakhouses! David, if you're ever out on Long Island, may I suggest Blackstones in Melville / Farmingdale and Tellers in Islip. Blackstones is a little more corporate as they are near Farmingdale airport and the industrial area. Teller's is an old EAB bank. They kept the vault and it's now their wine storage. I recommend the Teller's Delmonico. It's served Tommahawk style and the bone is frenched. Hand's down, one of the best steaks I've ever had. And their wine list is literaly a book." —June 8, 2009 18:00 PM
"Rib eyes as apps? Splendid idea. That is living the good life. And I thought I was being a radical when I had steak tartare as an app at Benjamin." —June 8, 2009 14:33 PM