Cigar Aficionado

Lobel's of New York

Lobel's of New York has sold premium meats at its Madison Avenue location for 50 years. The family has been in the business for five generations, first as cattlemen in Austria and then as butchers in the Bronx before opening its Manhattan store. But it wasn't until the Lobel's Web site was launched that the rest of the carnivorous world could savor what Upper East Siders have been keeping an open secret.

Evan Lobel, who manages the Web site and mail-order business and has inked three books on meat and butchering, says the Internet version of the company was in the works for years with the goal of "re-creating the experience of walking into the Madison Avenue store, which is not an easy task. I wanted something personalized with the best damn product out there."

For Lobel, a cigar enthusiast, quality is a combination of experience in picking USDA prime meat (he's 47 and has been doing it since age seven), knowing how to butcher it and meet the tastes of the customer, as well putting the meat through the all-important dry-aging process. An expensive proposition (Lobel's takes four to six weeks), dry aging allows the meat's natural enzymes to act as tenderizers, improves texture and seals in flavor and juices. After the meat is aged, the dry crust around the edges is trimmed off. The resultant loss of weight makes it even less cost-effective. But the process is taste-effective, as anyone who has ever bitten into cuts like the store's rack of lambs, Wagyu beef or Kurobuta pork knows.

The Web site offers a wealth of information. If you are reticent about choosing wines, you can visit the Wine Cellar, which recommends pairings for select cuts of meat. The site also offers cooking instructions as well as providing answers to such questions as: what is the difference between a rib eye and a New York strip steak; how do you freeze meats; which is better, a bone-in or boneless roast; and how do you choose between tenderloin steak and chateaubriand. You can also e-mail Lobel's for answers to specific questions.

Meat is shipped in vacuum-sealed packages surrounded by chilled gel packs within a Styrofoam cooler and a corrugated outer carton. It is never frozen. Orders are shipped only by FedEx Priority Overnight or UPS Next Day Air and cannot be received on Sundays or Mondays.