Steaking a Claim

Lettuce leaves and organic beansprouts are all very well and good, but nothing satiates the appetite like a big, juicy steak. Never one for macrobiotics, vegetarianism, or any other new-fangled food fads, my visit to Boston’s newest steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky, was an exercise in unadulterated hedonism.

The restaurant is part of a chain of around a dozen up-market steakhouse restaurants dotting the Eastern seaboard. The Boston branch is housed in a regal medieval-style “castle” which dates back to 1891 and is officially known as the Armory of the First Corps of Cadets. Designed to withstand siege, the building features a drawbridge, triple-plate iron doors and flanking turrets that enabled guards to sweep every inch of exterior wall with crossfire.

Inside, the restaurant is cavernous, all maple-oak paneling and beamed ceilings, fireplaces in every corner and military artifacts displayed throughout. Forget the sirloin: machismo is the real plat du jour, all day, every day, as the overwhelmingly male clientele negotiates business deals amongst glass cabinets of 1940s military uniforms and below giant stuffed animal heads.

The food is suitably hearty. Even vegetable-heavy appetizers manage to pack a punch, with the tomato and bufala mozzarella appetizer weighing in the size of a particularly intimidating double cheese-burger. The Charlie Smith shellfish bouquet is the restaurant’s signature first-course. It’s ostensibly designed for two to four but features enough oysters alone to feed a small family for a week. Come in a group and go easy on the starters; there’s a lot to them, but you’ll need to save that valuable stomach-space for the feature presentation.

The “dinner classics” are, of course, dominated by different varieties of steak. I choose a filet au poivre, impressed that the wait-staff don’t even bat an eyelid when I make the oh-so uncouth request that it be cooked “well-done.” It comes out sizzling, succulent and entirely unadorned. Budget to order a few side dishes, and Atkins be damned, because a steak just isn’t a steak without some onion rings or French fries to soak up all the red-meat juices. The house specialty is the Colorado Ribsteak, 28 ounces of dry-aged in-house USDA prime beef, a feat to finish for even the most determined of carnivores.

Desserts continue the theme of luxurious simplicity, honest-to-goodness classics served in a refined environment. There’s ice-cream by Christina’s of Cambridge, pastries by an in-house dessert chef and New York cheesecake bought in daily from Brooklyn. The highlight, however, is the Banana Split, which serves two or more. This isn’t your typical HUDS Sunday sundae: here, the banana is dipped in milk and white chocolate, and comes with an array of toppings ranging from cookie to coconut shreds to make-your-own moment of the sublime.

It’s not nouveau cuisine, but it’s not bad either: Smith & Wollensky is ultimately about serving up the basics in black-tie. The service is exceptional, the portion sizes are not to be sneezed at and there’s no skimping on quality ingredients. What proves the most enticing element of the evening, however, is the experience of it all. Polishing off the last of an excellent house red, I am loath to leave my place amongst the men in suits, under the watchful eye of a moose-head, by the warmth of the roaring fire. The prices are steep, but with steak this sweet, a career in investment banking never looked so good.

THE ESSENTIALS

Name: Smith & Wollensky

Location: Corner of Columbus and Arlington Sts., Boston

Price Range: Entrees $30+

Telephone: 617-423-1112

Hours: Su-Th 5-11pm, F-Sa 5pm-midnight.