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Smith & Wollensky’s Prime Rib Is Still One of NYC’s Best Steaks

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The legendary steakhouse offering, at $59, is worth the cost

Prime rib at Smith & Wollensky
Prime rib at Smith & Wollensky
Photo by Matthew Kang

In an ideal world, the big steak would be an exaltation of technique — an expression of how a restaurant can take a uniform product, available to just about any chef with a credit card, and uniquely manipulate it through the power of fire, aging, and swordsmanship. And yet there are few more overpriced, uniform, and uninteresting things to order right now than a high-end steak. Eating one in 2018 can evoke the experience of gnawing on a salty, tenderized, gently funky rag. They are $140 dog bones for humans.

It’s why if there’s a big steak on your menu, the chances of me writing about it are about as high as me penning an ode that half-empty bottle of Johnny Walker Blue on your bar shelf. With a few notable exceptions, I avoid steakhouses on my review docket; there are more interesting stories to tell about New York gastronomy.

But a story of a gargantuan steak — at a steakhouse no less — is precisely what I’m writing about today. There are few, if any, steaks like the prime rib at Midtown East institution Smith & Wollensky. The iconic steakhouse, around since 1977, has since expanded nationally, propelled by its dry-aging expertise developed here in NYC. Meat expert Nick Solares said a few years back that the prime rib would be worthy of a last meal on earth.

You call ahead for this steak. The kitchen takes a 24-pound, USDA prime rib, covers it enough kosher salt to kill an elephant, roasts it at 375 degrees for three hours, and lets it rest for 30 minutes before getting sliced into 26-ounce cuts. That’s nearly two pounds of meat!

smith & wollensky
Smith & Wollensky
Photo by Nick Solares

All the drippings that collect at the bottom of the roasting pan get clarified and cut with thyme, mirepoix, bay leaves, and veal stock. This becomes the jus, which is poured over the prime rib with such abandon that one wonders whether the cooks thought they were serving soup.

The second you take whiff of the rib, you know there’s something different. It’s been dry-aged — rare for a prime rib — for 18-days in house. The process imbues the supremely beefy spinalis dorisi, the curvy exterior cap, with a tang that can range from subtly blue cheese-y to straight up gorgonzola.

And if that sounds like too much flavor, worry not. The short length of the aging, along with the massiveness of the cut, ensures that the bovine fromagerie doesn’t penetrate to the interior eye, which packs a more traditionally rare, clean, blood-iron tang.

The prime rib here is a study in contrasts, on the nose and on the palate. It’s all tied together by a never-ending pool of savory, meaty, MSG-leaning jus that deserves to be an international best seller by itself like bone broth.

The cost is $59, which is only a lot if you consider that you’d have to be insane to finish it by yourself. Think of it as one of the city’s best steaks at $29.50 per person. The steak for one is really the new steak for two. And yeah, I’m calling it a BUY.

Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).

Smith & Wollensky

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