Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov, one of the country’s most renowned Israeli chefs, once ran a quick-service hummus spot in Manhattan, but Laser Wolf in Brooklyn marks his full-scale, let’s-have-a-night-out-in-New-York debut. The open-fire skewer spot, named after a wealthy butcher from “Fiddler on the Roof” — it bears no relation to the Adult Swim cartoon about an English-speaking canine with a destructive light weapon — has been a tough reservation since its May opening. This should not surprise: The 130-seat restaurant is located atop the Hoxton hotel in Williamsburg and boasts panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline.
Fans of Solomonov’s famed Zahav should note that Laser Wolf is a very different venue. This isn’t so much about composed, creative plates as it is about mezze and charcoal-grilled meat. The set-menu format is simple: Diners pay for a skewer ($43 to $52), and that price includes a course of vegan mezze with pita and hummus, as well as a brown-sugar soft serve dessert.
Eater NY’s two critics, Robert Sietsema and Ryan Sutton, are both close followers of the city’s skewer scene, but as it happens they had profound disagreements about Laser Wolf. What follows is a conversation between the two about their recent meals.
On getting in
Robert: I’d heard from my colleague and friend Ryan that he’d waited an hour and a half to get into Laser Wolf as a walk-in, and to me, screw that: I’m not waiting an hour and a half for anything. So a companion and I went when it opened at 5 p.m. — I figured it’d be a shoo-in since it was pouring that night.
You go down these steps into this subterranean, kind of scary hotel lobby. The clerk at the desk looks at you as if, “What the hell are you doing here?” And after you cross-examine him, he tells you that behind a screen around the corner there will magically appear a greeter who will then give you the keys to the city, or at least tell you how to get into the restaurant. The greeter pushes the “up” button on the outside of the elevator, then reaches into the cab and pushes the floor button, and jumps aside as the door closes, in a delicate ballet.
We arrived and the place was beautiful. It had these wraparound windows that looked toward Manhattan as if the diners were supposed to look at the skyline and wonder if they shouldn’t be eating there instead of in Williamsburg.
Ryan: Robert, you know as well as I do that the best views of Manhattan are from Brooklyn!
I went again the other night and I got a same-day resy — and a nice table — for 9:45 p.m. The wind tussled our hair. We could smell the smoke of the charcoal grill. And we had no one in front of us to block our view of that glowing Manhattan skyline.
Robert: So you were able to score a very late evening reservation. You’re a late-night guy. If I have to wait till 9:45 p.m. to eat dinner, I just fall face forward into my food and snore.
Ryan: I would politely say 9:45 p.m. is not late-night; I would call it prime time. Maybe a touch late on a Tuesday, admittedly.
On the pita, hummus, and vegetables
Ryan: The first course is the salatim, a vegan assortment of mezze. They bring it to you in, like 11 metal tins. There’s baba ganoush, gigante beans with olives, pineapple, celery, ajvar, corn, zucchini, Turkish tomatoes, cabbage with fennel, green beans with matbucha, Israeli pickles, and pickled green tomatoes. In the middle, there’s a nice little tub of cool, creamy hummus that you can scoop up with your warm pita.
People often talk about that scene at the end of Ratatouille where Anton Ego sticks his fork into the byaldi and he’s brought back to the vegetable dishes of his youth. I kind of had one of those moments when I tried this salatim. It brought me back to being an 18-year-old visiting Russia, hanging out at a friend’s countryside dacha in the summer, eating pickled mushrooms, pickled tomatoes, inhaling the fresh air, listening to Russian music by a small bonfire, and trying booze for the first time.
Robert: When he says pickled green tomatoes, yes, that dish was delicious, but it was a quarter of a pickled green tomato. Similarly, all of the little metal cups held little vegetarian dishes, quite pleasing in themselves, although if they’d been delivered at room temperature or even warm, or some warm, some cold, it would’ve been better — instead of all cold as if they’d just been pulled from the refrigerator.
Ryan: I didn’t find that mine came out of the refrigerator; it was at a great temperature. When I had the tomatoes, they were as fragrant as they were kind of just picked from a garden.
Robert: Well, maybe they’d just been pulled from the fridge when I was let in at 5:30 p.m. and they let them warm up until 9:45 p.m. when you got there.
On the kebabs
Ryan: Okay, so let’s talk about the meat! I personally liked the brisket skewer, which was sort of like ground hamburger, served medium rare and super juicy, and cut with a bunch of garlic and cilantro. I also enjoyed the fatty short rib kebabs, which the chefs braise in passionfruit and mango sauce before grilling them. They had this really cool beefy funk, while the fruity braise balanced out that earthiness with some sugar. If you don’t eat meat, they also do a righteous coal-cooked cauliflower; they plop it over a creamy schug-tzatziki sauce and throw a few pine nuts over the whole thing.
Are these the best skewers in town? No — this is not operating at the same level as say, Eyval, that amazing new Iranian restaurant in Bushwick, in terms of the composed skewers and the creativity. This is just good, straightforward, delicious meat. But how could you say “no” to succulent skewers that don’t cost a whole lot of money? The brisket meal is just $48. I also dig the fries; they’re crisp and delicious; but they’re a steep $14, same as at Corner Bar.
Robert: So you’re really excited about these kebabs, and these kebabs, keep in mind, are about $48 apiece. And does this mean you get a tray of smoldering meat kebabs in front of you, the way that they do it at the Uzbek or Afghan or Turkish restaurants in town? No. The $48 buys you a single skewer — we paid $94 for two skewers that arrived on the same tray — with a little thing of tahini ranch dressing, whatever that is. And then a little pile of oniony relish, which tastes delicious — as a matter of fact, it tastes as good as the kebab, but isn’t really good on the kebab. So you have this kebab which is not that large, frankly, for $48 plus the tax and the tip. That’s a little disappointing.
As a Texan, I had to get the one called brisket, wondering what would they do with brisket? And it turned out, as Ryan said, to be like a hamburger on a stick. It’s a good hamburger: but $48 good? My companion got the chicken, it was perfectly fine but was dispatched in just a few bites. Those were the two kebabs I tried.
Ryan: Let’s remember that the $48 price for the brisket skewer is what you’re paying for the entire set menu! That gets you salatim, pita, and dessert too. And if you want more food they let you add on another skewer for about half that price or so, but personally, I was super full while trying to finish my five ounces of short rib. Oh and that brisket is six ounces by the way!
On the soft-serve dessert and hospitality
Robert: You get no choice of dessert, but one dessert is provided and it’s quite good, a very small dish of soft serve with a sesame crust, like the chocolate or cherry dips at the Dairy Queen. I love the dessert. I love the sesame crust. I love the fruit compote that came with it. I love the sprinkling of sesame seeds. But it was the only one offered, and it was tiny.
I was in and out in an hour. And I can’t imagine how you could dawdle much longer unless you ordered a lot of alcohol. The prix fixe meal begins immediately with your tray of vegan goodies. And then the only variable is when the kebab arrives. And the minute that you’ve dusted off your rather small kebab, then the ice cream in the tiny dish flies in immediately. It’s like handing you a card that says, “Get lost.”
Ryan: I would say that would be the precise opposite of my experience. The waiters were super cool with me hanging out at the bar after dinner just to take in the views and linger.
But how was the vibe?
Ryan: You can take people to hip new restaurants until kingdom come, but I think there’s something about the very — I don’t want to say touristy — basic spoonful of medicine that is showing someone the Manhattan skyline and saying, “bet you wish you were back here, don’t you?” And Laser Wolf is a pretty good place to deliver that. I was dining with a friend from Portland who was a long-time New Yorker, and it was kind of my way of saying, “Hey, you should move back here. I know you miss this place.”
Robert: Only one aspect of that description bothers me, and that is the use of the word “hip.” To me, there is nothing hip about this restaurant at all. It’s a cynical exercise in money harvesting with the least amount of effort taken.
I don’t know what hip is anymore, thank goodness. I know that I’m not. But I mainly saw the wealthy burghers of Brooklyn sitting in their stolid seats and kind of picking at their salatim and then eating their kebabs with gusto. I didn’t see anyone with unusual dress. I didn’t see artists wearing berets, but this was definitely not a young or hip crowd.
So overall, what do the two critics think of Laser Wolf?
Robert: It’s a low-brow restaurant masquerading as a high-brow restaurant. Do yourself a favor and go to an Uzbek spot instead where the charcoal chicken kebab made of thighs is like $4 or $6 instead of $46. On the other hand, the view: unimpeachable.
Ryan: My take on Laser Wolf is that food is great, the drinks are great, the views are great, and it’s hard as hell to get in because it’s a Williamsburg rooftop. It’s a good restaurant and people are going. It doesn’t blow me away. I just think it’s really good.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.