Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse - Chicago - Chicago
People come to Chicago expecting the best steaks, perhaps remembering the days when the Union Stockyards were located not far from the busy Loop. The Stockyards are long gone, but when people come to Chicago, they’re still looking for red meat…and it’s a little ironic that many of them seek out that superior beef at places like Smith & Wollensky, the Chicago outpost of an originally New York-based restaurant.
Still, the meat in Chicago comes from the same places out west that New York sources their meat, and the high-quality consistency across this restaurant empire is commendable.
The product of Alan Stillman, the restaurateur/genius behind the now 1,000 restaurant T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant empire, Smith & Wollensky is a cut or two (or a thousand) above that perhaps better-known restaurant chain. Though the restaurant name was selected by randomly pulling names out of a New York phone directory, it has risen to such heights that the legendary “Gourmet Magazine” called it “the quintessential New York steakhouse.” It has gone on to become one of the highest grossing restaurants in the country. There’s no arguing with success…nor with the quality of the steak you’ll be able to sample at Smith & Wollensky.
Given the purchasing power of this large restaurant group, you can expect to get the very highest levels of red meat at Smith & Wollensky, and their menu attests that “Our hand cut steaks are chosen from the top 2% of all beef in America and selected for rich, even marbling. Our primal cuts are USDA Prime beef, grain fed and humanely raised. Further enhanced through in house aging for 28 days, the steaks’ natural flavor and tenderness is intensified. Both our USDA Prime Steaks and Signature Filets are sourced from a network of small family farms and sustainably produced by Double R Ranch.”
On the menu are the expected range of outstanding seafood items, either raw or cooked in such dishes as oysters Rockefeller, crab cakes or Angry Shrimp. But you’re really here for the meat, right?
There are New York strip, rib eye and filet, and two steak offerings of particular note are the Snake River Farms American Wagyu New York Strip, 9 ounces of wonderfulness served on a Himalayan salt block with pickled radishes and shiitakes, and the Chateaubriand for Two -- the kind of steak you don’t see much of anymore, though it’s a class offering – served in a perfect executed demi-glace.
If you’re looking for something perhaps a little more casual than the classic upstairs dining room, there’s a comfortable downstairs, as reported in “Crain’s Chicago Business”:
“Like its older, more formal sibling, the Grill sits atop Marina City's marina, though without the pricier restaurant's patio seating. It does have a wall of windows overlooking the Chicago River, though, and a lot of well-prepared beef on its menus. Order anything from a burger with bacon, cheddar and hand-cut fries to marinated skirt steak with truffled pommes frites to dry-aged Kansas City cut sirloin.”
Vegetables get their share of attention in Szechuan green beans (which add a little heat to the mix and balance the richness of the steak) and mushrooms with porcini butter (if you feel like doubling down on the fungus, which is not at all a bad idea: the earthy funk of the ‘shrooms complement the mineral-y earthiness of steak).
Either upstairs or downstairs, there’s a reputable wine list, including many, many selections by the glass.
On the cocktail list, there are also four different types of Manhattans and six different types of Martinis, but this is the type of place where, if you ask your server, you can have them mix you up whatever you want.
Aside from the undeniably wonderful selection of meat, one of the most admirable features of Smith & Wollensky is the flexibility of dining they offer. You can go for a hamburger and fries downstairs (and they will be some of the best you’ve ever had) or a full-bore celebration of red meat in the upper dining room, and be equally comfortable in either place. Either upstairs or down, you’ll see business men in suits, women who lunch with their bags of recently bought booty, and tourists in shorts with cameras, all coming together to enjoy some of the finest meat Chicago has to offer and all receiving the same attentive, professional service.