Smith & Wollensky
[from September 1999 issue]

Smith & Wollensky, DC's newest and grandest steak house, answers the old McDonald's ad, "Where's the beef?" It's here and it's terrific, each cut aged and pampered weeks before it reaches the grill and your plate. In fact, it's tempting to drag out the critics' words about "fork-tender" and "butter-smooth" meats. They just about apply here.

If you are not familiar with S&W, then you don't come from New York, where this venerable '30s-looking steakhouse imposes itself on Third Avenue. It resembles a cigar-chomping, brew-drinking kind of place, with loads of New York character and rough-edge charm, to say nothing of beef-house audacity and sky-high prices.

In DC, the S&W lure comes from its obvious class: the dark woods, marble panels, front terrace, and the impression of lush greenery at every turn. If you want to start your S&W venture on the right foot (make reservations first; you may not get in without them), linger just a moment at the front retail counter where various cuts of its meats are plastic-wrapped and displayed, along with the house cookbook and boxes of expensive-looking cigars.

Then, gird your loins and check that your pocketbook has plenty of cash, or that at least your credit cards are in order, because you are about to enter steak heaven, but you'll have to pay the price. Especially at night, when the least expensive menu item is the pea soup at $5.75 a serving. The most expensive? The double sirloin, $59.50, and that's without the sides of whipped potatoes or steak fries.

Lunches offer much better deals, because you can feast on the 12-ounce filet mignon and spend only $19.50 for the steak. Or let's think lunch, and work through its menu. A recent soup of the day was their New England clam chowder, a rather regal and fish-filled offering that puts the clams back into chowder. The soup is thick, creamy, and actually chunky with seafood--and it is served in style, in a covered bowl and with a hand-applied garnish of parsley at the table. Want more salt and pepper? Just sprinkle from the table's shakers. Want a salad instead? Try their Caesar, which looks like a good variation of the classic California salad.

Check the specials board before you order (the clam chowder was posted there) and see what's up for the day besides steak. Or turn your attention to the menu for the lunch classics (the 12-ounce filet, the 20-ounce grilled prime rib, roast beef hash) or the section for the dinner steaks and chops. You might reasonably decide that consuming a 28-ounce prime rib midday is overkill.

A wiser choice is their sliced steak sandwich, which offers you moderate size and succulent steak in an affordable package--bread. An ideal all-American sandwich, it features a side of big, chunky, skin-on fries; a sour-ish dill pickle; and a baguette slice heaped with thin slices of tender, flavorful steak. Luscious.

Desserts? Well, should you have room and appetite enough, check out their listings. There's cheesecake, of course, their "store-bought" cheesecake, and the carrot cake, drunken doughnuts, and a chocolate cake. I didn't stick around for the sweets, but chances are that the portions are just as enormous as those for the rest of the meal.

Smith & Wollensky is a haven for the rugged and upscale, for those who don't mind plonking out big bucks for big meals. But besides that, the food is really good and the ambiance, New Yorkish. Enjoy.

Smith & Wollensky, 1112 19th St.; 466-1100. Hours: in the Grill every day, 11am-2am; in the Main Dining Room, Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-3:30pm for lunch & 5:30-11:30pm for dinner and on Sat. & Sun., 5:30-11:30pm for dinner only. Price range: Expensive, but worth every penny. Major credit cards accepted.

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