SMITH & WOLLENSKY
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Photography courtesy Courtesy Smith & Wollensky
How does a sleepy midwestern (cow)town end up on the short list of locations for a world-renowned American steakhouse boasting sites in cities like Taipei, London, New York and Boston? Speculation has it that when Smith & Wollensky opened its 10,000 square foot anchor restaurant and bar in 2002 at the fountained entrance to the toniest shopping district at a fledgling Easton Town Center, a certain central Ohio retail tycoon was bringing one of his faves close to home. And when a brilliant visionary puts his stamp of approval on a product or brand, it’s a good idea to take notice.
As Easton celebrates the 20th anniversary since opening in 1999, Smith & Wollensky’s position as the premier white tablecloth dining option has never been stronger. An extensive renovation in 2017 expanded capacity and touched nearly every dining space, including the ever-popular patio that can now be enclosed during the coldest months to offer a comfortable option for people-watching year round. On a warm late spring evening, a friend and I had an opportunity to relax in the open air space while sampling a preview of the spring / summer menu, presented by Executive Chef Isaac Holzwarth.
Chef Isaac is as personable as he is talented. His unassuming, humble countenance belies a passion for quality food and seriously studied preparation. With a professional background spanning Chicago to London, he seems to have found his sweet spot among the like-minded pros throughout the Smith & Wollensky restaurant group. Throughout our visit, it was refreshing to see his face light up as we expressed our enthusiasm and satisfaction for dish after dish. His detailed explanation of company values, diligent food and wine sourcing programs (that emphasize not only excellence but sustainability), and an absolute focus on masterful technique enhanced our experience beyond compare.
Dinner at Smith & Wollensky starts with the decadent, scoopable Popover rolls (carb-conscious need not pay attention) lathered in butter. Mindful of the number of courses we’d be sampling, we struggled to exercise any self-control. Our server warmed up our palate with a sampling from the from the “Liquid Assets” drink menu. The Strawberry Sipper is a refreshing concoction of Sobieski Vodka, fresh strawberries, pink peppercorn syrup and club soda – not too sweet, but instead balanced and light. The Bees Knees is a Gunpowder Ginbased drink with lemon juice and honey syrup; it has a definitively floral scent and is very smooth. Our final pre-dinner cocktail was the Summer Sidecar, a seasonal update to the bar menu standard with Redemption Bourbon, Martell Blue Swift Cognac, crème de pêche and lemon juice.
For the second course, Chef Isaac served up a highlight from the summer salad menu: the Asian Salad, a crunchy, sweet and savory mixture of napa cabbage, edamame, popcorn shoots, sprouts, watermelon radish, spicy cashews, crispy wonton and a peanut vinaigrette. We all agreed that the spicy cashews deserve a spot on the Bar Bites menu for easy noshing.
Next up from the selection of newly-added starters was a personal favorite: earthy, creamy Roasted Beets served with whipped goat cheese, pistachios and truffle honey. Alongside this light and fresh selection, we sampled the hearty but tender Grilled Bacon, (which is more accurately described as a chop than a slice) cooked confit-style and garnished with burnt orange bourbon gastrique, pickled red banana pepper and green and opal basil. The Tempura King Crab appetizer is a delectable combination of heat and cream; the fresno peppers offering a bit of bite that is quickly soothed by the amazing togarashi aioli, lightened with ponzu and a touch of scallion oil.
Three-wine Flights mark the spring menu rollout, each offered for just $30 and available at lunch, dinner, and the bar. A white and rosé option includes vibrant tasting notes of fresh, crisp fruit and a subtle herbaceous element in the Spanish wine; rose petals, herbs, and citrus with a delicate minerality in the French selection; and a purity of stone fruit flavors with vibrant acidity in the California glass. The red flight was well-suited to our main course with a smooth pinot noir; a big red blend from California with a full, palate-coating texture; and a classic, intensely-perfumed Bordeaux.
Though the Salmon Steak entree was truly delicious, make no mistake, the menu celebrates beef. The steaks at Smith & Wollensky are dry-aged in-house for 28 days and stand alone confidently, but are beautifully enhanced by adding any number of finishes, including a Brandy Peppercorn Sauce, Lobster Tail and Oscar style. We trusted Chef Isaac’s guidance and sampled the Boneless New York Strip, a full-flavor, full-texture steak with intense flavor and a rich, decadent finish alongside the delectable Snake River Farms American Wagyu Tenderloin, a buttery, mild bite with fork-tender texture and topped with Foie Gras Truffle Butter. One of the restaurant group’s marketing campaigns may have said it best: “If steak were a religion, this would be its cathedral.”
From the extensive sides menu, the creamy corn (oh-so-fresh from the cob) with manchego could have been a meal by itself, and the potatoes are crispy but light and fluffy inside. Creamed spinach and crimini mushrooms in porcini butter are a quality presentation of old steakhouse standbys.
The joke of the evening was when the dessert assortment arrived to our table, and I was afraid that news of my sweet-tooth must have preceded me. Our table became a spectacle for passersby, who were stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of the three most popular desserts in indescribably lavish portions. Though large in size, the Coconut Layered Cake is remarkably light on the palate, moistened with coconut rum and garnished with fresh coconut, coconut cream, and a crispy and delicate coconut tuile (see the website for the recipe). Another steakhouse standard, the New York Style Cheesecake did not disappoint, a shareable serving dressed with raspberry coulis. We decided that dictionary illustration for the word “ginormous” should be a photo of the chocolate cake from S&W. Ten layers of cake, each brushed with Bailey’s Irish Cream and topped with a creamy chocolate mousse, the entire, gigantic indulgence covered in thick ganache and adorned with a cow-shaped chocolate cutout cookie.
Though we couldn’t have accommodated another bite, my previous experiences at Smith & Wollensky have included the not-to-be-missed (and meantto-be-shared) Shellfish Tower brimming with chilled Alaskan king crab, lobster, jumbo shrimp and oysters accompanied by classic cocktail sauce, cognac mustard, ginger sauce and sherry mignonette (with options for two, four or six people). It is a delicacy and decadence that everyone should experience at least once.
Thanks to a menu full of tough choices and more than generous portion sizes, no one leaves Smith & Wollensky hungry. The inevitable take-home bags say it all with “Lucky Dog” printed on the sides.
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