Perhaps you assume that steakhouses in NYC or any city for that matter are a dime a dozen and not the least bit unique. Perhaps for a vast majority, you would be right but Empire Steakhouse next to Rockefeller Center is owned and operated by a family who have raised cattle, helped prepare, and served choice cuts since they were children. Growing up in a centuries-old stone farmhouse in Montenegro, owner Jack Sinanaj along with his brother and cousins stood side-by-side with their father and uncles learning by doing….selecting the right animals, butchering and preparation along with aging and storage.
After working in their family’s restaurant, Jack moved on to NYC for better opportunities working as a waiter and then as manager at the legendary Peter Luger’s. Here he spent hours in the kitchen, before and after his shift. He came to work with a list of questions for the executive chef eagerly taking notes on the best tips for determining meat quality, cooking temperatures and seasoning. Jack was grooming himself to open a steakhouse of his very own by learning the finer points of how to source the best ingredients, cultivate relationships with local growers and butchers, along with marketing and brand development.
After forging out with his brother Ben and some cousins opening Ben and Jack’s to rave reviews, Jack accentuated the experience by opening sister restaurant Empire Steakhouse just a few months ago. Remarkably, they are building a regular customer base and some impressive accolades even in this down economy. I simply had to see and taste what’s shaping their spectacular fortune!
The big thing to keep in mind about Empire Steakhouse is not to let the posh exterior, white cloth tables, and
extremely attentive well dressed wait staff intimidate you. Sure this is a top-notch steakhouse and the menu isn’t for somebody on a fast-food budget. But step inside the door and you’ll be warmly greeted by the hostess and more often than not by Jack himself with a warm handshake.
You’ll be escorted to a dining area that’s elegant but far from stuffy with classic rock lightly playing in the background melting any pretensions. Dinner guests comfortably chat over drinks while waiters playfully attend to their every wish. All steaks here are hand selected by Jack and his cousins. The NY strip all the way up to the 88 oz. Porterhouse for 4 undergoes a 28-day dry aging process. The side dishes here also stellar with offerings like German potato, creamed spinach, sautéed asparagus, and truly fresh salads.
I noticed a gravy boat on the table with ladle and red sauce inside. I confirmed that this was steak sauce and asked if it were house made. “Everything is made on site here,” said the waiter. Now I knew I was in for a treat! A mixed salad came that was ever so lightly dressed with a vinaigrette and mounded with the freshest mixed greens. A far cry from a classic Caesar Salad or iceberg that so many other steak joints serve.
It didn’t take me long to settle on a butter soft cut of filet Mignon that was charred to perfection on the outside while retaining a heavenly pink interior. At first I asked for medium well but the waiter suggested medium would be adequate preserving the delicate texture. This paired nicely with an Broquel Malbec served at just the right temperature to allow plenty of flavor explosions on the palate. Their homemade cottage fries are humungous but not overly laden with salt or oil. These should be the standard for potato chips! Same deal with the wholesome mashed potatoes, top-notch precisely because they were simply made with potatoes, butter, and milk whipped to perfection.
I didn’t think it would be possible to venture onward to the dessert menu but a slice of key lime pie accompanying a cappuccino beckoned. I simply needed to give one of their espresso drinks a try and in this case the creamy cappuccino bested the desert making it the object of my affection. I nursed it not letting go until I licked the remaining foam ring from the cup’s edge. Only then was I ready to shove off into the night secretly planning my next visit.
photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky and Empire Steakhouse. This restaurant review made possible by a sponsored visit