The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group sold $125 million worth of protein-rich goodies nationwide last year, in part because the company’s restaurants have a timeless appeal. But timelessness can be boring. To keep up with younger and hipper steakhouses, Michael Stillman—son of Smith & Wollensky founder Alan Stillman—shuttered Manhattan Ocean Club, a 22-year-old seafood palace in midtown, and replaced it with Quality Meats. It is literally the choice of a new generation.
The look and feel comes from the city’s hottest design firm, AvroKO (the folks behind Public and the Stanton Social). They’ve converted a once stodgy space into a highly stylized industrial theme park. The Picasso bowls that had lined the walls were sold at auction and replaced with meat-hook light fixtures, wooden butcher blocks, white tiles and exposed brick. The wine inventory—which includes many excellent American selections—brackets the stairway between two dining floors.
The only thing that didn’t change was the chef: Craig Koketsu, a rising star who was trained at the legendary Lespinasse. His charcuterie menu offers a half-dozen cheeses and sliced meats—though you can’t mix and match from the categories. A variety of chunky dipping sauces, like pear-ginger, are also available, though these prove to be superfluous—no one needs to spread anything over these ingredients.
True to its name, Quality Meats gets its beef from two respected purveyors: Strassburger Meats and Milton Abeles. The menu gets a tad esoteric in the entrée section: There are meats (filet mignon, rib eye, lamb) and then there are custom “butcher’s cuts”—like the $110, 64-ounce monster cut for two attached to a Flintstones-sized rib. Great meat requires great preparation—and Koketsu nails the straightforward steaks, but he gets in trouble when he adds more than any plate needs. In “the three filets,” he divides a 12-ounce filet mignon into distinct four-ounce cuts and then transforms them into steak au poivre (actually more sweet than peppery), beef Wellington (which wears a token piece of crust) and beef Oscar-style (adorned with crabmeat and a cream sauce). During one meal, the trio meat was virtually cold, as if it had been waiting for its clothes for some time.
Koketsu also breathes new life into side dishes and desserts. While the creamed-spinach soufflé was dull, I liked the puddinglike corn crème brûlée and the airy “gnocchi & cheese.” The desserts are high-concept—maybe overly so—and organized into three categories: pies, tarts and ice creams. The pecan, chocolate and bourbon combination “pie” turned out to be crustless and way too boozy. The homemade ice creams, however, were outstanding; the coffee had doughnut chunks and a little doughnut on top.
In a city where too many steakhouses seem exactly the same—and the Smith & Wollensky group takes some of the blame—Quality Meats is a welcome addition to the family. Just remember to order simply and let the meat do the talking.