The Back Bay of Boston is home to many things you might expect to find in a city-the public library, numerous hotels and office buildings, dozens of restaurants, exciting shopping possibilities and....a castle? One of the most unique architectural structures is The Castle- built in 1891 and used as the home for the First Corps of Cadets- it stands out among the other buildings as a true gem of the city. Even more interesting is it now holds, among other things, Boston's location for Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse. Continuing our quest to dine at every steakhouse in Boston, John and I headed there last night to try their offering.
The space itself is really beautiful. The main dining room really captures the Medieval feel of the building, decorated with crests, a large beautiful fireplace and gorgeous brown leather. We started at the bar to have a couple of drinks pre dinner (and to get an up close view of the beginning few innings of the Twins/Yanks game). The bartenders were very pleasant and helpful, and when we were ready to be seated for dinner, quickly found us a table where we could continue to monitor the game. So far so good.
Once seated though, we were greeted by our head server. From the start I found him rather brusque, but hoped he'd ease up as the evening progressed. He did not. Though he did tell us how each steak is prepared with great detail, his heart did not seem to be in it at all, and he honestly seemed rather bored by it all. Again-I hoped that he would perk up by the end of the evening.
We chose to start with the Beef Carpaccio, one of my all time favorite dishes. I tend to really enjoy it before a steak dinner as well as the nature of the thinly sliced beef is a perfect palate wetter, and helps build the excitement for the main course. The anticipated dish is normally served as paper thing slices of just seared beef, topped with a mustard dressing, and often some sort of greenery (arugula is what Ive seen the most). Smith and Wollensky's version was quite far from this. The beef it self was far thicker than I had seen before, about a 1/4 inch thick, and had about the same amount deep of a cooked ring. Granted it was very tender and wonderful flavor, but was just too large a portion to be a real Carpaccio. The salad served on top was nice-though very busy-comprised of arugula, frisee, cherry tomatoes, fennel and provolone cheese.
After just the right amount of time to enjoy the appetizer, they cleared the dish and brought our entrees. I have to mention that the lovely lady who served our plates was wonderful- an obvious contrast to our head server. She was friendly and knowledgeable, taking time to ensure that her guests were well cared for and happy with each dish.
John and I had both chosen Filet Mignon for our main courses-but prepared in different ways- John's was their Oscar- a 10 oz Filet topped with crab meat and Bernaise Sauce, with a serving of steamed asparagus, mine was File Au Poivre- a 10 oz Filet crusted with black pepper and served in a red wine sauce. We also selected their seasonal vegetables (snow peas sauteed with red pepper, garlic and leeks) and their truffled mac and cheese for sides.
I started by trying the vegetable dish which had really nice onion-y flavor, but was incredibly greasy, which nullified the idea of attempting to lighten our heavy meal. The mac and cheese on the other hand, now that was fantastic. The perfect amount of cheese and cream sauce with macaroni, and an amazing breadcrumb crust. I also loved that you could actually pick out small pieces of truffle that showed throughout the dish, and definitely added to its decadence. Delicious.
My steak, however, was disappointing. The crust of crushed black pepper was nice and thick and offered some good spice to the meat, but the steak itself was completely undercooked. I am not one to send things back to the kitchen, but I was a bit tempted in this case. However, the meat was flavorful and deliciously tender so I decided to keep it and experience the rareness of the beef. The wine sauce was tasty, though rather salty.
I did steal a few bites of John's entree which was cooked correctly and topped with big pieces of crab. It was really incredibly delicious and he was quite pleased with his choice.
Our head server came back to clear our plates, and did at that time at least crack a smile. We were given dessert menus, and for the first time at a steak house, we did not see anything that sounded really delicious- so we skipped it. Again, our served seemed annoyed by that news.
As a whole, we were not impressed with our experience at Smith and Wollensky. We found many of their practices odd, such as framing the menu in a sturdy wood and glass frame, but giving flimsy paper bill holders at the end. The food, for its price point, was not exceptional, especially given the incorrect temperature of my steak. Finally, our server was not of the temperament that was conducive to an enjoyable evening out.
Smith and Wollensky becomes the first location on our list of steakhouses that enters in as a "will not return".