A sunny day and a restaurant filled with windows is the ideal scenario to snap a few pics of food. Nothing beats all of that natural light for sharp, brilliant, clear photos.
Unfortunately for me and you, my cohorts picked the darkest table in the place for our lunch. It was literally the only table in the restaurant without a light fixture over it. I know this because I'm obsessed with such things, and checked. And so, the photos here suck even more than usual. But I will soldier on, because this is important business here.
By now we all know the story of Wolfgang's. Wolfgang was "head waiter" at Peter Luger for years, opened up his own place on Park Ave South in Manhattan, essentially with the same exact menu as Luger, went on to open another restaurant in Tribeca, and then I blinked and he's got places all over the globe. Including, curiously to moi, Somerville, NJ. He was so darned busy opening restaurants that he forgot to grab the .com domain. .net is so silly.
We ordered a chiefly typical meal here: bacon, oysters, steak for two, creamed spinach, German potatoes.
The bacon is as good as it is at any of the Luger clones. Here's the thing about that bacon: it's just bacon. It's hardly an exceptional product. It is from the belly of the hog. It's not "Canadian bacon" (an actual thing), regardless of what the menu says or how often clueless food writers perpetuate that ridiculous falsehood. It's bacon. It's good because it's salty and smoky and fatty. And I have no problem with that reality.
You'll not find an exciting selection of oysters at Wolfgang's. The menu says "oysters." In the NYC area, that typically means Blue Point (Blue Point must produce an awful lot of oysters, considering how many menus they turn up on). Of course, if you mention oysters to your server, they'll likely kick into up-sell mode. "We can make a nice seafood tower for you," to which I typically respond "would you please just screw the fuck off? Thanks."
<rant>Why is it that certain restaurants think that their customers are gluttons who piss away money to impress their friends or clients? The fact that I'm at an expensive restaurant doesn't mean I want to spend money like the ship is going down. I'm well aware that I can order a seafood tower. Hell I'm pretty sure I can order a porterhouse tower if I want. Have a little respect for your customers. We're frightened, insecure people, too.</rant>
The oysters were fine. Served appropriately cold with the liquor intact, as much as it can be with the unfortunately-shaped Blue Points. Wolfgang's doesn't serve mignonette sauce, as it should. Instead, it serves cocktail sauce, which should not--under any circumstance--be applied to oysters. Unless you are a savage. Feel free to dip your shrimp in it, however.
The dry-aged porterhouse is the main event here. Don't order filet mignon, please. And if you do, don't complain and claim that it wasn't anything special, like a complete tool. Our porterhouse, while tender and lovely, was lacking that intense Luger flavor profile (dry-aged/butter). That butter/beef fat mixture is what gives the Luger steak its punch of dry-aged flavor. That flavor just wasn't very prominent in this steak. A very good steak? Of course it was.
A friend had salmon because he's a strange fella. He loved it. I thought it was pretty good for a steakhouse, where a lack of finesse generally leads to a dried-out piece of fish. Not sure what's with the boring steamed asparagus, though. You'd think they could come up with an economical but more interesting garnish for that pound of fish they're serving. Parsley is scattered about like it's 1980.
The German potatoes were exactly what you'd expect, with their crispy burnt bits and all. Buttery and likely cream-less creamed spinach was exactly what you'd expect, with its spinach and butter and all.
Service vacillated between us wondering which gentleman was there to take our orders, to overly-doting. At one point, as servers were buzzing around the largely empty dining room doing I don't know what, we were trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone, to order Prosecco. Eventually I just sort of motioned my hand in the air and stated "we'd like two Proseccos please" to no one in particular. A couple of servers acknowledged my kingly gesture and did the needful.
It seemed that the existence of my camera was setting off alarms with the servers. I had no place to put it but on the table, and that seemed to grab the attention of some of the guys. New Jersey is a strange place. No where else in the world does a camera create so much fuss, in my experience. I get a lot of "nice camera" from people who clearly know nothing about cameras (it's a decent camera, but nothing to get too excited about). Anyway, I suggest you bring a camera to Wolfgang's, as we were convinced that the free unlimited pours of Prosecco and the gratis, but boring, mashed potato dish were a response to my photography hobby, rather than our dazzling personalities. I'll take doting in the form of a bottomless glass of Prosecco any day.
The meal pretty much hit all of the marks that it is supposed to hit. But having been to restaurants of this style many times, eating essentially the same exact progression of dishes, I'm kind of over it. What happens is I simply compare the meal to Peter Luger, which is neither fair nor fun, just barely enjoying the meal in process.
Additionally, I find it very hard to get excited about this type of big, heavy, plodding, masculine affair. For the money you'll spend at Wolfgang's, assuming you do it correctly, you can eat pretty much anywhere in the state, and experience interesting and dynamic meals from young, talented chefs, using exceptional ingredients.
Of course, one of the compelling aspects of Peter Luger and Luger clones like Wolfgang's is the fact that it is the same ol' same ol'. Same as it always was. These restaurants ignore trends, stubbornly--nobly even--remaining unchanged, respecting their history (or more accurately, the history of Peter Luger). The parsley garnish isn't a mindless misstep. The lack of oyster selection isn't due to a lack of awareness. The boring sides are boring by design, letting the steak shine. It's always been done this way. This is the same meal your grandparents enjoyed. In that context, Wolfgang's does a fine job with their Peter Luger style steak meal.
Indeed, everyone should have this meal once in their life, at the very least, and preferably enough times to grow jaded and bored with it. If you've never had a Luger-inspired meal, and you're in the Somerville area, Wolfgang's should go on your short list, you lucky devil.
Wolfgang's Steakhouse : 119 West Main Street : Somerville, NJ : 908.541.0344