As a neighborhood, Penn Station doesn’t spring to mind as a restaurant destination, and it should, because there are several steakhouses there that are every bit as good as any in Manhattan, among them Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse. The area gets so little gastronomic attention that I wasn’t aware that Nick & Stef’s even existed, although it’s been up and running for seven years.
The sophisticated and deliberately modern space looks rather like the lobby of the Sydney Opera House, with its succession of randomly slanted ceilings and soft lighting. In addition to giving the 150-seat room distinctive and jazzy dimension, the multifaceted ceiling offers acoustical advantages: it collaborates with the clothed tables and carpeted floor to keep the dining room fairly quiet. A long banquette lines the south wall, while enormous windows run all along the north wall.
Clever executive chef Stephen Rosenbluth has fashioned a menu that includes all the steakhouse touchstones but also incorporates plenty of unusual choices, such as cider-braised pork shanks and a seafood mixed grill. His cooking continually evinces a thorough and justifiable trust in the quality of his ingredients. Nothing was too fussed-with.
We began with a bold and sassy Bloody Mary, made with startling Absolut Pepper, freshly grated horseradish, tomato juice, Tabasco sauce, all stabbed with a pickled pale asparagus spear. It was one of the better Bloody Marys I’ve had in quite some time.
Blue Point oysters are especially juicy and sweet this time of year-one of the many reasons to welcome autumn in New York. Similarly, littleneck clams really come into their own, piquant and coppery.
Sizzling fried calamari rings were perfectly cooked to just the right chew, and their marinara sauce had plenty of oregano and cayenne pepper.
Rosenbluth’s lobster bisque was just heavenly, smoky and rich with plenty of chunky lobster. I wish more restaurants were as generous with lobster meat.
Steaks and chops come with your choice of sauces: mushroom-brandy, peppercorn, horseradish cream, bordelaise, béarnaise or hollandaise. An inch-thick grilled veal rib chop was lightly charred and particularly juicy, and it particularly enjoyed the béarnaise I selected, thick with fresh tarragon.
The “surf and turf” was fortunately less overwhelming than it often is, featuring an eight-ounce filet mignon and a manageable split and broiled one-pound lobster. The chef told us he broils the lobster under leaves of Napa cabbage to retain as much moisture as possible.
Roesti potatoes (basically a plump Swiss potato pancake) were a bit undercooked and under-seasoned, but nearly tennis-ball-sized potato and goat cheese croquettes were sensational: pungent, fluffy and crunchy all at once. Hen of the woods mushrooms were deeply sautéed with plenty of fresh rosemary to maximize their dark and beguiling flavors.
Pastry chef Anila Derhemi fashioned a warm and luscious crème brülée, and a really glorious roasted pineapple macaroon, served under a fat scoop of vanilla ice cream. The macaroon was not too coconutty, so that the darkly baked pineapple flavor shone through.
Penn Station commuters and Madison Square Garden audiences have a pretty splendid array of dining options, but Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse is well worth a detour for all New Yorkers.
Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse
9 Penn Plaza
(W. 33rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth aves.)
Entrees: $25 to $44
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