The newest Honolulu steakhouse boasts an authentic taste of New York
I thought the best way to get a measure of the city’s newest “New York” steakhouse would be to go with a guy from New York. Because, unlike many other dining experiences, the New York steakhouse is not really open to interpretation.
“There are certain things you expect from a steakhouse,” said my New Yorker dining companion as we climbed the stairs at Royal Hawaiian Center and were faced with our first view of Wolfgang’s.
Those “certain things” include an impressive entrance, expansive dining room and lots of wood. Wolfgang’s has them all – American walnut wood floors, exotic African wenge wood wainscoting and a solid mahogany bar offer immediate elegance. The 30-foot custom-designed glass ceiling and mosaic tiles are testaments to the original Wolfgang’s in New York. Crisp white tablecloths, floor-to-ceiling windows and a sharp, well-trained staff complete the initial impression.
“They’re on it,” my New Yorker whispered as we were led to the table.
The dining room is beautifully proportioned, and if it weren’t for windows open to let in the colorful street noises from Kalakaua Avenue and a view of palm trees gently rustling outside the second-story restaurant, you could easily think yourself in New York.
“A steakhouse has to look a certain way,” says Wolfgang Zwiener, the charismatic owner and sometime host. “The attention to detail, to the smallest things, are all important.”
The German-born Zwiener, who immigrated to New York at the age of 14, has been “taking care of the details” for some 50 or more years. He spent 40 years at Peter Luger’s famed steakhouse, where he was a legendary waiter. But retirement didn’t seem in his future.
“It was my son Peter who brought it up,” he says affably. “I was happy to retire until Peter asked me, ‘Why would you do that? What are you going to do?'”
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener opened in February 2004 on Park Avenue in New York to rave reviews from The New York Times, making it an immediate hit. Restaurants followed in Tribeca then Beverly Hills, and within a couple of years, plans were being made to open restaurant No. 4 – in Hawaii.
“We love Hawaii,” says Zwiener. “My wife and I have always wanted to be here.”
Adds general manager Amir Ibrahim: “We’re very happy. We’ve been very well-received; the local people seem to really love us.”
There’s a lot to love: Aged steaks, chilled oysters, 3-pound lobsters, fresh fish and more than a dozen steakhouse sides make up the menu. And an evening here is the very best kind of restaurant theater. Things happen at Wolfgang’s almost in a New York minute. Water arrives as you sit down, menus come out quickly, the wine list appears immediately and helpful wine recommendations are suggested.
The managers and senior staff are steakhouse veterans, and they exude a masterful confidence when talking about “their” steaks, “their” wines, “their” sides.
“It’s not just a job, working in a steakhouse,” says Ibrahim. “It’s a profession. You have to learn about the steak, the aging process, the wine. And there’s a very high standard of excellence – when it comes to steak, people who enjoy it, they want only the best. In America, we certainly have the best steak. At Wolfgang’s, we give them that.”
The steaks take center stage in this theater of fine dining. Aged in a 36-38 degree refrigerated room, then cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the meat is tender with the attendant intense flavoring that the aging process brings.
Twenty-eight days is the optimum aging time. The steaks, all chosen by Zwiener, include the signature porterhouse (which may be ordered for two, three or four), as well as filet mignon, prime New York sirloin and a wonderful rib eye. The in-house aging process brings out an earthiness and a nuttiness in the meat, leaving it so tender, it causes the inevitable comparison to a slab of butter.
I’d also go to Wolfgang’s just for the appetizers. Clams on the half-shell, lobster tails, the plumpest, juiciest crab meat and giant shrimp make Wolfgang’s unequaled in the city if seafood’s your thing. There’s fresh fish from the auction and grilled wild salmon, as well.
There’s a fairly small, well-chosen wine list that offers much in the way of Californian cabernets, and lush, fruity New World wines that make it easy for even a novice wine drinker to make a good choice.
If Zwiener’s intent was to bring the New York steak experience to Hawaii, then he can consider his mission accomplished.
“It feels good to make people happy,” he says. “In life we all want the best, we all want to feel the best. And here, we want to keep that up – to keep it going for everyone.”
Steak, lobster, fine wine, a gorgeous dining room and a smiling, efficient staff.
It’s not only New Yorkers who approve.
By Wolfgang Zwiener
2201 Kalakaua Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96815