Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is a prime example of why restaurant critics make more than one visit before filing a review.
My first dinner at the downtown Miami outpost of the New York-based mini-chain left me sharpening my proverbial knives, ready to slay Wolfgang’s for a dismal dining experience. But a follow-up meal lifted the restaurant closer to what I imagine are owner Wolfgang Zwiener’s lofty standards.
It helped, of course, that the food was outstanding on each occasion.
Zwiener opened this Wolfgang’s in April in developer Jorge Perez’s One Miami. The space, which affords a gorgeous view of the Miami River, has been home to a series of short-lived restaurants: Prime Blue Grille, Solymar and Scalina.
Wolfgang’s concept will be familiar to anyone who has dined at Brooklyn’s legendary Peter Luger’s Steakhouse, where Zwiener toiled as a waiter for more than four decades. Meat and potatoes rule a concise, one-page menu that’s rounded out by crab cakes, Caesar salad, salmon and the like. The cuisine isn’t meant to dazzle food bloggers; it’s meant to satisfy cravings for animal protein, salt and fat.
And that crab cake: A scale-tipping patty bigger than a hockey puck provided bite after bite of jumbo lump meat and very little filler. The outside was a crispy golden-brown, and a tangy tartar sauce, a spritz of lemon juice and a side of lightly dressed greens brought contrast to the buttery, pan-seared cake.
Salads, like everything here, are large enough to share. Waiters (typically I’d use the more-PC term “servers,” but Wolfgang’s dining room has nary a female employee beyond the hostess stand) will graciously split salads tableside.
The Caesar was good enough, with a savory umami element from its anchovy dressing. I much preferred a house salad of chilled, chopped shrimp, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and bacon that was refreshing in late-summer Miami.
But it’s the steak you’re there for, and it’s the steak that will bring you back. The porterhouse is dry-aged in-house and comes in portions for two, three or four people. Although, at any size, you’ll have plenty to take home: The two-person portion is a hefty 36-or-so ounces.
The kitchen slices the meat and serves it sizzling in clarified butter and its own juices on a white-hot platter. The prime steak was precisely cooked to our requested temperature and had the right amount of salt to amplify its beefiness. A side order of German potatoes — a piled-high hash of griddled carbs and onions – makes a meal feel downright manly.
Non-beef entrees like lamb chops and seared tuna proved that Wolfgang’s can turn out more than proper steaks.
So what went so wrong on that first visit? The service would have been disappointing at a Denny’s. At Wolfgang’s, with its New York steakhouse prices (that two-person porterhouse runs north of $90), it felt like a slap in the face.
“Want wine?” our waiter grunted in lieu of a welcome.
When we asked for menu recommendations, he smugly shrugged, “Steak’s good,” and walked away.
Behind us, a man leaped out of his seat when hot butter from a steak platter splattered onto his dress shirt. He sat down, and it happened again. If a manager came over to offer anything by way of an apology, I didn’t see it.
Next to us, a tourist couple sent back a slice of cheesecake after finding a piece of wax paper in it. When we left after paying our $300 tab for two, the host was too busy schmoozing with a bartender to thank us for coming.
It was a different story on our second visit, when we were those jerks who showed up close to closing time. Our waiter never made us feel rushed. On the contrary, when we discovered we lived near each other, he brought over two glasses of dessert wine as a neighborly gesture.
Two visits to Wolfgang’s revealed that the restaurant could stand to smooth its service edges, particularly on busy weekend nights. But with straightforward meat-and-potatoes that are beyond reproach, it’s a welcome addition to Miami’s steakhouse scene.