Decadence has its place. A big birthday, a successful IPO, the last kid finally leaves home…
Though we’re all aware that plant-based eating is best for our bodies and the planet, there are those times when it’s right and proper to abandon all rules of sensible consumption. High-end steaks, lovingly prepared, are that once-in-a-blue moon splurge, and New Haven has some of the best.
Are you ready to break the bank, eat every item on the “bad fats” list, and consume a week’s worth of calories in a single sitting? Here are three ways to do just that in New Haven. Dig in!
At Goodfellas, beloved by the Elm City since 2005, Chef Gerry Iannaccone is as joyful as he’s ever been. His enthusiasm for just about everything – his talented kids, a recent trip to Italy, his ever-popular State Street eatery – hasn’t dimmed a bit, despite his many years in the grueling restaurant biz.
“I’m in a great spot in my life and my career,” says the chef. “I feel like I’m blooming.” Goodfellas is also in its prime. Service is seamless, gracious. The dining room, with its widely spaced tables, low-key tones, and kind lighting, feels downright serene – this, in spite of the many TVs on the far walls continuously running gangster movies.
The menu at Goodfellas rarely changes (with the exception of seasonal specials) and regulars wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet in and among the tried-and-true staples – Papardelle al Telefono, Beggar’s Purse, the famous Meatballs with Salad – is a dish that stands above all others, and that is the Filet Cognac.
The story of the steak began in 1995, when Iannaccone was cooking at Tre Scalini on Wooster Street. “There was a veal scallopini on the menu,” he recalls. “It had grilled portobello mushrooms, Maine lobster meat, and a gorgonzola cream sauce. The flavor was great but the veal was egg-battered, and it would shrink when you cooked it. Some customers said it was a little tough.” When Chef switched out the veal and replaced it with beef tenderloin, a legendary dish was born. “I’ve made that steak ever since, at all eight of my restaurants over the years,” he says, “and it’s still my top seller.”
And what a steak it is. The filet mignon is hand-butchered on the premises, as is all the beef at Goodfellas, and is probably three inches thick, encased in a perfectly executed crust. On the top is a grilled portobello cap, which itself is crowned with tender pink lobster claws, picked whole, and drizzled with the gorgonzola sauce. With mashed potatoes on the side, the whole arrangement looks more like a dessert than an entrée – a chocolate lava cake, perhaps. It is certainly as rich, and as extravagant.
Should you find yourself in a position to request your last meal, make the most of it. Start with Goodfellas’ complimentary antipasti; then, an order of Clams Casino; add a Mediterranean salad, with dark and pleasingly weedy greens; warm Italian bread with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic, and grated cheese; a full-bodied red wine; and Gerry’s Filet Cognac. Savor every bite. It is a true pleasure of life.
Jack’s Bar + Steakhouse, at 212 College St., skews young. Smack in the center of downtown’s nightlife district, the room is buzzy and fun, with LED “fireplaces” and a lively bar scene. There are irreverent offerings on the extensive menu, including Jack’s Naked Wild Wings, Tater Tots, and the Man’s Salad, featuring onion rings and bacon. But when it comes to steaks, Jack’s is all business, and sticks to time-honored steakhouse rules. As such, it is an a-la-carte experience, with wet-aged prime Angus steaks listed by cut and weight. There is filet mignon, New York strip, ribeye, hanger steak, top-of-the-line porterhouse, and a tomahawk chop.
With sauce, toppings, and side dish options, it’s possible to build your own perfect steak dinner at Jack’s. And, with the guidance of our very helpful server, my dining pal and I did damn near that. After much discussion, we went for the 22-ounce ribeye, cooked medium rare. With it, two sauces: béarnaise and Jack’s horseradish (chimichurri also looked promising) with garlic butter on the side. Then, from a list of sides, including tempting choices like curry cauliflower and mushroom risotto, we opted for grilled asparagus, plus the double-baked potato, a dish I once heard described as a “culinary tool of seduction” for American men.
Our meal was, in a word, delicious. We had started with a fragrant appetizer of steamed clams, which tasted hyper-local. The much-anticipated steak arrived in glistening slices, cooked to temperature, and proved to be tender, juicy, and deeply flavorful. Sauces were spot on (I’m a béarnaise snob, and I was pleased). The sides complemented each other as well as the steak, with the brightness of the slightly firm, simply prepared asparagus in contrast to the decadent, creamy potato.
Jack’s has a large menu, with no fewer than eight categories including Small Plates, Shellfish, Homemade Pasta, and even a section for kids. The place has been open for about two years now, and my experience there has been limited. So, although I can’t speak to any of the restaurant’s other categorical offerings, I will say that Jack’s Bar + Steakhouse really knows what to do with a beautiful piece of red meat.
116 Crown Street has been ahead of the curve, on so many levels, since the day it opened its hand-forged iron doors in 2007. Long before the term “craft cocktail” was in the foodie lexicon, 116 was creating original drinks with provocative names (“Glitterati,” “The New Black,” “Purple Curtain”), unexpected ingredients (apple cider foam, quail egg, Earl Grey tea), and designer ice. The wine cellar, which focuses on organic and biodynamic offerings, has also been ahead of its time. Then there’s the ever-evolving dinner menu, which has always featured surprising dishes along with of-the-moment charcuterie and cheese plates. Under the steady hand and visionary mind of proprietor Danielle Ginnetti, 116 Crown has been so consistently avant-garde that I never imagined it would offer something as traditional as a great steak. And yet, the Cookout for Two at 116 Crown is old-fashioned to the point of feeling downright prehistoric.
Our epic feast started with classic cocktails. Settled in a cozy half-circle of a booth in the raised dining room, overlooking the glowing slab of green onyx that serves as 116’s bar, we two ordered from the drink menu’s “Revived Cocktails.” These familiar concoctions are “historically-sized,” that is, they are served in petite vessels from days gone by and are thus blessedly easy on the alcohol content. Then, a plate of icy East Coast oysters, served with a Beaujolais shallot mignonette. Next, the star of the show: a 40-ounce organic grass-fed Maine Angus tomahawk steak. This Flinstonian cut, with its one enormous rib, was cooked to temperature throughout (quite a feat) and cut into various-sized slices. Laid out before us, with potatoes two ways (crispy and whipped) plus sautéed button mushrooms with garlic and oodles of house-churned herbed butter, we felt a bit as if we were foraging for each bite, hunter-gatherers with wristwatches and shiny shoes.
Tomahawk steak is essentially a bone-in ribeye, but bigger and much more dramatic. As such, it has plenty of fat, which makes for maximum juiciness, and also three different types of muscle, each with its own characteristics. With our inner cave people fully awakened, we explored the whole range of flavors and textures of the beast before us, finding melt-in-your mouth tenderness here, and satisfying chewiness there, and appreciated that, in my friend’s words, the dish wasn’t “too cleaned up.” The buttery whipped potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had, and lovely with the garlicky mushrooms.
We didn’t think our feast could get any better, but, in a flash of inspiration, my dining companion requested some of the bamboo charcoal salt he’d seen as an ingredient on the cocktail menu. It arrived, delightfully enough, in a mini carafe.
Really, the steak was perfectly seasoned and didn’t need more salt, and neither did we. But we were so taken with the idea of black salt on a tomahawk steak that we tried it anyway, and loved the results.
Sometimes, on special nights with special friends and special meals, more is more
Photography by Stan Godlewski