You’d probably have had to be living in a cave in Tokyo if you hadn’t heard of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse since it opened in February last year, in a spacious ground floor location just off the busy Roppongi strip (the spot that was previously the F1 Café). It’s not an exaggeration to say that the arrival of this famous New York steakhouse set off the aged beef trend here, and it still remains one of the hardest establishments to get into.
It might have settled down a bit after a year, but still expect to book well in advance if you want a prime dinner-time table. I arrived well before 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening and the place was already pretty packed, and during my dinner I witnessed some impressively well-coordinated table rotations, with teams of four staff descending on just-vacated dinner tables to refresh it at lightning speed, with only five minutes going by until the next group of diners came and sat down to tuck in. Boy, do they run a tight ship at Wolfgang’s, and that’s always a good sign.
Before I get to the juicy bits, a little on the ambience - light-footed waiters go about to and fro the warmly lit, classically elegant dining room, where one side is completely dominated by a huge glass-walled wine cellar (which is stocked with some heavy-duty wines, like the long row of Opus Ones that I could make out even from across the room). The pleasant acoustics of the dinner crowd buzz (sans BGM) creates a sophisticated and grown-up ambience that feels very “New York.” Even the clanking of bells followed by singing from a swarm of waiters every now and then for birthdays aren’t an annoyance here, but rather adds to the energetic vibe. It’s also charming how popular it is among the well-heeled adults here to celebrate with big, classic hot fudge sundaes adorned with sparkly candles instead of the usual birthday cake.
Now, the steak at Wolfgang’s is something that can never, ever be had at home, no matter how good your or anyone’s grilling skills are. This is extraordinary steak, coming from Wolfgang Zwiener, a man with four decades of experience in the meatery business, most prominently as head waiter of the legendary Peter Luger’s (no wonder he gets the ambience right, along with the food). For one thing, their USDA certified prime-grade beef is dry-aged for 28 days in their special in-house aging room. Two, the steaks, on the bone, are flash-broiled for just a minute and a half in a special oven at 900 degrees, right on their serving plates along with copious amounts of butter, and brought to the table volcanic hot, in all its charred, bubbling glory.
The outside of the steak is crisp and full of flavor, while the inside is a perfect medium-rare pink, and very, very tender. The waiter will pour some of the boiling butter concoction onto your thickly sliced steak chunks when they serve you, and it’s all so naughty and of course, so good. Sides like their creamed spinach and mashed potatoes are fabulous with all of this, and there’s the option of boiled versions of the spinach and other veggies if you want to at least feel like you can offset all of this decadence just a bit; or heck, swing the other way and go all out with the lobster mac n’ cheese. (By the way, I found it very nice that they insist you doggy bag what you don’t finish. They package it really well too, with separate containers for the sides and everything.)
The straightforward menu features appetizers, where the cold seafood selections stand out, and also a section for soups and salads, which are all very good. But let’s face it; they’re what you’ll have while you wait for the real star of the show, which is the steak. Well actually, the desserts are also worth mentioning, especially “Junior’s” cheesecake, which is flown in from New York and is the very same one that you’d get at any of the Wolfgang’s restaurants. This is a true New York cheesecake that I’d say is pretty hard to find elsewhere in Tokyo, and even the whipped cream that they call “schlag,” which comes on the side in a heaping mound, tastes like something you usually only get when you’re stateside; slightly stiffer than normal whipped cream, very sweet, with that distinct vanilla (almond?) flavor. (According to a quick Google search, recipes for schlag are well-guarded secrets of many New York restaurant-institutions, and some New Yorkers are addicted to the stuff and eat it in bowlfuls on its own.)
Some final notes: there’s a lovely walnut bar with inviting leather stools by the entrance, as well as a few high tables, that don’t take reservations so you could just walk in and get your fix of Wolfgang’s steak without planning for it days and weeks in advance. I actually saw a solitary diner doing just that at the counter when I arrived, and he looked perfectly comfortable and content. Also, it’s not advertised on their website (at least not yet) but there’s a happy hour at the bar area from 3-6 p.m. everyday. Drinks are half price, and there’s a “Taste of New York” set menu, consisting of New York Sirloin (330 grams! on the bone) that comes with mashed potatoes and cream spinach, plus a sampling of key lime pie for 4,800 yen. For this kind of steak it’s a steal, and the pie must surely come with some of that schlag.
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse Roppongi
Address: Roppongi Duplex M’s 1st Floor 5-16-50 Roppongi, Minato Ward 106-0032. Tel: 03-5572-6341
Open everyday 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. last order)
Editor’s note: Wolfgang’s opened its second Tokyo location in Marunouchi in December and will open a restaurant in Osaka in April.© Japan Today