Benjamin Steakhouse, located a block away from Grand Central Terminal in New York’s Midtown, is the result of a coup of sorts by chef Arturo McLeod, who left Brooklyn’s famed Peter Luger after 20 years to open it inside the Dylan Hotel. The soaring, clubby, masculine space is a classic New York steakhouse, and a recent meal there at the invitation of the restaurant left us very satisfied.
The dining room of the restaurant is high-ceilinged, with a perpetually-packed bar on one side. There’s a working fireplace and wood paneling, and its only drawback is a lack of windows. If you’ve ever been to Luger’s (or any major steakhouse, really), you know what to expect from the menu: shrimp cocktail, giant slabs of sizzling bacon, crab cakes, onion soup, sliced tomato and onions, porterhouses for two to four, New York strip, ribeye, filet, rack of lamb, double thick veal chops, and a selection of seafood including lobster and grilled salmon and tuna.
We started with shrimp cocktail (huge, served with a spicy cocktail sauce) and crab cakes (also huge, flavorful, and made with what appeared to be about 90 percent jumbo lump crabmeat, always nice to see). The bacon (which isn’t Canadian-style as the menu indicates, but traditional American belly bacon) is cut super-thick, and was lean and smoky and could have honestly been a meal unto itself.
But the main event of any steakhouse is (of course) the steak. Whenever a porterhouse for two is offered it’s always a good idea to order that, and it came out sizzling on a silver platter, deeply burnished and pre-sliced a la Luger. Steaks are chosen by chef Arturo himself and aged in-house, and, while that practice is always risky because so many things can go wrong during the aging process, the end result is as good a steak as you’re likely to find anywhere: cooked exactly as specified, salty, and full of that rich, slightly funky flavor you look for in a dry-aged steak.
The bar is set so high for Manhattan steakhouses that a certain baseline has been set: You basically know that wherever you go you’re going to get a top-notch steak; if a place serves anything less than that, it’s not going to last six months. Where steakhouses really make their name is in the level of service and hospitality, and Benjamin excels in that regard. The waiter was knowledgeable and helpful without being overbearing, plates were removed quickly, water glasses and wine were refilled readily, the meal was well-paced), we were even asked how long of a gap between appetizer and entrée courses we preferred), and when the wine we ordered wasn’t available, the manager brought out a higher-end option instead.
The area around Grand Central is a touristy one, and it seemed as if the majority of diners there were from out of town, most likely sent there by nearby hotel concierges. But this is a rare instance when I’d push New Yorkers to go where the tourists go: Benjamin is the real deal, and has essentially everything you’d look for in a steakhouse.