At first glance, it may not be immediately obvious why the folks behind New York’s celebrated Benjamin Steakhouse, which opened near Grand Central in 2006, would feel the need to open a second location, dubbed Benajmin Steakhouse Prime, just one block away. But after visiting both locations at the invitation of the restaurant, the original back in 2016 and Prime last month, it’s clear that even though both restaurants are focused on serving very, very good steaks, there are plenty of differences between them. And in my opinion, it’s Benjamin Steakhouse Prime that comes out on top.
The original Benjamin Steakhouse, which was founded by two alums of the famed Peter Luger, is a clubby, masculine dining room with high ceilings and a small balcony. Prime, on the other hand, is a soaring space with a bi-level dining room, well-spaced tables, a full wall of windows, and a second level that’s chock-full of private dining rooms that show off its spectacular wine collection (the five rooms can also be combined due to moveable walls; they seat 175 total). The menus are also different; while the original’s menu is about as straight-ahead as it gets, Prime’s menu has some unexpected additional offerings, like four different tartares (a duo of Scottish salmon and yellowfin tuna, filet mignon, wagyu beef, and strip loin); appetizers including burrata with tomato marmalade, seared scallops, grilled calamari, and grilled jumbo shrimp; American Ultra Wagyu New York strip; blackened Montauk swordfish; King crab legs; creamy corn with smoked Gouda and pancetta; and shishito peppers.
During our visit, we decided to try a sample of old and new. Shrimp cocktail, that old steakhouse standby, was perfectly poached in a flavorful broth, and the shrimp were colossal, as advertised. The aforementioned tartare duo was light and refreshing, complemented by a bright citrus crème fraîche. The “Sizzling Canadian Bacon” (which, like at Luger’s, isn’t actually Canadian back bacon but super-thick slices of traditional belly bacon) was spot-on. And the bone-in ribeye, dry-aged in-house, was well-seasoned, given a deep mahogany char from the ripping hot broiler, perfectly cooked to medium rare, and redolent with just the right amount of dry-aged minerality. The star of the show, however, was another Prime-only item: the surf & turf. Listed on the menu as “9 oz. filet mignon, 2 oz. lobster, 2 oz. shrimp, 1 oz. King crab, bordelaise and beurre blanc,” I had to check with the waiter to make sure that the dish actually included everything mentioned. Once he confirmed, there was no way I wasn’t trying this. And boy, did it deliver. The generously-portioned filet was deeply burnished and perfectly cooked, all the seafood stacked atop it was delicate and flavorful, and the two sauces worked in unison to make this one of the most downright decadent dishes I’ve ever encountered, and by far the finest surf & turf I’ve ever had. Here’s a tip: Come here and order this on your birthday, and you’ll be dreaming about it until your next one rolls around. Seriously, just look at this thing:
After our meal, the manager, Sean Agaj, took me for a tour of the space, and the upstairs is truly unique. Some of of the private dining rooms have multimedia hookups for corporate lunches and events; it’s an incredibly smart offering, especially because the restaurant is located smack dab in Midtown. The best-of-the-best from the (massive and stellar) wine list is also on display in a couple of the rooms; I’d never actually seen a bottle of Screaming Eagle or Burgundy’s renowned Domaine Romanée-Conti in person until then.
Service, as is to be expected at a high-end steakhouse such as this, earned an A+. Attentive without being overly obtrusive, our server made sure that our wine glasses were topped up and that our meal progressed at an ideal pace; and Sean, who doubled as the sommelier, was able to speak intelligently about just about every single bottle of wine on the expansive wine list. Together, the team made our dining experience an absolute joy. And as should be obvious, there were no complaints in the food department, either.
There’s no shortage of very solid steakhouses in Midtown Manhattan, but Benjamin Prime is right up there with the rest of them. And that surf & turf is a wonder to behold.