When a new traditional steakhouse opens in Midtown Manhattan, there are certain boxes that have to be checked off in order for it to be really taken seriously: Steaks need to be dry-aged (preferably for a minimum of 28 days), the wine list needs to be on-point, a porterhouse for two needs to be on the menu, you need to be able to order all the usual sides (creamed spinach, etc.), the servers need to be professional and knowledgeable, the dining room needs to be nicely appointed and somewhat masculine (dark woods and leather preferred), and there needs to be an overall air of sophistication. The new Royal 35, which recently opened on 35th Street just off Fifth Avenue, definitely hits all of those notes, and even ups the ante in one regard: There’s a dry-aging box on-premises, and all steaks spend at least a few weeks in it.
The team behind the restaurant is no stranger to steakhouses. General manager Alfred Cetaj has managed Monkey Bar, Strip House, and Mastro’s. Managing partner Adam Sinanaj spent the past seven years at Ben & Jack’s, and his brothers and cousins make up the team behind Empire Steak House, Wolfgang’s, and Ben & Jack’s. Head bartender and co-owner Sherif Nezaj spent the past six years at Wolfgang’s, and started his career nearly 50 years ago at the legendary Mama Leone’s. Executive chef Joseph Paulino has worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Burke, and competed on Top Chef. These guys clearly know what they’re doing, and at Royal 35, they’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s.
The menu follows the tried-and-true formula to a tee: Appetizers include shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, clams, seafood towers, and “sizzling Canadian bacon.” (I’ve never understood why steakhouses insist on calling thick-sliced bacon “Canadian”; it bears no resemblance to real Canadian bacon, which is from the loin, not the belly. But I digress.) There’s French onion soup, tomato and onion a la Luger’s, and a few fish dishes for those oddball diners who go to a steakhouse but don’t eat steak. For everyone else, there’s porterhouse steak for two, three, or four; Prime New York strip, Prime bone-in ribeye, rack of lamb, filet mignon in two sizes, and a veal chop. Sides include four potato preparations (including German potatoes, once again a la Luger), mac and cheese (with or without lobster), onion rings, and a handful of steamed or sautéed vegetables. Desserts include cheesecake, crème brûlée, tiramisu, key lime pie, and one final nod to Luger’s, apple strudel. Oh, one more nod: a boat of “steak sauce” that more resembles cocktail sauce than A-1 — and should go nowhere near your steak.
For our meal, which was provided at the invitation of the restaurant, we started with the shrimp cocktail (large, nicely cooked) and the crab cake, a good barometer of any steakhouse (lots of big chunks of fresh crab, but a little too much filler). The porterhouse for two was very nicely cooked; the outside had a nice salty crust from a ripping-hot broiler, and the inside remained perfectly medium rare, erring on the side of rare. The dry-aging gave it that beefy, mineral funkiness that you look for in a nicely aged steak. (It’s incredibly difficult and expensive to build and maintain an in-house dry-aging box, and many steakhouses don’t even attempt it. These guys did it right, so make sure you take a peek inside on your way to or from the dining room.) Mashed potatoes and creamed spinach on the side warranted no complaints.
The windowless, square, high-ceilinged dining room is all dark wood, dark leather, and Victorian-patterned wallpaper; seats are comfortable; and tables are covered in white tablecloths. (Thankfully, the bar up front faces the street, so at least some natural light is allowed in.) Service, as should be expected, was basically flawless; the meal progressed at an ideal pace and the servers had an air of easy, non-snooty professionalism.
As mentioned, if you’re going to open a steakhouse in Midtown (or anywhere else in New York, really), and you’re hoping to draw a crowd of both locals and tourists pointed there by hotel concierges, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing it by the book. And Royal 35 really does it by the book: You know what to expect, and you get it.