Beef Brawl

The beef is good, but other things are better at Smith & Wollensky

Unlike most steak houses, S&W gives meticulous attention to engineered visuals on plates that don't contain beef. Asparagus and crabmeat salad contained a trio of blanched asparagus stalks laid across the plate, their bases partially shrouded in a pinch of greens, their tips reaching at once to the right, left and center, as if they aspired to the Oval Office. Half-moon sections of ruby grapefruit are placed on the edges of the plate as parenthetical enclosures. Three simple clumps of ivory crabmeat rest in greens off to the left, rich in moist and compellingly strong sea-washed savor.

A subversive undercurrent present in steak houses is the phallus imagery frequently doled onto the plate. Those asparagus stalks were impossibly fat and long and flaunted thickly blunted tips. The shrimp in the shrimp cocktail are worthy competitors. More straight than curvaceous--itself a suspicious anomaly--they, too, were stogie-thick and much longer than the ones permitted in grocery seafood cases. And they're served on a plate in the shape of a fish that is wearing bright red lipstick. At this point, it doesn't matter how they taste (dull, with the sweet, briny richness merely whispered at).

The best thing on the menu looks not like an e.e. cummings metaphor ("his scythe takes crisply the whim of thy smoothness..."), but like a badly scuffed, partially deflated deep-fried soccer ball. Crackling pork shank is ugly--uglier than a fish with lipstick. It's big and brown and bumpy and blemished. Plus, it sits in a rat's nest of sauerkraut studded with poppy seeds, so you can be assured the ugly will continue well into the evening. Even the preparation is ugly, so don't try it at home without smelling salts: The shank is scored, cured in salt and sugar for a day or two, braised in beef lard and deep-fried in oil. "It ain't something you'd want to eat every day," quips sous chef Nick Zotos. Yet you might wish you could. The curing not only breaks down the meat fibers for an alluring pulled-pork effect, it enriches it with hearty flavor. Plus, the deep-frying sheathes it in a crisp crust (leaking fat with every chew--yum) that seals in the juices. No doubt the beef lard is the culprit behind its incomparable richness, but how does one explain the clean savory flavors?

What would be beefier than the classic hunting lodge look?
Karlisch
What would be beefier than the classic hunting lodge look?

Details

Shrimp cocktail $14
Asparagus and crabmeat salad $11
Filet mignon (12-ounce) $26
Kansas City bone-in strip $33.75
Lemon pepper chicken $19
Crackling pork shank $23
Closed Location

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Clearly it's not S&W's steak pedigree that will end all arguments; it's this ugly ball of hog knuckle. Proving again that truth is stranger than The New York Times.

18438 Dallas North Tollway, 972-930-9200. Open for dinner 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Friday and 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday. Open noon-9 p.m. Sunday. $$$-$$$$

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