Prospective diners could learn everything they need to know about Nick and Sam's by walking through the parking lot. Valets squeeze in freshly detailed Mercedes, Audis and Bimmers and more -- every luxury brand is represented. On weekend evenings limousines of various shapes and sizes park out front on Maple Avenue, flashers ticking, ready to receive ladies on sky-high heels as they totter home.
I walked up the short driveway on a recent weeknight and a Porsche pulled in on my heels. And then a Bentley. It was only Tuesday, but the parking lot felt like New Year's Eve.
Inside the meat den, dark wood floors and dark wood ceilings framed dark painted walls in between. I sat at the bar and listened to a power broker from Manhattan talk stocks with his lady friend. She pretended to listen.
Waitresses donned heels, too. An act of torture for a lady required to stand 12 hours a day, but health and vanity never did get along. They held massive trays of raw meat out to lions in suits and gingerly spooned sides of creamed spinach and roast mushrooms as they lifted an eyebrow and cooed: "How is everything this evening?"
Bread crumbs topped my yellow mac and cheese like a snow drift. That side was fine, but not nearly as good as the spinach, thick with cheese and cream. Rich, but not overdone, the greens will stick to your sides, but happily recede as a backdrop to the star of the show: Prime Aged Sirloin.
The strip steak was salty, in a good way, and while I wish the kitchen could impart a more impressive sear on its exterior, the meat was cooked with precision. I ordered a warm, raw center and that's exactly what I got, just as one should in a steakhouse that asks $46 for a pound of beef.
That steak sauce, however, is anything but the expected. Chef Samir Dhurandhar may indulge truffle oil, a crass ingredient for a menu this fine, but there's no A1 here.
"I wanted to do something different," Dhurandhar told me a few days later, though he's quick to share credit for the sauce. Nick Badovinus used to support the kitchen before he went off on his own to Neighborhood Services, and the two set out to create something worthy of the high-class diners that fill the dining room.
They started with a riff on tamarind chutney, a throw back to Dhurandhar's homeland of India, cooking onions down to a sweet caramelization and leveraging cumin, ginger and charred tomatoes, just as any chutney should. But while this sauce is rooted in the flavors of the subcontinent, its preparation far outpaces standard Indian cookery.
The mixture is cooked over a low and slow flame for an entire day, before sleeping things off in the walk-in over night. The process is repeated twice more for three days of reduction before the sauce is aged in a Jack Daniel's whiskey barrel for ten days.
The resultant liquid, dark as pitch, is finished with lemon and honey and served in tiny gravy boats for dipping. Don't douse your steak or you'll never taste the beef -- or the rest of your meal for that matter. It's powerful and viscous and requires restraint. "Some people get upset," Dhurandhar said of his customers' reactions to the sauce. "It's a steak sauce you either like or you don't."