It all goes back to Peter Luger, New York’s legendary steak house (actually in Brooklyn) which opened in 1887, when Williamsburg was a German neighborhood and not even slightly hip. Peter Luger’s former headwaiter begat Wolfgang’s. And two of Wolfgang’s co-owners plus its Executive Chef begat Rocco, Manhattan’s newest Steakhouse in fashionable NoMad land. It opened five months ago.
Which is why a friend and I, courtesy of Rocco, were at the restaurant. We were eager to discover whether the treasured secrets of cooking and serving fine dry-aged steaks had been passed to another generation.
Steakhouse menus don’t change very much. For decades they have been a form of male-bonding comfort food, with wives and girlfriends relegated to second place. They boast great seafood appetizers, a limited array of soups and salads, about ten versions of prime beef, some fish and chicken for the ladies, classic sides – like creamed spinach – and a limited selection of calorie-busting deserts.
What has changed is the increasing presence of affluent working women as welcomed and pampered customers. This was apparent the moment we entered Rocco’s. A mix of solo men and women were seated at the bar eating dinner. Always a good sign. And a table of four women were in the dining area, stage center.
L to R: Rocco Trotta, (Owner), Pete Pjetrovic, (General Manager and Co-Owner), and Henry Doda
Table Service at Rocco
Rocco Steakhouse is a highly personal endeavor, the inspiration of Rocco Trotta, co-founder and chairman of one of New York’s leading construction management and engineering firms. His firm has contributed to iconic New York projects, including The High Line and post 9/11 rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. His passion for sharing fine food with family and friends was inspired by his father, who owned a luncheonette in Brooklyn, then further ignited at Wolfgang’s, where he connected and bonded with General Manager Pete Pjetrovic and Beverage Director Jeff Kolenovic, now his Rocco partners. Pjetrovic has a strong following, in part due to the high level of service he provides, a cosseting of customers that was evident throughout the evening. Every employee has worked at a top New York steakhouse for at least 10 years, including Headwaiter and Sommelier Henry Doda. When we asked for a cabernet, Henry brought us a rich and smooth glass of what turned out to be the least expensive Cabernet on the restaurant’s extensive wine menu. (Prices range from $46 a bottle to four figures). I liked it so much that the next day I ordered a case from my local wine merchant.
Rocco is a friendly and unpretentious place. The dining area, in contrast to the sleek and shiny bar room, has an old-fashioned feel to it. The ceiling is high. The décor is muted. The tables are widely spaced. The solicitous male waiters – in white shirts, black bow ties, and white half aprons — look like waiters from a hundred years ago. And no music is playing. It’s a place for serious eaters who want to talk to each other. Thank you Rocco!
Chilled Seafood Tower
Mixed Green Salad
The party of four men seated next to us ordered Rocco’s Seafood Tower (MP), a signature dish. It looked delicious, but we couldn’t possibly have room for such a feast plus steak, so we restrained ourselves and chose the least rich items on the menu, a Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($19.95) and Mixed Green Salad (9.95). The huge shrimp were delicious, especially with their cocktail sauce, but the salad was quite ordinary – the greens less than crisp, the tomatoes tasteless, and the dressing without distinction. Next time around I might go for the Arugula, Apple and Pear Salad with Shaved Parmesan (($12.95). Or try the Tuna Tartare (($21.95).
But really, it’s all about the steak and here Rocco did not disappoint. My huge slab of dry-aged, medium-rare Ribeye ($55.95), perfectly cooked, was heaven, charred on the outside, marbled with fat but not too fatty and utterly delicious. My friend’s tender Filet Mignon ($51.95) soft as butter, was equally fine. It went particularly well with our sides of Creamed Spinach ($11.95) and Sautéed Asparagus with garlic ($12.95). The asparagus were perfectly cooked. We tried Rocco’s Signature Fries ($9.95), which turned out to be crisp, tasteless, homemade potato chips. A mistake! Any other potato choice – mashed, baked, steak, German – would have been better. But the truth is, the steak and vegetable portions were so generous that neither of us could finish our steak (half of which went home in doggie bags), so we were almost grateful that the potatoes weren’t better. Besides, we had to leave room for dessert.
The Cheese Cake, from Junior’s, was worth leaving room for. It’s as good as it gets, smooth, velvety and served at just the right temperature. Home made whipped cream put it over the top. The warm Pecan Pie, though good, was not in the same category as the Cheese Cake. Other dessert possibilities included Crème Brulée, Carrot Cake, Hot Fudge Sundae and Chocolate Mousse Cake. All desserts are $9.95 and served with whip cream or as the menu puts it, Schlag.
When was the last time you went to a steak house? Probably, like many of us monitoring our cholesterol, not recently. But as my friend happily declared at the end of our evening, “Everyone should do this once in a while.” She’s right. It was a treat. When she got home, she discovered that Henry had added half a dozen onion rolls , which she particularly loved, to her doggie bag. Now that is customer service of a kind one rarely finds these days.
We will be back.
72 Madison Avenue (Between 27th and 28th Streets)
Hours: Monday – Saturday: Noon to 10:30 PM
Lunch: Mon-Saturday: Noon-4pm
Sunday – Private Parties Only
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
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