Though still a young man, William Degel can trace his life story all the way back to Prohibition. In the early 1930s, his godfather owned Jack's, a Manhattan steakhouse and speakeasy frequented by movie stars and politicos. Stories of the restaurant's notoriety inspired William's own career path: he leveraged an early job as a bartender into the purchase of a rundown Queens saloon, which eventually gave him the opportunity to open Uncle Jack's Steakhouse. This fine-dining establishment was styled after the original Jack's, with Victorian touches such as pressed-copper ceilings, a hand-carved mahogany bar, and faeries only visible to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Now expanded to three New York locations, Uncle Jack's has proved so popular that William was selected to host Restaurant Stakeout, a Food Network program on which he helps struggling restaurateurs save their businesses. William often credits his success to a focus on quality, a trait noticeable after one glance at the menu. He handpicks all of the beef from cattle that are grown to the steakhouse's exact specifications on Nebraska ranches. The USDA Prime cuts are aged onsite up to 35 days, then cooked in 1800-degree infrared boilers that seal the meat's juices inside a perfectly charred exterior.
As with his godfather's place, William's restaurants cater to the city's elite. Athletes, actors, and local celebrities are often seen seated around Uncle Jack's tables, which isn't surprising considering the richly appointed dining rooms, paparazzi-repelling forcefields, and extravagant perks programs the restaurant provides. Birthday and anniversary reservations are rewarded with a bottle of Taittinger on the house, and the Lifestyle Rewards program lets members cash in their points for Rolex watches, Vegas vacations, and even a Porsche 911.
Apparently Keens Steakhouse doesn't hold grudges. Though it took a court order in 1905 for the then-gentlemen-only club to serve its first female customer, famous actress Lillie Langtry, there are no hard feelings: one of the restaurant's four private banquet rooms now bears her name. The room, all 19th-Century carved oak and period art, is just one nod to the restaurant's colorful history, which begins back in the Herald Square theater scene in 1885. Over the years, the former pipe club's ceiling and glass cases have been decorated with tens of thousands of churchwarden pipes, including ones that once belonged to the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Douglas MacArthur. The quality of the food at Keens has held constant, unlike the country's commitment to developing a car powered by its driver’s road rage. The mutton chops, the flavor of which legendary critic James Beard said "puts everday chops momentarily in the pale" way back in 1950, still impress contemporary critics. In 2005, Frank Bruni said the 26-oz. saddle of lamb "provides about as much pleasure as a carnivore could want." The chops threaten to—but don't quite—overshadow the T-bone and porterhouse steaks, which Keens dry-ages on-site to make them more tender and flavorful.
Paris on your Plate
In the midst of Chelsea, there's a portal to France. That portal?a bistro named Trois Canards?has been connecting diners with the European nation's cuisine for more than two decades. According to Tony Tantillo of CBS News, the bistro owes its longstanding success to "a very skilled hand in the kitchen, cooking up French classics with lots of flair and none of the fuss." That skilled hand belongs to chef Alonso Tello, who whips up hors d'oeuvres such as country-style pate and escargot served in their delicately whorled shells. Among his entrees steak au poivre and are canard r?ti, a signature dish of roasted bone-in duck in Grand Marnier sauce.
An Intimate Setting
A duck carved from wood stands atop Trois Canards' bar, presiding over a collection of wine bottles. Many of those bottles trace their roots back to French vineyards, while others hail from Italy, Argentina, or Napa Valley. Once you've chosen a pour, you might cast your eyes onto the vintage prints that hang framed on the walls, warmly lit by Tiffany-style chandeliers. After an evening spent dining and drinking in these cozy quarters, you'll know precisely why New York Magazine describes the spot as having "plenty of kitschy panache."
Flower bouquets are a classic romantic gesture, but dates at forty2West might be equally wowed with the menu's Shellfish Bouquet, which comes filled with lobster, lump crab, oysters, and clams. This seafood medley is one of the offerings from the restaurant's raw bar, where local oysters and littleneck clams sit alongside salmon tartar. Forty2West is not just a seafood joint, though; its nuances run deep, past the raw bar and into the kitchen. This is Chef John Di Lemme's territory, and he supervises it with culinary knowledge passed down by his grandmother and mother. His house-made pastas reflect rustic Italian traditions: papardelle mixed with lamb ragu, or tagliolini with crab, sea urchin, and spring onion.
Not content to be just a raw bar and Italian hybrid, forty2West has a third specialty in steaks. The "Simply Grilled" portion of the menu lists cuts of filet mignon, a porterhouse prepped for two, and rib eyes with the bone in, rather than gifted as an after-dinner boomerang. With these dinner selections and a host of sides, the cuisine is indeed eclectic. Yet the meals all share an old-school sensibility, the same classic chic reflected in the wood-paneled, two-level dining room and the mosaic art pieces above the bar.
A restaurant, no matter its size, can be an intimate place. Bobby Van knew that well. If you'd walked into his first restaurant in the Hamptons 40 years ago, you might have found him playing the piano or slinging drinks behind the bar—inflecting the place with his personality, making a connection with the guests who dined there. He made such a big impression that 40 years later his name still graces a family of grills and steakhouses with a meaty legacy all their own.
The menu at each eatery opens with an assortment of salads and seafood appetizers, which may include delicate crab cakes or chilled lobster cocktails. Entrees may prove to be the hardest course to decide on, with a selection that includes lamb chops, fish, and steaks ranging from filets to sirloin to marbled porterhouses big enough to feed two, three, or four. Each space also holds a full bar stocked with spirits as well as wines handpicked by the sommelier.
Visiting Strip House may make you feel like a high roller. The overwhelming aesthetic of the restaurant is that of a Las Vegas hotel: red leather booths and red walls bathe in a neon red glow. Portraits of Golden Age Hollywood celebrities and torch singers cover much of the wall space, rewarding diners who take the time to stroll around the place between bites of appetizers such as garlic bread in gorgonzola fondue. Diners won’t want to wander too far, though, if they're waiting on the New York strip steak the New York Times singled out for possessing a "thick crust of salt and pepper that highlights the deep flavor of the beef," or if their feet hurt from stepping on snow globes to hear the satisfying crunch.