When Warren Buffett visits New York City, he has one go-to restaurant: Smith & Wollensky.
Every year, people bid millions of dollars for a meal with Buffett at the famed steakhouse. This July, a bidder agreed to pay $A4.3 million to a San Francisco charity for a lunch for seven with the Berkshire Hathaway CEO.
We don’t have millions of dollars to spend on a meal with Buffett. But, we were able to make a reservation at Smith & Wollensky ourselves.
So, in an effort to eat like the famous investor, five Business Insider reports headed to Smith & Wollensky and told the staff to give us the Warren Buffet treatment.
Here’s exactly how much the experience is actually worth.
Smith & Wollensky is located in Midtown Manhattan, the center of New York's old power corridor. The name was actually picked at random from a New York City phone book. Founder Alan Stillman flipped the book open first to Smith, amongst the S's, then Wollensky, amongst the other W's.
As you can see, it was under construction when we visited -- not quite the flawless exterior one would think would attract one of the richest men in the world. But, then again, Buffett is famously loyal to his culinary favourites.
The doorman should have been the first sign that we were in for an old-world experience. The restaurant was founded in 1977, but its stoic elegance makes it feel much older.
Inside, it doesn't get much more classic steakhouse. The white tablecloths, the dim lighting, the dress code -- it was like we had stepped back in time.
We were seated at Buffett's favourite area, a chef's table-like experience with a perfect view of the dining room and a plexiglass view into the kitchen.
The view into the kitchen made us feel like we were in a fishbowl, or on the set of 'Big Brother.' Was the glass there so we could see the kitchen staff, or so they could see us?
As we read the menu by the fluorescent light of the kitchen, sticker shock started to set in. And yes, the menu is framed.
We ordered the cheapest wine we could find on the menu to go with our meal. At $A65, we could tell our waiter was disappointed with our choice, a pinot noir from New Zealand. It came in a bottle with a twist-off cap, and it tasted exactly like the disappointment of our waiter.
We assured our waiter we would splurge on food, which seemed to cheer him up a bit. Though this promised a pricey night, we took heart when the bread arrived. That HAD to be free, right? We gingerly waded in, conscious of the heavy meal ahead of us. The breads were many, though each was unremarkable and served with butter.
A touch that you don't see in lesser restaurants: the logo of the restaurant appeared on everything from the silverware to the flatware -- including the napkins.
The waiter convinced us that, to eat like Buffett, we needed to order something called a 'seafood bouquet.' We went for it, not having spotted the $140 price tag. No turning back now.
When it arrived, we realised it was more feast than bouquet. The icy mountain featured crab meat, shrimp, and lobster -- every delight the sea has to offer.
Tucking in, though, we had no regrets. Everything tasted fresh from the ocean, and it was likely some of the best seafood we'd ever had.
Smith & Wollensky's 'famous' pea soup didn't look like much, but taking a sip, we realised it had the chops to back the title. It was thick and slurpable, with a rich savoury taste.
Finally, the main courses arrived. We were feeling a little full already from the seafood, appetizers, and bread, but the sight of this medium-rare masterpiece made our stomachs leap in excitement.
The waiter made a big show of deglazing a steak sauce, which was done table-side. Cooking with fire is impressive no matter where you are. That's our review of fire.
Our waiter plated our steaks, along with the accompanying mushrooms and onions, both of which were absolutely divine. Oh -- and the $A152 filet mignon for two was good, too.
A steak sauce was also placed on our table: a Smith & Wollensky private label. No one touched it -- the meat tasted fine by itself.
According to the diner: 'The branzino was smaller than what you could get at other restaurants for the same price, but tasted good.'
The Warren Buffett impersonator of the night, Business Insider policy reporter Bob Bryan, ordered Buffett's go-to choice -- a 32-ounce Colorado rib-eye.
'For the first three-quarters of a pound, I consumed it with reckless abandon, ignoring the inevitable food hangover that was surely coming,' Bob wrote in his stomach-turning account of eating like Warren Buffett for the week. 'The rib-eye was cooked to perfection and cut beautifully, and it contained just the right amount of fat.'
We ordered some Buffett-approved sides for our meal: hash browns, cream spinach, and mushrooms. The hash browns were greasy but serviceable, the spinach was more cream than vegetable, and the mushrooms were forgettable.
It was a lot of food. Halfway through the steaks, we hit a brick wall. The meal sat heavy in our stomachs, and the growing check loomed large in our imaginations.
But, we had made a promise, as journalists, that we would eat like Warren Buffett. Buffett is a man who doesn't care about nutrition or balk at throwing down a couple of hundred dollars at his favourite steakhouse. So, we soldiered on and ordered dessert.
We ordered two of Buffett's rumoured favourites: coconut layer cake and carrot cake, both $A12.60. As full as we were, the coconut layer cake was still a highlight of the meal. The coconut wasn't overwhelming or sickly sweet, but still managed to pack a distinct, flavorful punch.
The carrot cake was similarly remarkable, with the cheesecake frosting pairing perfectly with the moist cake.
Our waiter also brought us a less remarkable chocolate cake. It was drier than the other two desserts, despite soaking up a synthetic-tasting berry sauce.
By the end of the meal, we were dazed. Already, we could feel the early tingling of meat sweats. After two hours of surveillance from the kitchen and dreading the final check, we were all ready to crawl back to our apartments and digest the feast.
As we left, there was one question to answer: was it worth it? The seafood was unquestionably incredible, and the environment couldn't have better embodied a very specific old-school charm. But, the fishbowl experience was more stressful than atmospheric, and more than one dish simply fell flat. Every interaction made us feel like we would be judged for trying to skimp out on any part of the experience.
If we were one of the richest men in America -- obsessed with routine and unabashed to be seen ordering Cherry Coke to go with our $A75 steak -- we might work Smith & Wollensky into our restaurant rotation. But, if we're coughing up the big bucks as 20-something reporters for a dinner out in New York City, we'd rather go somewhere where we can get more creative food for less money.
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