Smith & Wollensky: Superb Steaks in Wellesley

Monday, June 18, 2018

Smith & Wollensky Wellesley [click images to enlarge]
Upscale American Steakhouse Smith & Wollensky opened their first suburban location recently. Located in Wellesley, MA it took over the space formerly occupied by Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger.

Hot Take: Smith & Wollensky comes to Wellesley

Main Dining Room
The Smith & Wollensky brand competes with the likes of The Capital Grille, Morton's, Ruth's Chris, and Del Frisco's - all of which are well represented in the Boston area. When I first heard that a restaurant of this caliber was coming to Wellesley I was skeptical on a number of levels.

First, because it's further outside of Boston than any of the locations of these other restaurants. People in the Boston area tend to forget that any suburb further outside of Boston than theirs exists - especially when selecting a special occasion restaurant.

Second, because the location in Wellesley isn't on a major route. The Capital Grille's suburban locations in Chestnut Hill and Burlington are on major roads, as is the Ruth's Chris restaurant in Waltham. Blue Ginger was unique enough and belonged to a celebrity chef so people would go out of their way to get there. Will the same be true for Smith & Wollensky in Wellesley?

Finally, there's not a large expense account crowd right around Wellesley like there is in downtown Boston or even along Route 128. To succeed they'll need to appeal to residents from Wellesley and surrounding communities who want a high end steakhouse experience and aren't interested in driving into Boston.

Personally, I'm looking forward to a high quality restaurant where I can grab a bite to eat and a glass of wine at the bar after Back to School night and similar situations. But will they be good enough to make it the place I want to go for special occasions?

History: Where did Smith & Wollensky come from?

The first Smith & Wollensky opened in New York City in 1977 by Alan Stillman, the man behind the TGI Friday's chain. Stillman wanted to create a uniquely American establishment like the restaurants he enjoyed while visiting France.

The steakhouse concept appealed to him but unlike similar restaurants at the time, the Smith & Wollensky wine list was heavily California-driven as opposed to wines from France and Italy.

The names Smith and Wollensky were randomly chosen from a phone book late one night. The first page turned to: Smith! The next: Wollensky! The New York restaurant has been at Third Avenue and 49th Street since.

They aim to be "A Steakhouse to End All Arguments" and they do rather well on the marketing front. For example, each year Smith & Wollensky New York hosts Warren Buffett and 7 guests who've bid multi-millions of dollars for the privilege of having lunch with Buffett.

New York was the only Smith & Wollensky location until 1997 when they began to expand to other locations. Today there are seven locations in the US and London.

Wellesley Location

Bar Area at Smith & Wollensky Wellesley
I was curious whether the suburban Wellesley location might offer some slightly more casual take on the flagship concept. Although they do have a "Wollensky's Grill" adjacent to some locations, the Wellesley location is a proper Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse.

That said, they're open for lunch and dinner. And they offer a bar menu as well.

If you look at the architecture of American restaurants currently, the percentage of space dedicated to "bar" dining has dramatically increased. It's no longer just a place where you have a drink while you're waiting to be seated. It is often the place you prefer to enjoy your meal, and the Wellesley location reflects this trend. 

They clearly put a lot of thought and expense into remodeling the space. If you're familiar with the former Blue Ginger the general layout will be familiar to you. But the overall feel is heightened. More polished, but very comfortable.
Chef's Counter
In addition to the expanded bar area, a chef's counter provides a view into the open kitchen. I rather like this particular space because you're not encumbering a bartender with serving food while preparing drinks and you're in an area with good kinetic energy and lively conversation with staff and guests.

While enjoying lunch at the chef's counter we heard a story that speaks to why the space works well to connect guests with the kitchen. Shortly after Anthony's Bourdain's tragic passing, a couple dining at the counter bought a round of drinks for the entire kitchen staff after their shift as both a tribute to Bourdain and to show their appreciation for the hard work that goes on in kitchens like this.

The Food: Superb Steaks

Dry-Aged USDA Prime Bone-In New York Cut
When we visited for lunch we met with Corporate Executive Chef Matt King who suggested their dry-aged steaks as a signature item, so I went with a 21 Ounce Dry-Aged USDA Prime Bone-In New York Cut Steak.

He explained what makes them special: USDA Prime beef sourced sustainably from the 70,000 acre Double R Ranch in Washington is dry-aged in-house at 36F and 60-65% humidity for about 4 weeks.

The preparation is simple and the results are spectacular. 9-10 minutes in a 1200F broiler, turned once. A little salt and pepper. The dry-aging adds a "toasted popcorn" flavor to an amazingly pure unadulterated carnivorous experience. Utterly delicious.

They offer some sauces even though the steak doesn't need it. Their Béarnaise sauce is on point if you're into that sort of thing. It goes incredibly well with their Signature Filet Mignon.

8 Ounce Signature Filet Mignon
Steak prices, a la carte, range from $39 to $67. Things top out at $148 for the Snake River Farms Swinging Tomahawk Ribeye for Two. Something to aspire to for a special occasion.

So the steaks are classic, but what about the rest of the menu?

See: Wellesley Lunch & Dinner Menu

We enjoyed the Angry Shrimp and Tuna Poke for starters.
Angry Shrimp [Amuse Bouche portion]
Tuna Poke
We kept thinking about what would be some good lighter options, rather than steakhouse staples like mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.

For sides we tried the Zucchini Agrodolce and Broccolini, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Pecorino. Smoky notes in the zucchini were appreciated and the broccoli was nicely seasoned.

Steakhouse salads could be a good play for a lighter lunch. The Roasted Beet Salad with red and yellow beets, aged goat cheese, arugula, truffle honey, toasted pistachios, and  mustard chive vinaigrette topped with Pan Seared Tuna was very good, though pricey for a salad at $29.

The "Bar Bites" menu presents some more affordable options and could be in play for kids as well (they don't have a dedicated kids menu.)  The bar menu is available at lunch and dinner while sitting in the bar or restaurant.

See: Bar Bites & Liquid Assets Menu

Sliders for between $16-$21, Wollensky's Butcher Burger for $17, Steak Tips for $24, or Steak Frites for $34 are more affordable options that hopefully make Smith & Wollensky Wellesley a restaurant to visit more regularly than just special occasions.

The Wine: California driven but more Old World in Wellesley

Wine Manager Christian Gianaris

When Smith & Wollensky was founded in the 70's it was an edgy idea to serve California wines at a high end restaurant. Domestic wines were just establishing their credibility in the US market, and nicer restaurants gave consumers what they wanted: Wines from France and Italy.

How things have changed.

Wine Director Christian Giannaris was previously at Smith & Wollensky's Atlantic Wharf location where he said 90% of the wine sold was from California.

I'd say this is typical for a high end US steakhouse, but in the short time the Wellesley location has been open they've seen strong demand for old world wines - like Bordeaux and even Grand Cru White Burgundy.

Wines by the Glass range from $13-$22.

See: Wines By the Glass List

Additionally there's a higher end list of wines available by the glass, poured with a Coravin. It's been amazing seeing how the Coravin has expanded the quality of wines restaurants are able to pour by the glass.

And because the menu is digital for these selections it enables the restaurant to react more quickly to consumer feedback.

I tried a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir I wasn't particularly impressed with. I shared this feedback with Christian and it has since been replaced on the list with a Goldeneye, a well-known California Pinot Noir.

Sorry Oregon, but it's great to see how a restaurant like this has local autonomy in crafting the wine list and is able to change things quickly based on customer feedback.

Wines are stored at their optimal serving temperatures from one of nine Sub-Zero units throughout the restaurant. It's nice to see this attention to serving temperature because it so meaningfully alters how wine is appreciated.

Nine Sub-Zero units keep wines at optimal service temperatures
Christian suggests plans are in the works to continue the wine dinner tradition Blue Ginger established in the community. Stay tuned for more on that.

Gigantic Desserts

Gigantic Chocolate Cake

We enjoyed a taste of the Carrot Cake and the aptly-named Gigantic Chocolate Cake. All desserts are made in-house and served with house-made whipped cream.

Bottom Line

Smith & Wollensky Wellesley is a well-executed and welcome addition to the community.

When we visited we saw a lot of families out celebrating graduations and such. I can see a lot of situations where you want to go somewhere special but you don't necessarily want to head into the city. This location works well for that.

What will really be key, for us anyway, is seeing how well the restaurants works for that "let's grab a bite at the bar" situation. That was our primary use model with Blue Ginger and I think it can continue at Smith & Wollensky.

Check 'em out:
Smith & Wollensky Wellesley
583 Washington Street
Wellesley, MA 02482

Further Reading

Reviews of:
Disclosure: We were the hosted by the restaurant for this review


Maximizing the $60 back on $200 at Wine Access AmEx Offer

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

[Click to enlarge] $60 back on $200 at, expires 6/25/2018
There is an AmEx Offer available now for $60 back on $200 at

I had a look at their assortment and their prices and I think there's some value to be had here if you're up for getting the specific high quality wines they offer at deep discount.

Here's how I'd maximize it...

1. Load the AmEx Offer to your card(s) online

I saw this offer on all but one of my AmEx cards, so it seems widely available. If you have multiple AmEx cards you can load and use the offer for each card. To load the offer to each AmEx card associated with one AmEx login I'd recommend using AmEx's old interface and opening multiple browser tabs, one with each card's offers showing. Then click through each tab and apply the offer to each card.

2. [Optional] Go through a Shopping Portal

First, I'd go through a shopping portal. To find the best cashback rates use Cashback Monitor.

Top Cashback is a reliable portal and they're currently offering 10% cashback at Wine Access. If you're not registered with Top Cashback yet here's my refer-a-friend link.

BeFrugal has 13% cashback. Here's my refer-a-friend link for BeFrugal.

It could be a bit tricky stacking a shopping portal with the next step, since it's a referral link in itself, but I'd say it's worth at try.

3. Use a refer-a-friend link for $50 off $150

Wine Access has a referral program where you get $50 off your first order of $150 or more. Here's my referral link:

4. Spend at least $200 to trigger the AmEx Offer and Free Shipping

The way AmEx Offers work you charge the required amount ($200 in this case) and if the offer has successfully been linked to your account prior to purchase you should receive an email from AmEx right away saying you triggered the offer. The $60 back is processed a few days later as a statement credit.

The first thing I ask myself when I see an offer like this is: "Do I want these wines? Are they any good?"

Looking at their assortment I'd say they've got a very keen eye for good producers. Take for example the Chateauneuf-du-Pape they've chosen: Le Vieux Donjon.

Fantastic producer. Last year when we were visiting the area and only had time to visit a couple wineries this was our first stop.
The next question I ask is whether their retail pricing before discounts is fair. They're asking $57 for a bottle of Donjon.
For this I use to search for the same bottle across other retailers in the country. Looks like their pricing is pretty good. Other retailers are asking more.

So our goal would be to land as close to $250 so that after the $50 refer-a-friend discount we should land at $200 and trigger the AmEx Offer.

Adding it up

If we were able to land exactly at $250 and "everything worked" we'd have:

$250 worth of wine
-$50 refer-a-friend discount
-$60 AmEx Offer
-$20 back from Top Cashback (10% of $200 since the $50 refer-a-friend discount reduces the order amount)

Total: $120

$120 for $250 worth of wine is a 52% discount. Pretty good if you like the wines they're offering.

Repeating the deal?

If you've got the offer on multiple AmEx cards you might be able to replicate the deal. Success would hinge on whether you can repeatedly use the refer-a-friend $50 off $200. This would be challenging because that deal is supposed to only apply for new customers. We'll see how that goes.

You might consider referring your spouse and/or others close to you to take advantage of the deal.

Bottom line

Hopefully I shared some useful tricks in this post.

I'd love it if you used my refer-a-friend link for the deal:

This is a pretty solid opportunity if you're up for buying what they're offering. Some of their domestic Pinot Noirs look appealing to me and their overall assortment looks focused and high quality.

If you're looking for a broader assortment this offer is ongoing.

If you're new to the credit card game here's a post to get you started: Pros And Cons: Ranking The Top Flexible Points Programs In 2018

Question of the Day: Have you done business with Wine Access? Any angles I missed? Any recommendations from their assortment?


$10 off $50: Maximizing the 2018 AmEx Offer

Friday, February 2, 2018 is back with another AmEx Offer for $10 off $50:

I haven't personally tinkered with this one yet (other than to load it to all my AmEx cards) but it looks the same as the offer they ran in late 2017.

I hope it is exactly the same because as you'll recall from the last time the offer was posted you can stack coupon codes with a shopping portal and free shipping through their StewardShip program.

Here's a great coupon code to get started: $20 off $100+ with code WINE20 (likely limited to once use per account). And since you'll want to only pay for StewardShip it's likely a single use per person. Thanks Phil!
Compare shopping portals here:

Obscure shopping portal Lemoney (not listed on Cashback Monitor) is currently offering 10% cashback on up to one $170 transaction at They tend to offer the highest cashback rates through their "Turbo Cashback" model.

Here's a refer-a-friend link for Lemoney if you're not signed up with them already. In my experience they take a while to pay, but they do eventually pay out.

Not sure which wines to get? Here's a list of 10 reliably outstanding wines they have in most states.

Discover any other angles? Share the love in the comments.


Did this Boston company finally figure out how to run a good wine club?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Upper Glass works with local sommeliers to carefully select
compelling wines, delivered to your doorstop each month
In my experience, some of the best wine recommendations I've received have come from independent local restaurants with a focus on discovery.

Energetic hipster sommeliers try all kinds of stuff so they can present funky off the beaten trail lower production wines from lesser known regions that run circles around higher production commodity wines.

As long-time readers know, I'm no stranger to Total Wine, Costco and Wine .com. But there comes a point when you're tired of the usual suspects and you want to explore. And you want to do so without making mistakes.

If you're not making it out to local restaurants as much as you'd like and you're thirsty for evolving new wine selections from respected local sommeliers, Boston-based Upper Glass might be just the model you're looking for.

How it works

The best way to get a feel for Upper Glass, to give them a try, is with their Monthly Curated Selections. For $80 (with free shipping in the Boston area within route 495) they'll deliver an assortment of four wines to you each month.

If your preference is reds only, they've got an option for that.

If you want to explore specific varietals like Pinot Noir or Cabernet, or "holiday wines" or "sparklers" they offer one-time four bottle collections you can order.

More on how it works from their site
Four wines, nicely packed with useful
interesting information about each is included

My experience

They reached out and asked if it would be okay to send me a complimentary shipment. A nicely packaged box with four wines with information about each was included. The shipment I got happened to be targeted for Thanksgiving.

The wines were selected by Jen Fields, the Wine Director at Chef Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square restaurants Alden & Harlow and Waypoint. She was previously General Manager at Toro (one of Chef Ken Oringer's many restaurants that I adore).

Alden & Harlow and Toro were a couple of my favorite meals in the past couple years so it felt like this offer, and the entire Upper Glass wine discovery model is eerily targeted at me.

Bench Pinot Noir

Silky smooth and gorgeously free of off notes. A hard thing to accomplish with such flavor intensity and low alcohol. Outstanding and impressive in the ~$20 price point.

93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Elio Perrone Bigaro

A sweet sparkling rosé from Piedmont, Italy. 5% alcohol. Creamy sweetness kept in check by some amount of acidity. A great wine to enjoy with dessert, especially but not exclusively for guests who don't typically like wine. Absolutely delicious.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

Clos de l'Elu Indigene

A French (Loire) red blend of 50% Gamay, 30% Grolleau, 20% Cab Franc. Drinks like a cru Beaujolais with more stuffing. Anchored by unmistakable Gamay notes with stuffing provided by the other grapes which have shades of Rhone influence. Fantastic.

91/100 WWP: Outstanding

Mica Vinho Verde

Starbright with racy acidity. Strong linear presence with satisfying weight. I get a hint of a soapy aftertaste on the finish that diminishes what is an otherwise outstanding wine.

88/100: Very good

Bottom line

I think Upper Glass is on to something terrific here.

The key is going to be whether they can stay true to their model and avoid the temptation to push out wines that are driven by forces other than the carefully selected options from local sommeliers.

I think Wine Folly does a good job describing why so many wine clubs are so very bad.

Definitely check them out if you're in the Boston area. I hope they expand to other areas and/or open up more shipping options. I think a lot of people would really go for this.

I realize this is cutting it close to Christmas so I wanted to get this out now on the off chance you might be able to take advantage of a couple deals they're running.

15% off gift cards with code CHRISTMASCARD
15% off a 3 Month Subscription with code 15OFF3 with the first shipment arriving before New Years.

These codes are good through Dec 25, 2017 and could make for a great last minute gift, even for...yourself!

My thanks to Upper Glass for the sample shipment. I wish them well. Really like the model here.

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