It’s fair to say Buffalo Chophouse, in its 20th year, might be the city’s most successful channeler of Manhattan steakhouse cool. It’s certainly one of the most expensive, at easily $100 a person. ¶ That got us valet parking, affable, polished servers and dining rooms in red velvet and polished wood inside a circa-1860 carriage house. I went there a couple weeks ago for the first time, and what I found, after being led up the double staircase to the second floor, was an old-school room lined with banquettes and comfy chairs. Framed pooch portraits keep dog lovers occupied between courses. ¶ The menu was classic: huge steaks and lobster tails and creamed spinach and foie gras. Our $50 steaks were sublime, but once we got beyond the beef, it felt like I spent Manhattan prices for an average meal in Buffalo.
White and whole wheat rolls came, warm but nothing special. Then a relish plate of Greek olives, feta cheese and pepperoncini. We ordered glasses of wine from an extensive list, and I took the server’s suggestion of a $15 glass of Washington State Milbrandt cabernet.
For starters we got French onion soup ($10.50), calamari ($16.50) and specials of fried oyster salad ($10) and foie gras ($14.50).
We ordered beef in two sizes, a 24-ounce porterhouse ($59) and a 16-ounce bone-in filet ($56), a 14-ounce pork chop ($36) and special of grilled whole branzino with tomato-fennel salad ($42).
In steakhouse style, vegetables are extra. We got creamed spinach ($11.50), wild mushrooms ($13.50) and tomato-onion salad ($12.50)
The soup was outstanding, rich broth with plenty of silky onions under a cap of well-browned cheese. The calamari rings, served with hearty tomato sauce, were tender enough but not crispy.
A beautifully arranged pile of tomatoes, greens and fried oysters sported a vibrant horseradish dressing. As I polished my plate, my only regret was that the oysters, breaded in seasoned crumbs like a veal cutlet, didn’t taste like oysters anymore.
Luci’s foie gras torchon came with a salad of frisee, green apple, candied pecans and crisp toasts. The disc of buttery goose liver had a solid coating of cracked black pepper that I found overpowering. I cut it off and enjoyed the rest of my share. Luci, wanting more acid to balance the richness, didn’t finish it.
Our servings of USDA prime beef were the hit of the night. Chef Eric Nessa starts with better beef and doesn’t mess it up. It was tender, well-trimmed, cooked accurately, with lovely charred edges. The steak was a contender for Buffalo’s best, and we made sure to share.
Luci’s branzino arrived layered between basil mashed potatoes and a fennel tomato salad. The tender fish had picked up marks but not much flavor from the grill. It was underseasoned, despite the salad. The pesto potatoes helped, though.
Cat’s pork chop, ordered medium, was a thick slab that arrived accurately cooked, juicy with a hint of pink inside. She still found it tough, hastening her decision to eat other things on the table. I said, “That’s what you get for ordering pork medium.” She said, “Do I have to order rare to get a pork chop as tender as your steak?”
She enjoyed the creamed spinach, a simple blend of the two namesake ingredients that had been enriched with cheese, then topped with more shredded cheese that had not been given a chance to melt. I ate my share and wished for another note, like nutmeg. The wild mushrooms were tame, and I could taste vegetable oil.
Everyone tucked into the tomato onion salad: fresh sweet onion slices, cucumbers, olives and sliced fresh mozzarella with balsamic vinaigrette and lots of black pepper. It was simple, the crunchy tomatoes a reminder that people who order fresh tomatoes in January deserve what they get.
For dessert, we got the nine-layer chocolate cake for two ($18), profiteroles ($9) and apple pie ($9). Instead of a slice, it was an individual tart that was tasty but soggy, with undercooked apples in the middle.
The profiteroles arrived in the form of a swan, fun to look at and eat. The pastry was crisp, the cream filling rich, especially enjoyable with the vibrant strawberry sauce delivering striking fruit flavor.
The cake was outstanding, decadent but not too sweet or heavy. Worth saving room for, indeed. The piece actually served six people over three days.
Our servers were attentive, crumbing the tablecloth between courses, refolding napkins and refilling water.
None of the dishes we had at Buffalo Chophouse were bad, but with one glass of wine each and a 20 percent tip, our meal for four was $465. It’s easier to swallow paying a premium for fine dining if you look at it as investing in a night to remember. What I will most remember after that steak, and that cake, is that bill.
Buffalo Chophouse: 8 Plates (Out of 10)
Steaks are terrific, service is warm, but pricey menu gets ordinary fast.
WHERE: 282 Franklin St. (842-6900, www.buffalochophouse.com)
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $8.50-$9; salads and sides, $9-$15.50; entrees, $34-$79.
PARKING: Valet, street.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.