Let’s begin with an important fact: The relatively new Long Island City restaurant M. Wells Steakhouse has a menu item called “Caviar Sandwich,” and it is actually, literally, a caviar sandwich. Two inch-thick slices of buttered brioche bookend a modest smear of butter and a massive amount of sturgeon roe that’s been compressed into a dense, extravagant square that resembles nothing so much as a black, briny slice of cheese, a Kraft single for the czar. It’s fantastic.
I ordered the caviar sandwich for two reasons. The first: Caviar is a weakness of mine, as are sandwiches. The second, more important: It was my birthday. M. Wells Steakhouse has a menu made for birthdays—or anniversaries, divorces, big raises, or new jobs. With caviar, foie gras, butter, and cream at every turn, the restaurant specializes in celebration fare, not meant for everyday eating. Beside the caviar sandwich, we kicked things off with geoduck “a la peacock”—thin-sliced crudo surrounded by a vibrant fan of radish—and an iceberg wedge that approached a platonic ideal of salty bacon and rich buttermilk dressing, cleverly pushing the salad’s high-low appeal by skipping tomato in favor of sweet-savory shards of what turned out to be dehydrated ketchup.
That was followed by an assault: Dense pretzel rolls with a cellar of violently spicy mustard; French onion soup enriched with bone marrow, with an additional marrowbone sticking up through the broiled cheese like a meaty periscope; a dish of absurdly cream-laden mashed potatoes, topped with root vegetables, topped with black truffles; and an order of two glistening, foie gras-stuffed gnocchi. After that came a massive lamb chop—warmly spiced, with a scattering of couscous—and a dish that the menu described just as “brisket,” but which our server elucidated as a one-up of chicken and waffles: A pound of meltingly tender, long-cooked beef brisket atop a slab of duck fat-fried French toast. “This,” said my husband approvingly, gesturing with his fork at our plate-cluttered table, “is fuck-you food.”
He meant it as a compliment, and I’m inclined to agree. There’s a thrilling dichotomy at play at M. Wells Steakhouse, a mood that’s equal parts nonchalance and ostentation. The restaurant nods to the classic steakhouse format—blood-red walls, masculine materials like wood and metal and leather—but the space is informal, a warehouse of a room that doesn’t try to hide its previous life as an auto body shop. The menu is so full of lobster and cream and meat and richness that it almost veers into parody, but then the prices are approachable. (Sure, the caviar sandwich is dear at fifty bucks, but besides a massive cowboy steak and a few gargantuan large-format entrees, it’s the most expensive thing on there.)
Realizing that it was my birthday, our server—refusing our full-bellied protests—insisted on bringing out a cloudlike Paris-Brest bearing both a lit candle and a full two inches of buttercream, and somehow we found the will to eat on. It felt strange—but not at all wrong—to be eating such a refined and toffee-nosed dessert against the backdrop of an open kitchen, all fire and fierceness and, unexpectedly, flapping fish. About that: Much has been made in the press of the trough full of live trout that holds pride of place just inside the kitchen area (order the Truine au Bleu as your main course and you’ll see a chef reach in, grab one, kill it, and turn it into your dinner) and maybe that’s with good reason. It’s a weird, somewhat unnecessary, entirely appealing, ultimately quite brilliant thing—it is, in short, a perfect reflection of the restaurant itself.
M. Wells Steakhouse
43-15 Crescent Street
Long Island City, New York 11101