T-Bone, porterhouse, filet mignon: if New York has a culinary speciality it is surely grilled beef. Look at a map of the city's restaurants and there's a steakhouse on almost every corner—especially in the area around Wall Street, whose red-toothed traders don't appear to believe that lunch is for wimps.
Diners certainly come to Harry's Café and Steak on Hanover Square to eat meat—dry-aged on the premises and so succulent you could cut it with a spoon—but the wine list is even more of a draw. Harry Poulakakos has been collecting wines since the 1960s and has one of the best cellars in New York, most of it aged in specially designed "cool rooms" spread over six ramshackle floors.
Their temperature and humidity are carefully controlled—a constant 53°F (12°C) and 80%—but the inventory is less precise. "Somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 bottles" is Harry's own estimate of the number of bottles on site. "I've got a lot of wine, so I've never really worried about it." The sommelier sighs ruefully when I ask for a printout.
There is a wine list at Harry's, running to around 130 bins—including a selection of half-bottles, magnums and gutsy, three-litre reds—but this is only the "casual" selection, most of which sells for less than $100. If you want to try something from the Select List, you need to ask: preferably Harry, who still comes to eat in the bustling basement restaurant most days.
This smaller list is full of enticing wines, mostly from France and California, but with incisive forays into Italy, Austria, Germany, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and Spain. You could drink well from this alone, either by the glass or bottle. Our party had a tangy, stony, unoaked bottle of 2009 Domaine Roulot Bourgogne Aligoté (at a very reasonable $52) with our salad starters, and a spicy, elegant, Rhône-like 2009 Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz from Canberra ($65) with our steaks.
But that is to miss the point of the place. Harry's is all about mature bottles, sold at prices that reflect the owner's love of wine rather than a desire to turn a buck. To finish, we had a savoury, perfumed, 1984 Ridge Geyserville red from California ($125), and it was in perfect nick. "I don't have the heart to charge a lot," says Harry, "partly because I know what I paid for the wines. I only do so if I'm down to my last case and don't want to sell it. I buy what I like and 95% of people agree with my taste." They do, Harry, they sure do.
harrysnyc.com; around $150 for two
Delmonico's Steakhouse Restaurant, just around the corner on Beaver Street, is a Wall Street institution and one of the oldest restaurant names in New York, serving steaks since 1837. The wine list is extensive, cosmopolitan and well laid out, with helpful information on certain styles and wineries. Napa Cabernets, Barolos and Bordeaux-style blends are a speciality—just right with the excellent steaks—as is claret itself. Harry's has a better selection of old vintages, but this is another great list.
Bobby Van's on Broad Street, opposite the New York Stock Exchange, is the most historic branch of a larger steakhouse chain. The list, if not as extensive as those of its neighbours, is modern and steak-friendly with particular emphasis on American Cabernet Sauvignons and Italian reds. The Bordeaux line-up is a little small, but is more than made up for by the size of the California range and the generally reasonable prices.