Lewiston might be the East Aurora of Niagara County. It’s a village with historic bones and enough bustling businesses to make a wander down Main Street an interesting stroll instead of a maudlin vacancy census. Restaurants abound, with a barbecue joint, Italian red sauce and fine dining, family diners, Mexican fast food and Chinese takeout. What it didn’t have, until Center Cut opened last year, was a steakhouse. As a species, steakhouses aren’t prized for creativity, but for delivering slabs of pristine protein with panache. Call it the prime directive. ¶ When I make a steakhouse reservation, I expect two things: I’m going to spend a breathtaking amount of my employer’s money. And I’m going to saw into a great steak. Both happened during a recent dinner at Center Cut. ¶ It was a rare balmy evening when a table outside seemed imperative.
We admired the blossoms and the breeze, traded bon mots with our spirited server, and pondered menu placards. The menu offers phonetic spellings for steaks (“fi-la men-yon”), which I found vaguely insulting, but I shook it off.
The choices were classic steakhouse, seafood, steaks and chops, pastas and side dishes. A Caesar salad ($9), prepared tableside, caught my eye. Another hallmark of steakhouse luxury is polished wait staff that can pull off flourishes of old-school hospitality with aplomb.
So I ordered one, and a platter of oysters, crab legs, lobster tail and shrimp ($60), as an appetizer to share. Plus a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye steak ($44), and since I could, a side of béarnaise sauce ($3). Others ordered the New York strip ($38), ahi tuna ($29) and a 16-ounce pork chop ($27). In a nod to economy, Center Cut includes one accompaniment, from a time-honored list (truffle fries, garlic smashed or baked potatoes, creamed spinach, broccoli, boursin mac and cheese).
Warm bread showed up with whipped butter. Then more butter showed up, melted, in a tealight-fueled butter warmer apparatus. Butterholic that I am, I dunked some of the chilled crabmeat into it. After it congealed on my palate I decided it was a better partner for warm seafood. With cool seafood bites, the proffered mignonette and cocktail sauces worked well. The seafood was enjoyable, a fat split lobster tail, six each big shrimp and shucked oysters, plus king crab legs that were messy to shell but made it worthwhile. (I went to wash my hands afterward.)
More impressive was a calamari ($12) that avoided stereotype by arriving in a light coating of seasoned crumbs, instead of deep-fried cladding. The toasty crumbs added to the enjoyment of tender cephalopod, delicious without needing help from the accompanying tomato sauce.
French onion soup was enjoyable, with plenty of caramelized onions, flavorful broth, and bite-sized cheesed croutons that were easier to spoon up than the usual cheese quilt.
When the Caesar salad showed up premade, I was mildly disappointed. I would have asked for less of the garlicky dressing on the chopped romaine and crunchy housemade croutons. When I found tidbits of unbidden anchovy filet tossed through the salad I cringed. Not because I dislike anchovies – I will hoover an anchovy sandwich – but for the anchovy-avoidant, people who act like they’ve been poisoned when they meet an anchovy unawares.
That’s how my dinner at Center Cut went, generally good ingredients and skilled cooking with some lapses that reminded me the restaurant hasn’t been open long.
My steak was terrific, well-crusted, cooked as ordered, tender and juicy and tempting me to go Cro-Magnon gnawing on the bone. My side of asparagus spears were perfectly firm, the warm béarnaise at once delicately zippy and rich. Worth it.
A strip steak was overcooked, medium-well instead of medium-rare. Its truffle fries were tasty, but wilted. The sesame-crusted tuna slab was pink inside but fishy-tasting, requiring applications of the accompanying ginger soy sauce. The garlic mashed potatoes were fresh and real, but I could not detect garlic.
Cat’s chop was a lovely double-cut, bone-in loin number, cooked right. It still had a whisper of pink inside, crusty outside, with a racy, fruity, boozy barbecue glaze. Her creamed spinach was satisfying, too, tasting more of greenery than cream.
For dessert (all $7) we tried a creamy, well-crusted crème brûlée, a chocolate hazelnut mousse that I wished was nuttier, and a Kahlua cheesecake that hit the right buttons with a sweet coffee accent. Strawberry cake was my favorite, with jammy berry mousse and tender cake that made me sigh with anticipation of summer.
Our server was game, but her assistant asked us if we’d like dessert without being able to tell us the choices. Then disappeared to find our server. Not a service felony, but not steakhouse-level polish, either.
Center Cut certainly fills a gap in Lewiston’s offerings, with prime protein poised to please more than just the tennis-club set. It just needs to work on its service game.
Center Cut - 7 plates
New Main Street steakhouse brings big steaks, big flavors to Lewiston.
WHERE: 453 Center St., Lewiston (246-2023, thevillagesteakhouse.com).
HOURS: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $7-$13; seafood platters, $13-$60; entrees, $25-$59.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.