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Kevin O'Connell Jr. to lead kitchen at new Amherst steakhouse

Chef Kevin O'Connell Jr., who has been out of the restaurant business for almost two years, will return to the kitchen at the Standard, a steakhouse and oyster bar that will open 4548 Main St. in the former Diego Modern Mexican Lounge in Snyder.

The upscale venture is led by ownership group DMM on Main and will begin accepting reservations for Nov. 29.

The chef, son of popular former WGRZ weatherman Kevin O'Connell Sr., has been a lightning rod for criticism since he spent six months in jail after misusing his customers' credit card information, to the tune of $44,000, while operating a restaurant in Montana.

"I made a mistake 12 years ago," O'Connell said, "and it all happened when I was away [from Buffalo]. I understand my past and feel bad about it, but I'd like to think I'm a pretty good guy."

The Greystone, the downtown restaurant considered to be the son's final foray, closed last summer after it strayed from upscale dining into a nightclub. The Greystone's failure hit O'Connell hard, forcing introspection.

His parents — his longtime support system — had encouraging words during what he referred to as a "tough time" due to "community backlash."

"They told me I have a talent that no one can ever take away: 'You can cook,' " said O'Connell, known for his work at his family's Kenmore restaurant, O'Connell's American Bistro, which closed in 2013.

He said his perspective has changed, especially since he's not in an ownership role at the Standard.

"This isn't about me anymore," said O'Connell, who will run day-to-day operations with General Manager Jeff Lang. "It's about the concept, it's about the food, it's about the customers, it's about the area."

The dining area will seat 48, with another 15 to 20 at the bar. The oyster bar — uncommon in the Buffalo area, O'Connell said — will seat 12 and offer an alternative for diners who do not want a full meal but prefer not to sit at the main bar.

Six oysters will run $15. Shrimp, crab and clams also dot the oyster bar menu. A $24 lobster roll — made with "hand-picked Maine lobster meat," according to the menu — is available, as well as a chilled lobster, either half ($18) or whole ($32).

O'Connell will source the oysters from Boston, with roughly two or three different varieties at a given time. Otherwise, he said, he doesn't intend to reinvent the wheel. He'll use USDA prime beef for the classic steaks — strip, ribeye, filet mignon and porterhouse — all cooked on a wood-fired grill on the second floor. Himalayan pink salt will be used to dry-age steaks.

O'Connell is clear that he's not trying to duplicate the trendy approaches of Jeff Cooke Jr., Ed Forster and Steven Gedra, whom he called foragers.

"I'm good at old standards," he said. "If they're Michael Buble, then I'm Dean Martin."

INFO: The Standard, 4548 Main St., Snyder. Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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