Rocco Steakhouse – Great Steak Served with a Warm Welcome

If lineage is everything in steak houses – and it is – Rocco descends from royalty.

It all goes back to Peter Luger, New York’s legendary steak house (actually in Brooklyn) which opened in 1887, when Williamsburg was a German neighborhood and not even slightly hip. Peter Luger’s former headwaiter begat Wolfgang’s. And two of Wolfgang’s co-owners plus its Executive Chef begat Rocco, Manhattan’s newest steakhouse in fashionable NoMad land. It opened five months ago.

Which is why a friend and I, courtesy of Rocco, were at the restaurant. We were eager to discover whether the treasured secrets of cooking and serving fine dry-aged steaks had been passed to another generation.

Steakhouse menus don’t change very much. For decades they have been a form of male-bonding comfort food, with wives and girlfriends relegated to second place. They boast great seafood appetizers, a limited array of soups and salads, about ten versions of prime beef, some fish and chicken for the ladies, classic sides – like creamed spinach – and a limited selection of calorie-busting deserts.

2The Bar

3The Bar

4Dining Room

What has changed is the increasing presence of affluent working women as welcomed and pampered customers. This was apparent the moment we entered Rocco’s. A mix of solo men and women were seated at the bar eating dinner. Always a good sign. And a table of four women were in the dining area, stage center.

5L to R: Rocco Trotta, (Owner), Pete Pjetrovic, (General Manager and Co-Owner), and Henry Doda

6Table Service at Rocco

Rocco Steakhouse is a highly personal endeavor, the inspiration of Rocco Trotta, co-founder and chairman of one of New York’s leading construction management and engineering firms. His firm has contributed to iconic New York projects, including The High Line and post 9/11 rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. His passion for sharing fine food with family and friends was inspired by his father, who owned a luncheonette in Brooklyn, then further ignited at Wolfgang’s, where he connected and bonded with General Manager Pete Pjetrovic and Beverage Director Jeff Kolenovic, now his Rocco partners. Pjetrovic has a strong following, in part due to the high level of service he provides, a cosseting of customers that was evident throughout the evening. Every employee has worked at a top New York steakhouse for at least 10 years, including Headwaiter and Sommelier Henry Doda. When we asked for a cabernet, Henry brought us a rich and smooth glass of what turned out to be the least expensive Cabernet on the restaurant’s extensive wine menu. (Prices range from $46 a bottle to four figures). I liked it so much that the next day I ordered a case from my local wine merchant.

7Josh Cabernet

Rocco is a friendly and unpretentious place. The dining area, in contrast to the sleek and shiny bar room, has an old-fashioned feel to it. The ceiling is high. The décor is muted. The tables are widely spaced. The solicitous male waiters – in white shirts, black bow ties, and white half aprons — look like waiters from a hundred years ago. And no music is playing. It’s a place for serious eaters who want to talk to each other. Thank you Rocco!

8Chilled Seafood Tower

9Shrimp Cocktail

10Mixed Green Salad

The party of four men seated next to us ordered Rocco’s Seafood Tower (MP), a signature dish. It looked delicious, but we couldn’t possibly have room for such a feast plus steak, so we restrained ourselves and chose the least rich items on the menu, a Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($19.95) and Mixed Green Salad (9.95). The huge shrimp were delicious, especially with their cocktail sauce, but the salad was quite ordinary – the greens less than crisp, the tomatoes tasteless, and the dressing without distinction. Next time around I might go for the Arugula, Apple and Pear Salad with Shaved Parmesan (($12.95). Or try the Tuna Tartare (($21.95).

11Ribeye Steak

12Filet Mignon

But really, it’s all about the steak and here Rocco did not disappoint. My huge slab of dry-aged, medium-rare Ribeye ($55.95), perfectly cooked, was heaven, charred on the outside, marbled with fat but not too fatty and utterly delicious. My friend’s tender Filet Mignon ($51.95) soft as butter, was equally fine. It went particularly well with our sides of Creamed Spinach ($11.95) and Sautéed Asparagus with garlic ($12.95). The asparagus were perfectly cooked. We tried Rocco’s Signature Fries ($9.95), which turned out to be crisp, tasteless, homemade potato chips. A mistake! Any other potato choice – mashed, baked, steak, German – would have been better. But the truth is, the steak and vegetable portions were so generous that neither of us could finish our steak (half of which went home in doggie bags), so we were almost grateful that the potatoes weren’t better. Besides, we had to leave room for dessert.

13Pecan Pie

14Cheese Cake

The Cheese Cake, from Junior’s, was worth leaving room for. It’s as good as it gets, smooth, velvety and served at just the right temperature. Home made whipped cream put it over the top. The warm Pecan Pie, though good, was not in the same category as the Cheese Cake. Other dessert possibilities included Crème Brulée, Carrot Cake, Hot Fudge Sundae and Chocolate Mousse Cake. All desserts are $9.95 and served with whip cream or as the menu puts it, Schlag.

When was the last time you went to a steak house? Probably, like many of us monitoring our cholesterol, not recently. But as my friend happily declared at the end of our evening, “Everyone should do this once in a while.” She’s right. It was a treat. When she got home, she discovered that Henry had added half a dozen onion rolls , which she particularly loved, to her doggie bag. Now that is customer service of a kind one rarely finds these days.

We will be back.

Rocco Steakhouse
72 Madison Avenue (Between 27th and 28th Streets)

Hours: Monday – Saturday: Noon to 10:30 PM
Lunch: Mon-Saturday: Noon-4pm
Sunday – Private Parties Only

Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag

About Eleanor Foa Dienstag (35 Articles)
Eleanor Foa Dienstag is a veteran author, journalist, photo-journalist and award-winning corporate writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Observer, Ms., Travel & Leisure, and many other websites and publications. Eleanor is the author of three books. Her most recent, available on Amazon and Centro Primo Levi is MIXED MESSAGES: Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile. It is a multi-layered memoir about Eleanor’s personal journey, her father’s exile from Fascist Italy and the Foa Family journey, whose Italian-Jewish roots go back to the 1500s in northern Italy where her ancestors were famous printers. WHITHER THOU GOEST: The Story of an Uprooted Wife, also a memoir, was acclaimed by Business Week for its insights into corporate life. Her third book, In Good Company: 125 Years At The Heinz Table, offered a unique view of a quintessential American company. Eleanor served as staff speechwriter to the Chairman and CEO of American Express. In 1983, she founded Eleanor Foa Associates ( It provides a wide variety of corporate writing and marketing services. Eleanor is past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), received speechwriting awards from IABC, and was awarded literary residencies at Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). She resides in Manhattan.