Michael Mandato learned how to cook steak at Tavern on the Green during the legendary restaurant’s moneyed heyday in the 80s. He studied the grill man because few people know meat better, and Mandato was smart enough to pay attention. “They did a lot of steaks and I trained under this grill cook, his name was Benny,” he said. “He showed me how to grill meat the right way and it was all about resting…you have to let that meat rest and let the juices redistribute.
This newest iteration of the Garden City Hotel’s Polo Steakhouse (the first one closed in 2007) takes comfort food seriously with Mandato as its executive chef. Massive cuts of prime Angus short and strip loins arrive and begin an exacting, 28-day aging process, extracting moisture and improving texture and taste. It’s a step that could have been outsourced, but isn’t as a matter of pride.
To achieve cuts of meat that fetch a starting price of $50, Mandato needs the right raw materials. “I had a relationship that I developed over 25 years ago with a meat purveyor and they haven’t changed a single thing about how they butcher their meat. Out of all the steak across the country, 3 percent of it is prime, and they get the top 1 percent of that.” Trust him, he’s seen a lot of steak over his career.
After graduating the Culinary Institute of America Mandato started cooking French food in NYC before taking the plunge into hospitality. He was first at Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis, then at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta before returning stateside to the Taj Boston.
A cut of meat should blow guests away because of the quality and execution, not some haute presentation. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity, like the unique bone-in filet mignon Mandato prefers because it infuses the tender cut with lots of flavor. His winter menu features other imaginative entries, like juniper thyme-marinated buffalo tenderloin cooked sous vide and a venison osso bucco.
The food he’s executing now is a far cry from what came out of the kitchen at what might be considered his first hospitality job: South Nassau Community Hospital. The Oceanside native started cleaning the kitchens there as a teenager before actually cooking in them. Despite being a hospital, he remembers preparing some dishes were perks. “For all of the new mothers we offered them a special dinner. I remember it being a bacon-wrapped tenderloin, a nice, fresh green beans almondine and the starch might have been a stuffed potato, but that was one of the things as a cook we got to do there as a special meal.”