The Committee Chophouse, located in the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel (a reinvention of the landmark Blackstone Hotel) owes its name to a group of card-playing gentlemen, hosted on Sunday evenings by Blackstone owner Charles Schimmel, who affectionately dubbed themselves “The Committee.”
Sly nods to the poker-playing group are found sprinkled around the subterranean dining room, including custom wallpaper printed with historical images, that line cozy banquettes and the menu headings “Omaha Hold’ Em” and “The Jackpot.” For diners who wish to go “all in,” a small private dining room features the original poker table, bedecked with a set of playing cards featuring likenesses of the Schimmel sons.
A second, larger private dining area is situated near the wine cellar, draped in velvet, and walled off for greater seclusion. Original tile floors, mid-century modern wood furniture and lighting, and leather tufted banquettes add to the nostalgic ambiance in this modern chophouse.
Midwesterners know and love their steak, and Executive Chef Ryan Arensdorf is no exception. Educated at Kendall College in Chicago, Arensdorf always knew he wanted to be a chef. He fondly recalled cooking fresh garden vegetables and pies with his grandmothers in his native state of Kansas. His path to Omaha wound through myriad award-winning spots in Chicago and most recently to the east coast where he took the reins of the Salamander Resort.
Under the tutelage of Martial Noguier, famed chef of Chicago’s Bistronomic, Arensdorf fine-tuned flavor profiles and came to understand, through Noguier’s eyes, why he thrives in the fast-paced culinary industry (hint: it has something to do with playing with fire). Another mentor, Todd Stein, Corporate Executive Chef of Davidson Hospitality Group, helped Arensdorf find restraint, encouraging him to respect the inherent simplicity of food, taking fewer, more thoughtful steps to reach an end.
This simplicity is reflected in the menu developed by Arensdorf for The Committee. “My philosophy is simple: impeccable protein, vegetable, garnish, and sauce,” he said. “If you follow these tenets, you’ll hit it out of the park.”
Innovation might seem impossible in a steakhouse, but at The Committee, it’s the team’s entire focus. Diners eat with their eyes first, so combining quality ingredients, beautiful plating, and a mix of flavors and textures to tantalize patrons’ palates is the restaurant’s mission.
On the path to perfect flavor balance, Arensdorf first tastes proteins in their raw state. “You can tell a lot about how an animal is fed and treated by the taste,” he explained. “Its history shines through. Season simply, inside and out, then balance with a beautiful sauce.”
Local purveyors such as Greater Omaha Beef and Plum Creek Farms provide quality proteins, nearby gardens and small farms supply in-season produce, and all seafood options are sustainably caught.
In any historical establishment, the past informs the present, so when designing the opening offerings, the team reviewed old menus and gathered inspiration from historical photos and diner accounts. Access to old recipes meant bringing back an original cheesecake, and Arensdorf also plans to develop a new dessert option based on his grandmother’s banana bread.
The cocktail menu is crafted by in-house mixologists, offering time-tested classics alongside creative innovations in the adjoining speakeasy, The Cottonwood Room. New or old school, the cocktails pair with starters such as Prime Beef Carpaccio, a dish with earthy shaved black truffle, crispy caper berry, tangy shallot, and sweet garlic puree. The Twice Cooked Pork Belly is nestled atop a swoop of spiced carrot puree, bits of fermented red cabbage and jus de vie. The Chilled Shellfish Tower features plump cocktail shrimp, lobster salad, and king crab surrounded by a bracelet of sparkling oysters, served with classic cocktail sauce and a zingy citrus ginger mignonette.
As you’d expect from a top chophouse, all cuts of steak are served with a perfect char and mid-rare interior. Treat yourself and your sweetheart to the Chateaubriand for two, served with demi-glace and your choice of two sauces, or enjoy the more petite baseball cut Steak Diane alongside side dishes such as Creamed Corn with parmesan brulée, the Committee Gratin served hot and bubbly with onion, bacon, leek, and raclette cheese or asparagus spears dusted with espelette and a shower of Grana Padano cheese.
Great steak loves great wine, and Arensdorf is working with Committee General Manager and Sommelier Terrance Dougherty on a broad selection of global wines from bold Spanish reds to interesting bottles from boutique vintners. The dessert menu varies, but a customer favorite is the Baked Alaska, featuring Coneflower Cherry Tart Crumble ice cream and bruléed meringue atop almond cake brushed with clementine syrup, all of which is flambéed tableside.
Classic cuts, simple, solid preparation, and flawless execution make The Committee Chophouse a worthy destination for travelers and locals alike. “The road has already been paved,” mused Arensdorf, “we just need to follow it.”