In South Florida, dining trends come and go, but the steakhouse’s reign is eternal.
Just ask Myles Chefetz, whose Prime 112 in South Beach grossed more than $23 million last year, or Shareef Malnik, who spends more every few years on renovations to his legendary The Forge in Miami Beach than most restaurateurs bank in a lifetime.
Or ask Alan Stillman, who founded New York’s original Smith & Wollensky in 1977, and his son Michael, who have partnered on South Beach’s new Quality Meats, a New York import.
The Stillmans, with chef-partner Craig Koketsu and Miami executive chef Patrick Rebholz, have carved out a meatery that’s better than your average South Florida steakhouse. In Miami Beach, Quality Meats is geographically located a little north of Prime 112 and a little south of the Forge; that’s also where it hangs according to my taste and budget.
Quality Meats is packed on a rainy weekend night, its tables filled with a mix of taut-flesh or gray-hair patrons who are sitting under meat-hook lights and sipping from fancy stemware. In this decade, the old Bancroft has never looked better.
There’s more of a showlike quality to dinner here than the typical pushcart parade of raw meat. Your gin and tonic comes with a DIY infusion of anise-forward botanicals; your waiter will mix minced shallots, truffled capers and Dijon mustard into your steak tartare; and he’ll snip fresh rosemary into your tableside steak sauce.
Some of the theatrics seem empty: A butcher case in the dining room on one visit is stocked with … nothing. And menu items marked with “Coming Soon,” even in a young restaurant, are teases that don’t entice.
But push forth — to apps like house-cured, thick-cut slab bacon with peanut butter and jalapeño-apple relish — and the pleasureful rewards are great. The bacon dish sounds weird and looks rough, but the flavors are balanced and fun.
We thought our server was up-selling us on a crab-and-avocado starter, but it turned out to be our favorite: Snow-white lump crab under a fan of avocado slices, enlivened by circles of dehydrated tomatoes that taste like concentrated little pizzas.
Steak tartare has all the elements of greatness — properly chilled, handchopped beef with peppery accents — but suffers in its soupy texture, the result of too much steak sauce added in the kitchen.
Salads are more restrained, including a steakhouse-staple chopped version with a textbook green-goddess dressing that pops with herbal, nutty, salty and creamy notes. I was less taken by a mound of raw sliced kale with shredded Manchego, dressed in a muddy-tasting chorizo-mustard seed vinaigrette.
Quality Meats sells more-than-quality meats, from a humble $28 bavette (flap) cut to a $65-a-person, double-rib steak that starts at 4 pounds and incites dining-room envy before ending in a marvelous bedroom slumber.
Well-sourced, aggressively seasoned beef is cooked to requested temperature. The marinated bavette comes off the grill impressively tender, served with chunks of sour orange and onion in a nod to Miami, while the table-denting rib steak sports a deep salt-and-pepper crust and a smattering of tempura onion rings.
The tableside steak sauce is a little molasses-sweet for my tastes, but a smoky, creamy horseradish goes with everything in sight. For those who don’t want to gamble on a single steak preparation, a trio of filets comes topped with different tastes and textures.
Fish stays equally playful, as evidenced by a palate-rousing, skin-on branzino fillet crusted with the onion-garlic-poppyseed seasonings of an everything bagel. Garnished with pickled onions and smoked cream cheese, the branzino’s smart execution raises it above mere gimmickry.
I enjoyed the sides here more than at any steakhouse in recent memory.
A brûlée of creamed corn is absolutely delightful with its punch of fresh kernels and the sweet kick of charred sugar. Roasted long slices of trumpet mushrooms are steaklike in their own buttery, meaty right. And the little tots oozing with broccoli and cheese taste like someone took middle-school cafeteria food and made it awesome. It took the wind out of my sails when a waiter soggified a small skillet of crispy potatoes by pouring a garlic-herb butter all over them.
Quality Meats’ army of servers and runners ensures expedient, professional service.
When I ordered a bottle of primitivo from Puglia, Italy, a manager instead brought a more-expensive bottle from California. Honest mistake, but when he returned with the right wine and didn’t say a word, perhaps he was just embarrassed, but I felt as though I did something wrong.
A parking nit: Quality Meats charges $20 for valet; fine. It also charges $20 for a self-parking ordeal that requires you to get a ticket from and surrender your keys to a valet attendant. It’s a silly exercise, except that you get to ride an elevator directly into the dining room.
Before you head back to your car, smile over a paper cup of ice cream cake or a frozen dessert mashup of coffee and doughnuts.
This isn’t South Florida’s first steakhouse, and it sure won’t be the last. But in a town where the steakhouse is king, Quality Meats is worthy of its throne.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Food editor Evan S. Benn on Twitter and Instagram: @EvanBenn.