The big review: Meat Market **1/2

MEAT MARKET: Cream benches line chef Sean Brasel's new spot on Lincoln Road.

The name is, shall I say, indelicate, but what were you expecting of a place smack in the middle of flashy Lincoln Road by the owners of a long-running restaurant called Touch?

For their sexy, new Meat Market, David Tornek and chef Sean Brasel have transformed the old Pacific Time dining room into a sleek, glittery, sophisticated space as glamorous as a 1940s starlet. Walnut, white, platinum and gold are layered with brick, leather, animal hides, Plexiglass, cork and mirrors in an intriguing pastiche of opulence.

A drink at the buzzing bar is a great escape from today’s economic realities to a yesteryear where all is well in the world of pickup. A concise menu continues the allure with oysters, lobster tails, stone crabs, sea bass, wild African pheasant and a full complement of beef including Japanese A5 Kobe tenderloin for 95 bucks, or about $16 an ounce.

Youth, inexperience and a deafening decibel level conspire to make the help less helpful than you would like. Rely instead on these basic tenets when ordering:

The beef is great but overpriced, and the $8 sides represent some of the best bargains in the place. Tiraditos and ceviches are fine but chintzy, while salads like a standard Caesar and a house number with goat cheese and pecans are bountiful but limp. Brasel certainly knows about mass appeal, and it shows here in an abundance of dishes with all the subtlety of P.F. Chang’s that are defined by an intensity of salt and sugar with fried elements thrown in for good measure.

Super selections include the guilty pleasure of a pair of Kobe beef sliders on soft rolls, one loaded with foie gras and the other luxuriating under perfectly melted, sharp white Cheddar. Delicious buffalo-fried quail legs disappear from the plate as do hot and crusty polenta fries, at least as long as no one dunks them in the grainy, flour-laden blue cheese béchamel. A handsome smoked corn soup, its bits of crab sunk to the bottom of the bowl, is rich and tasty but missing any hint of smoke.

Fish dishes are uneven. A sliver of wild salmon topped with an intriguing blend of cinnamon, anise and candied jalapeño and is a treat, but a blackened mahi-mahi with a “Mexican” tomato salsa is unappealing. Seared local grouper with browned goat butter and a bacon-studded chipotle seafood broth works better on the plate, but is no reason to return.

Meat, meat, meat — that is the thing that would lure me back. The expert prime, dry-aged New York steak for two is gorgeously charred, sharp and crunchy on the blackened edges and rich, meltingly pink and juicy at the bone — a primitive delight. So, too, the filet mignon and picture-perfect 16-ounce rib-eye.

All mains arrive unattached, like many of the patrons at the bar, so selections from the mostly fab sides are definitely in order. A surprisingly deft barley impersonating risotto is dreamy, and a not-too-creamy baked spinach topped with bacon and onion is equally delicious. A grown-up mac and cheese (weirdly described as a “gratinea”) with thin, hand-twisted, gemelli-style pasta and a melange of cheeses is satisfyingly light, while cigar-sized steak fries and Gouda tater tots appeal to the kid in all of us.

Bread, if you can get it, looks better than it tastes. Ours never came one night at the “chef’s table.”

Paying 4 1/2 times retail for a favorite bottle of grocery store wine does sting, but you are on Lincoln Road, after all, where the rents are as spectacular as the people watching. Worthy quaffs on the overpriced, international list include a value by-the-glass Casa Lapostolle Cab for $12 and some lovely sipping ports for dessert.

Speaking of which, the pistachio crème brûlée is rich and thick with a perfectly shattering caramel crust — a pleaser despite its off-putting Shrek hue. Not so for a boring brown-butter cobbler or a quirky Key lime concoction with a toupee of rubbery merengue and a fridge-weary chocolate-almond crust that nearly required a steak knife to cut.

Despite a few misses on the well-thought-out menu and a few servers better suited to the catwalk than the front of the house, Meat Market’s festive atmosphere and decadent fare make it an asset to Lincoln Road.

Meat Market, 915 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-532-0088; 6 p.m.-midnight daily; lunch service set to begin later this month. Appetizers $6-$15, soups and salads $9-$12, entrees $25-$95, sides $8, desserts $8

FYI: Reservations strongly suggested. Full bar; corkage $45. Metered street parking and public lot; valet $10-$25. AX, DN, DC, MC, VS.

Published: 12/08

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