By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Not your daddy's steakhouse" is STK's tag line, although after an abnormally long delay in opening — even by Miami standards — a more apropos slogan might be "Not your granddaddy's steakhouse." However you put it, following months of advance publicity, the trendy restaurant from Manhattan's Meatpacking District (with outlets in Los Angeles and Las Vegas) debuted at the Gansevoort Hotel in South Beach this past January.
Even if STK had arrived on time, its contemporary steak-house concept would still have been late to the party — behind BLT, Bourbon, Gotham, Meat Market, Red, and others. At least celebrated design team ICRAVE has given this lofty, two-level restaurant-cum-lounge a new and distinctive urban-warehouse look. To achieve the desired effect, a multiplicity of muted textures (wood, marble, mirrors, glass, suede, stone, white brick) are moodily illuminated by a variety of sources. While lighter in spirit than the musty meateries of yesteryear, STK has a décor that is more austere than the whimsical white wonderlands of so many haute Miami hotels (in this respect, austerity has rarely seemed so refreshing).
The main floor serves a dual purpose: Tables for STK dining flank each end of the room, and "Coco De Ville," a bar/lounge with white teardrop-shaped ottomans, occupies the center. On the second level is another bar, private dining rooms, and restaurant seats overlooking the action. A catwalk that leads upstairs affords an estimable bird's-eye view: the packed house of A-listers and A-enviers who nightly perform an inadvertently intriguing show.
If traditional old steak houses share attributes with traditional old red wines (dark and heavy, with strong notes of leather, oak, and tobacco), STK is like a spritzer: cool and bubbly, a frivolous sip not to be taken seriously. In fact, with a DJ spinning oldies that in most cases are actually goodies, it's fun, fun, fun till Daddy — or not Daddy — takes the T-bone away.
Though diners marvel at all the nooks and crannies of STK's sprawling interior, it's quite another thing to be stuck dining in one of them. On our first visit, we squeezed into a tiny two-top between two other tables along the restaurant's left wall. The table surfaces are insidiously slippery, so each slicing of the steak caused the plate to slide precariously close to the edge. I wasn't too worried, for it looked as though any potential trajectory would carry the food onto the lap of the fellow seated inches away at the next table. Still, when making reservations, you might consider requesting a seat on the other, more spacious side of the room, which beckons with comfortable curved banquettes.
Perhaps if the eight-ounce strip loin had been a bit tenderer, the plate-sliding could have been avoided. It was culled from the "small"-portions column of steaks (six to eight ounces, $19 to $24). "Medium" cuts run 10 to 20 ounces and cost $38 to $46. In retrospect, I should have taken one of the "large" steaks, perhaps a 34-ounce cowboy rib eye, just to see if it fit on the table — although at $72, it clearly didn't fit into the budget. Nor did the A5 Kobe steak offered at $25 per ounce with a six-ounce minimum.
The strip loin was shockingly prosaic. It tasted as though purchased at Publix, oversalted, and cooked on a back-yard grill. Choice of one sauce such as horseradish or chimichurri comes alongside; luxe toppings such as crab meat, foie gras, or black truffles cost anywhere from $10 to $25 extra.
An à la carte order of mac and cheese was saltier than the steak; otherwise it would have been a decent, old-timey version with ditalini noodles in a creamy Parmesan base. Thick rectangles of darkly fried French fries piled log-like and spiked with truffle oil and Parmesan were good enough, although the cheese was certainly no salve for our saline-soaked palates. Salvation came via sweet corn pudding — AKA creamed corn — that is insanely rich and crazy delicious.
Entrées outside the realm of the variously sized steaks ($26 to $36) include a lamb "porterhouse" hesitantly described by our waiter as being a loin steak alongside two chops. Three loin chops were served instead; they were cooked rare instead of the requested medium-rare but arrived so tasty beneath a fresh mint/balsamic glaze and sturdy, succulent English peas that concerns over doneness dissipated as rapidly as meat from the plate.
One nightly special touted bright lobster sauce encircling a thick fillet of slightly rubbery black grouper. Accompaniments of two small cipollini onions, three discs of purple potato the size and width of quarters, and a crunchy, brandy-soaked square of bacon barely larger than a postage stamp were pretty to look at in the coral-colored sauce but hardly composed enough food to feed a fish.
A signature starter of Lil' Big Macs brought big flavor. The pair of Japanese Wagyu sliders comprised loosely packed beef tucked into toasted buns with pickled tomato and "special sauce" — something like HoJo's special sauce but spicier. Shrimp Rice Krispies, another STK standard, featured two fresh, plump tiger prawns that provided snap and bits of multicolored shrimp wafers that crackled when our waiter poured light shrimp bisque on them — but overall there was no pop of excitement to the dish. However, grilled octopus was, as Tony the Tiger might say, grrreat! Served on a bed of shredded mango escabeche, shaved fennel, and heirloom tomatoes, the mollusk boasted compelling sweet/charred/vinegar contrasts. We also liked a salad of sorrel leaves piled into a high nest lightly misted with sesame oil and tossed with thin wisps of apple and candied walnuts; we would have liked it more if the promised "warm" round of goat cheese had not arrived as a cold half-round. Something tells us executive chef Todd Mark Miller and chef de cuisine Alberto Cabrera can execute better than this.
If cuisine plays second fiddle to the scene, service plays third kazoo. Hostesses were snooty, and waiters were too pushy when trying to sell wine, cocktails, and expensive specials. On one visit, our dinner rolls — served in a cast-iron skillet and soaked in blue cheese butter with a side of chive oil — arrived simultaneously with appetizers. It would have been nice to have had that delectable homemade bread to munch on with our exquisite and expensive cocktails while awaiting the starters — which we were still eating when servers carrying our entrées approached. They did an abrupt about-face to the kitchen and about ten minutes later returned with the same plates.
We were given the bum's rush that occasion, yet next time we endured long waits. Worse, there just didn't appear to be anybody who truly cared about our dining experience — or anyone else's. A big deal is made of this being a "feminine" steak house, but when women at adjoining tables in the Siberian section of the restaurant mentioned they were cold, there were no wraps brought or thermostat adjusted. Other blunders also occurred, such as not mentioning specials (we heard them recited, too late, at the next table), not wiping down the table, and so forth.
We noticed quite a few Barton G.-esque clouds of green apple cotton candy floating through the room, and the mini-ice-cream-cone sampler likewise appeared to be a popular postdinner sweet. We went with a dense, dark slice of chocolate terrine studded with nuts, drizzled with reduced port wine syrup, and accompanied by cherry sorbet with a candied black cherry or two on top. But our favorite dessert was the s'more assemblage of warm chocolate molten cake, peanut butter ice cream, a square of roasted marshmallow, and a tuile-like graham cracker. We wanted s'more of that dessert and will surely return for s'more of STK's lively lounge scene. When we want a great steak, we're gonna stick with Daddy.