By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
By Carla Torres
Red the Steakhouse is a very special kind of restaurant. It's one of the upscale eateries that have made SoFi — the once-ghetto, now-chichi area south of Fifth Street — the center of the Miami Beach restaurant universe. Executive chef Peter Vauthy takes pride in selling Wagyu steaks that have pedigrees longer than an Oxford graduate's and sell for upward of $20 an ounce. The restaurant's modern décor of dark brown, white, and red blends well with the traditional steak-house service. The ambiance is ideal for dates and business meetings alike.
I'm shadowing Chris Carr, a 26-year-old guy who has made waiting tables his career. He looks like Will Smith from his Fresh Prince days. Tall and thin, he's 90 percent swagger and 10 percent little boy. This place is more precision and less volume. Chris shows me how to dip each preset wineglass into hot water until steam engulfs it, and then wipe it down so there are no smudges from the dishwasher. All silverware must be exactly a thumb's length (from tip to joint) apart.
At 5:30 p.m., the staff gathers for a family meal. It's lasagna — oily, cheesy, and hot, the kind of meal waiters like and hostesses skip. The chef goes over some specials and then notes it's likely the last week of king crab season. But there's still a monster left in the cooler if someone wants to impress a date. One intact crustacean was sold earlier in the week for more than $200.
Various locations/Food truck
Miami, FL 33137
Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District
119 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Region: South Beach
3468 Main Highway
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
Region: Coconut Grove
333 Himmarshee St.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Region: Fort Lauderdale
At 6 p.m., the doors open, but Chris tells me things won't pick up until at least 7:30. He has been with Red since it opened about three years ago. Originally from New Jersey, he moved to Davie to attend Nova Southeastern University. He took a job at a restaurant to make some pocket money and when he heard Red was hiring, he moved to Miami and took a chance on the brand-new steak house, even quitting school against his parents' wishes.
Chris explains the tip-out situation. This is a high-volume, expensive place where a New York strip steak can go for $48. A lot of players dip into the tip pool — 5 percent goes to the bar, 3 percent to the bussers, and 1.5 percent to runners, who help serve the food to patrons. "It doesn't matter," he says. "One big tipper can make the night."
One such tipper is Rosie O'Donnell. A frequent diner, she comes in early with her family and tips generously — sometimes the equivalent of the check. Because dinner for her party can range upward of $500, one visit from O'Donnell or another A-lister pays the rent for the month.
At 7 p.m., the room is still virtually empty. One couple is dining, but not in Chris's section. The music is soft, and a $2,000 Baccarat crystal decanter of Louis Trey cognac sits alone on a cart, lit candles surrounding it like a shrine.
Four men ages 20 to 50 in crumpled suits, looking like they've come straight from a business meeting, are seated at 7 o'clock. Chris takes their cocktail orders and then tells me of the Red waiter's recipe: Take drink orders and water preferences. Six minutes later, describe specials (make sure you've memorized them). Chris talks up the meat: "The steaks are certified Angus Prime. Every one is served at the perfect temperature."
They all order steaks. As they eat, an older couple is seated. They're in from New York. The man is a president at Chase Manhattan Bank. He tells Chris their concierge recommended Red. As the waiter takes drink orders, another couple is seated.
Chris tells me the second couple is on a first date. They're sitting side-by-side on the long banquette. "I suggested they sit that way," Chris says. "I saw them pull up in a McLaren AMG. They're going to tip big. I can feel it." For Chris, this is a game of Monopoly in which the player with the biggest bank at the end of the night wins.
At 8 p.m., a four-top of IBM staffers comes in. There's a clear leader in the group who orders starters for everyone. Two $200 bottles of wine are requested, along with drinks. One man wants a piece of fish, and the leader at the table disapproves. Seafood is a sign of weakness in whatever test this dinner has become.
Chris moves like Gregory Hines, practically tap-dancing from table to table. In fact, his spiel is like a dance. Women are beautiful and are meant to be flattered. Men should be upsold with pitches like "The sommelier just purchased this vintage today, and I'll give it to you for just $125" and "I suggest lobster mac and cheese."
I initially think that approach might be a bit much, but I'm wrong. His gentle but persistent pushing of crab, straight from the Bering Sea to your table in Miami Beach, his insistence that the extra $50 for lobster in the macaroni and cheese is well worth it, are not wasted on this table. He is offered a job at IBM. Chris is excited. I'm certain the offer, like the side dish, will be forgotten tomorrow.