Red Serves Steaks in SoBe
Red the Steakhouse comes to us from Cleveland, where it has been known as a reputable and popular restaurant since 2004. For its first foray outside that lakeside city, Red's heads chose South Beach, a neighborhood already beefed up by Kobe Club, Fogo de Chão, La Parilla Liberty, Meat Market, Outback Steakhouse, Prime 112, Smith & Wollensky, Texas de Brazil, and Tuscan Steak; the last was replaced by BLT Steak shortly after Red arrived. And STK Steak is on the way. What is it they say about location, location, location?
The timing was even worse: Just as the doors swung open, the heart of the economy was going through the grinder. If Red were somehow a step ahead of the competition — or different — it could conceivably overcome this double whammy of woeful time and place. Alas, this doesn't seem to be the case.
Red bills itself as a "contemporary" steak house, which is pretty much the rule nowadays. This tag generally connotes a physical lightening of the traditional mahogany-armored men's club décor and a similar modernization of cuisine. Red has the first part down pat, with a dramatically contrasted array of white stonework and linens, dark hardwood floors, glass-plated dividers, and rubescent banquettes and accents. Just about everything else, including the bar, chairs, walls, and waiter uniforms, is black.
Diners begin with a dish of mixed olives and a basket of crackly, spindly bread sticks. They're followed by crusty French rolls with a dipping plate of Parmesan cheese, crushed red chili, and olive oil — all fine to munch on while perusing the lengthy list of global, healthily marked-up bottles of wine. The regular menu, orchestrated by chef Peter Vauthy (from Cleveland Red), is curiously conservative considering its "contemporary" characterization. Starters include hand-diced steak tartare, clams casino, steamed mussels, shrimp cocktail (stop me if I mention something that hasn't been around for a hundred years). Still, one can't complain about a trio of tapered hot green peppers stuffed with sweet Italian sausage in bright, zesty, onion-flecked red sauce. You're also likely to succumb to three enormous white gulf shrimp succulently sautéed in lemon-accented butter sauce subtly infused with slices of softly cooked garlic. A plank of toasted garlic bread rises from each of these appetizers.
Salads encompass expected steak emporium classics such as caesar, wedge, and chopped renditions. "House" salad takes a stab at distinctiveness by adding thickly candied almonds and a few smudges of Westfield Farm goat cheese to a mound of mesclun drenched in strawberry-sweetened orange vinaigrette. Maybe Red is right to stick to the standards.
All steaks are USDA Prime. The choice of cuts is divided between bone-in and not. We selected the former for our 22-ounce rib eye, which arrived donning a darkly caramelized crust sizzled with garlic, kosher salt, and crushed tellicherry peppercorns (a complex and potent black pepper from India). This was an inarguably delectable steak, though you'd think its $49 price might entitle you to a little chimichurri or green peppercorn sauce — but such supplements cost $4 each. Boneless steaks start at $39.
Have we mentioned timing and competition?
Other grilled meat entrées include veal and pork chops, New Zealand rack of lamb, and Bell & Evans double chicken breast. Seafoods are tuna, Atlantic salmon, king crab legs, and Maine lobster, all excellent choices. For Ohio. South Florida boasts enough local fish that we don't need to import these species. Assorted shellfish are served with pasta as well. Two dozen sweet, tender littleneck clams pleased in concert with perfectly cooked linguine, noticeable notes of garlic, and way more olive oil than necessary.
The pasta wasn't bad, but my advice for diners at any steak house is the same: Stick to the steaks. At Red, this is particularly true; otherwise you might find yourself miserably mired in a murky veal Marsala — three huge "free-range" scaloppine piled on an oval plate. The salty veal base used for the wine-weak sauce made my guests and me less than enthusiastic about finishing more than a few bites.
Soy or salt also marred an otherwise appealing à la carte side of haricot verts with pine nuts and crisp nubs of naturally salty pancetta. Parmesan "tater tots" — six mini-ice-cream-scooped domes of what might more accurately be described as "tater latkes" — were dense yet savory. A side dish of "tomato crème fraîche" was onion-laden to the point of tasting like the onion dip traditionally served with potato chips. Plus popping whole cooked cherry tomatoes into the little dish of dip was a curious and ineffective way to infuse that fruit's flavor.
On one visit, after a particularly satisfying meal, we finished with a scoop each of white chocolate (creamy and rich) and strawberry (fresh and fruity) gelato, and one of green apple sorbet that outsparkled the others (a trio of sorbets is probably the wisest way to go after so rich a dinner). Next time out, we tried a tall, two-layer cylinder of moist carrot cake with thick cream cheese frosting and a crown of candied almond slivers. Pineapple sorbet on the side was too soft, but the carrot/pineapple pairing of flavors can't be beat. Other desserts are either trite or kids' stuff — key lime pie, chocolate molten cake, crème brûlée, doughnut holes, and some sort of ice-cream sundae.
Service was generally sharp, but waiters standing around with hands in pockets, even during slow times, suggests a lack of proper training. So did having to wait too long for the check. And on one occasion, our waitress took a seat at a table with a couple of presumably VIP guests. She and another waitress chatted away with their backs to the sections they were supposedly serving. This behavior can be forgiven in a coffee shop, but it is so very wrong in a fine-dining venue. That management saw this and let it go doesn't bode well either. Red is going to have to shine brighter if it hopes to steer in herds from the other corrals.
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