When the kosher Original Steakhouse opened this winter in my mid-Beach neighborhood, I was thrilled even though I'm not Jewish -- because on 41st Street, nothing ever opens that is not another drugstore or bank. At least almost nothing opens that stays open; the steak house's casually chic-looking space, for example, had formerly housed a short-lived kosher dairy eatery; before that, a short-lived kosher barbecue joint; previously a short-lived kosher natural foods joint.... Is the spot jinxed?
Well, in between my first visit last month and my second just about a week later, a wall separating the yuppie-esque steak house from its popular but hardly upscale sister operation, Pita Hut, magically disappeared. Menus had also been combined, in such haste that diners entering the steak house's door were presented with plastic folders containing half of the original Original Steakhouse menu and half of Pita Hut's -- literally; the menus had merely been ripped in two rather than reset with a single typeface.
Unfortunately the single best item I'd tried the previous week, a housemade blooming onion -- a fresh, whole, deep-fried onion "flower" -- was a casualty of the cut, replaced by Pita Hut's onion rings, frozen jobs of unknown origin. Of three Original steaks, the heftiest 24-ounce rib was also offed. But no loss there. My first visit's "cowboy cut" had arrived medium-well done instead of bleu, and its rare replacement had been at least half gristle and cold fat hunks. The smaller rib steak I tried on a second visit did come very rare and had pleasant pronounced grill smokiness. Still it had considerable (though less) gristle, and its one-fourth-inch thickness seemed more $7.95 blue-plate special than $17.95 steak-house stuff.
The Original Steakhouse
530 41st St, Miami Beach
305-534-4144. Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; closed Saturday.
All five original fish dishes survived, including snapper pomodoro: nicely sautéed fillets, juicy inside and fairly greaseless outside. The fish's rather bland tomato/ onion/basil/garlic sauce, however, isn't likely to impress diners whose religions allow them to sample similar dishes with far superior spicing at any number of Miami's nonkosher Mediterranean restaurants.
Pastas from the original Original's menu are also all available, but best avoided if the one I tried, wild mushroom in marsala sauce with grilled salmon, is typical. The sauce was too thin and sparsely applied to coat the pasta -- which was actually a good thing, since the marsala hadn't been cooked enough to burn off the raw alcohol, making the sauce's consumption seem more like a fraternity hazing dare than a gourmet experience. The mushrooms were not wild but common cultivated white button mushrooms and portobellos. And the salmon had been overcooked to the texture and juiciness of a cork bulletin board.
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Anything like a salad one would expect to find in such an eatery was gone the second visit, replaced by Pita Hut's Middle Eastern salads -- actually much more satisfying than the original Original's caesar (which was hardly a caesar without Parmesan, egg yolk, and other forbidden ingredients). The jumbo combo platter, seven very tasty Israeli/Turkish salads plus falafel balls and stuffed grape leaves, was an item I'd order again and again. But then I already had ordered it again and again over the years at Pita Hut, a place with a winning formula that has stayed the same and proved its staying power. As for the already nonoriginal Original Steakhouse, hmmm ... next week a prescription counter and a few teller windows?