Chef Mike Sabin of Prime One Twelve: Steakhouses are Overdone

Did you miss last week's chat with Mike Sabin regarding the fate of Nemo? If so, click here. If not, read on:

New Times: What's your favorite menu item?

Mike Sabin: Hawaiian Big Eye tuna. We're the largest purchaser in the country. We do 13,000 pounds in a year. We do a steak and we do a poke--which is a Hawaiian style tartare--raw, cubed fish tossed with sesame oil, scallions, and limu. It's not even on the menu. It's just a verbalized special because I can only get so much of it.

Tell me more about what you know regarding sustainability issues with tuna.

Lots of places outside Hawaii are able to net so they'll kill a whole school of tuna. But when you long line, you only get two or three of them. They use circle hooks, so there's no bonus catch: no monk seals, no turtles. If they get a turtle they are able to work themselves out. They totally protect the waters. It's illegal to bait fish.

Is there a Big Eye problem, specifically?

No. They don't want there to be a problem so they're heavily protected. All the boats are all-American boats. You have to log what you catch.

How much does it cost you?

Twenty dollars a pound. When you have something like that, the quality can justify $35 for an appetizer of about four to five ounces.

How do you describe your food, generally?

Straightforward. We're just trying to represent the product with respect. Prime beef served with sea salt--that's all you need. You don't need gravy.

How would you describe yourself?

Demanding, detail oriented, dedicated. My staff would say I'm intense. At the end of the day it's the constant pursuit of perfection.

So you don't regret skipping culinary school?

Not really. I did go to a sushi academy in Venice Beach. It was a 10-day crash course. Not a lot of cuisines I haven't dabbled in.

You get a ton of celebs in this restaurant--which customer makes you most nervous?

Probably Myles. Or my kids: they're my biggest critics. They'll be straight up. I started them eating oysters at 4. Watched 'em gag, but...

And then during [South Beach] Wine and Food we had tables with Jean-Georges and Alfred Portale... Who makes me nervous are my mentors.

What food item do you hate?

Frozen fish.

One last meal--what would it be?

Pizza. Good New York pizza. Just straight-up cheese pizza.

What do you make at home, then? 

Fish. I free dive. Always have fresh fish.>What menu item is overdone by now?

The whole steakhouse thing.

But, uh, isn't that what Prime One Twelve is, essentially?

We caught the wave right when it started and we rode it. But we've moved on with the Italian thing, the fish thing. It's a circle. It comes back around. You'll probably see soul food places start to pop back up.

From your mouth to God's ears.

On the menu here's a lot of menu items I grew up with, like fried green tomatoes, collard greens, sweet potato pie...

Sorry, but I rarely eat white boy barbecue... Guess I'll have to wait until you leave the kitchen to order then.

The family rumor is that my dad's one-quarter black.

You're just saying that for the ladies' sakes.

My dad grew up eatin' soul food so my mom learned how to cook it. I'm used to tables with big black ladies asking, 'How did you learn how to do collard greens?' What you do is chop up the collard greens, wash 'em really well, then put it in bags in the freezer to break the fibers down. That makes 'em tender. I told the ladies and they were trippin' out.

What's the most unusual item you ever put on the menu?

The chicken and waffles. That's a big seller. They're malted waffles, made fresh, with Vermont syrup. We're not buying Eggos. And It's a total Southern fry recipe for the chicken.

What do you think of Miami's culinary scene?

It's been try to grow for so many years, but due to bad management we keep taking two steps forward and one step back.

How about the local produce?

We've got some local stuff but not enough. The farmers in Homestead can't support us because of our volume.

Any future plans?

I'm sure we're gonna expand. We're still working on the infrastructure. We were almost starting to build in Vegas and New York but then the recession [hit]. It was almost a blessing in disguise. I wasn't ready to fly back and forth.

Ever thought of having your own restaurant?

No. It would be the same as what I have now.

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Riki Altman