By David Minsky
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By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
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By Laine Doss
Still, one goes to a steak house for the full experience. We want the creamed spinach ($7), the sautéed mushrooms ($8), the blue cheese mashed potatoes ($6). We demand the mind-boggling selection of wines (A&L's has an extensive list of wines by the glass and half bottle, and a dozen pages of really excellent and fairly priced bottles). We want our surf (shrimp and scallops "Louie," $32) and our turf (braised lamb shank was the Monday night special, also at $32), and occasionally our shellfish tower (market price) or our lobster casserole (market price) to shine as bright as the beef. It's not enough to just grill a great steak; you've got to get the trimmings right too.
This, Abe & Louie's Boca is unable to do. Our waiter was overworked, nervous, and only partially trained (although I love the vaguely Pullman car porter suits they have them wearing). With the exception of an ice-cold plate of bluepoint oysters ($12), everything we ate was terrible. Creamed spinach somehow managed to define both bland and over-seasoned (a magic trick I can't explain). Sautéed mushrooms: rubbery, salty beyond belief, flavorless. Only the blue cheese potatoes passed any kind of test of edibility.
I sipped my Penfolds Shiraz ($12) with real relish while I picked at my steak tartare. That single glass of Australian "Bin 28 Kalimna" packed more flavor than the combined efforts of the half-dozen dishes crowding our table. And Abe & Louie's could take no credit for it.
Consider the steak tartare ($15, "Our recipe, fresh to order").
Abe and Louie's needs to use somebody else's recipe, because theirs is an abomination. You make a steak tartare with good quality raw, ground beef mixed, usually, with mustard, Worcestershire, and herbs, and serve it alongside something yummy to pile it on (anything from homemade chips to crostini). There are many versions of this decadent dish and lots of alternate ingredients. When I was a waitress in Palm Beach in my youth, I used to serve a flawless tartare at the old Peter Dinkle's; they stood by the tradition of topping it with a raw egg. Abe and Louie's dispenses with the egg and instead floods their ground beef with vinegar and mustard. They serve it with stale, dry, little toast points that have less appeal than the stuff you'd get with your ham and scramble at Waffle House. A side of musty raw onion came roughly chopped rather than diced; the adjoining mound of mustard defined the term "overkill." Those pickled capers were just the thing to round out this sour, badly abused pile of beef. The sloppiness, the basic misunderstanding of elementary food preparation — it was all there, in one meaty little microcosm.
Heard enough? Want the details of my well-aged, $32 shrimp and scallop Louie? What's that you say? Shrimp isn't supposed to be aged? Someone in the kitchen evidently missed that class in cooking school, and also the class about how shrimp tastes best barely grilled, just enough to take the cool transparency out but not long enough to give it the texture of a spare tire. I've had better shrimp at Long John Silver's. These were served with a molded round of plain white rice. Brilliant.
I don't usually take bad restaurant meals so personally. But honestly, what does it take to screw up apple pie ($7)? An aversion to using "trans-fats" in the crust, I'm guessing. Abe and Louie's makes the worst pie crust I've ever tasted, a slice of shirt-backing set over an unadventurous mélange of sugared apples, and a huge, coarse, hairy "sprig" of mint. They could send out to Winn Dixie for a better pie, or ask any Mom in the U.S.A. to bake one for them.
On a practical note: If you find yourself through sad circumstance having dinner at Abe & Louie's in Boca, order the raw oysters, any of the steaks, and a fabulous bottle of wine; that way you'll leave with your spirits intact. Otherwise, I recommend absolutely you go either to Chop's Lobster Bar (also in Boca) or north to The Strip House in Palm Beach Gardens for your wet-aged steaks. The Capital Grill in Fort Lauderdale is your place if you're a dry-aged fan. At any of those three joints you can have your steak and eat your spinach too.