Hip, sexy, and sophisticated is how I would describe local restaurateurs Brandon Belluscio and Brian Albe... er, no, actually, I wouldn't. I haven't a clue how hip and sexy these two guys are; I'm just reading the news release. I do know the dudes are just a smidge past their 30th birthdays, although in restaurant years, they're probably, like, 108 (Belluscio ran Catch 22 with his dad in his mid-20s; Albe has made the Lauderdale rounds tending bar). I know that their first food-and-drink partnership in Boca, Vertical 114, was a successful, smart idea, bringing the art of wine appreciation to the aught generation sans pretension. And judging from two meals at their month-old steak house in Delray, Cut 432, I'd say they've hit a second bull's-eye.
It makes sense that Belluscio and Albe are both ex-bartenders. What they've done at 432 is knock the stuffing out of steak-house clichés the same way they vacuum-suctioned the snobbery out of the wine list at 114. With Cut, they've taken the bloody awful velveteens and cigar smoke, the vaguely blue-movie, Bay Rum, fusty old manness out of the concept and replaced it with a long, narrow restaurant that looks like a cross between a bullet train and the vestibule of an ice hotel in a space on Atlantic Avenue formerly occupied by Spontané and, before that, by Splendid Blended's. It's all metal, crystal, and mod white: as cold, clean, and hard as a slab at the morgue. The only way you're going to find "plush" or "soft" at 432 is if you wear your granny's foxtails, which wouldn't be a bad idea. The kids dining and drinking here, mostly in their 20s to mid-30s, were decked out in high style — I spent as much time admiring the severe black bobs, the big boots, and the bouncing baubles as I did the marbling in my 16-ounce cowgirl rib eye ($39), which, incidentally, was plenty big enough to sate any cowboy I've ever ridden with.
Years of helping youngsters get polluted have evidently given these guys the knack for keeping things lively in a small space. It has nothing to do with the flirty back and forth of witty repartee — you can forget about conversation. If she's got her back to the wall, your date's going to have eyes glued to the flat screens over the bar playing spliced-together scenes from classic movies (That's Entertainment, the abridged history of Hollywood, on a 25-minute loop); she's going to be checking out the hunky bartenders crawling up and down a wooden ladder to reach bottles of wine, the mayhem in the open kitchen, or wishing for a pair of earplugs to muffle the thump and grind on the sound system. She'll be focused on cramming her mouth full of blue cheese tater tots ($10), a Kobe foot-long hot dog ($12), or a white truffle gouda grilled cheese sandwich with braised short rib filling and heirloom tomato soup ($16). Y'all will have to get to know each other later.
Albe and Belluscio met Chef Anthony Pizzo when they worked at Pranzo's, and Pizzo is doing a mostly fantastic job turning out excellent food in a kitchen so minuscule that most chefs would want to crawl right inside that wood-burning oven to make it all stop. Although if you're expecting your food to come out anytime soon — have another back porch lemonade ($14).
Or bite down on one of the biscuits somebody's put in front of you, along with a smear of marmalade, a dab of honey, and a dollop of soft butter. These are cream biscuits that would do an Okie grandma proud — can a thing so dense be also fluffy? How to keep a ball of lead indefinitely airborne: It's a conundrum breakfast makers throughout the South have been grappling with since somebody first figured out that flour and water do mix. I like the idea of serving fist-sized lumps of dough with marmalade in a steak house; it turns the whole $25-per-ounce Kobe and $75 lobster tail conceit into a bit of a joke. And boy, do those biscuits take the edge off.
Look, I'm sure they'll get the timing thing worked out, and the harried waiters are so damned nice. If I can get four kinds of raw oysters — the tiny kumamoto and gigamoto from the West Coast; the smooth-shelled, clear tasting blue point; and salty malpeque from the East — I'm willing to wait (and to pay $3 each for them). A place that serves a Kobe cheeseburger (10 ounces, $16) and a "selection of artisanal cheeses" ($16) gets my vote even if the idea of either is unbearably trendy — hell, the stuff still tastes good. Apart from the glacial pace, I had few complaints with either of my dinners. The gouda grilled cheese was one of the wittiest bar plates I've ever encountered. The sandwich, with its thin layer of short rib layered into gooey cheese and buttered toast, dissolved into waves of childish happiness — and the smooth, complex, slightly sour cup of heirloom tomato soup gave said happiness a clownish kick in the pants.
They're not kidding around when they call their salad a "Caesar the way it should be" ($10). Crunchy, ice-cold romaine was dressed to a T and detailed with translucent waves of Parmigiano Reggiano. Raw oysters (mixed plate of eight) were clean, cold, and fresh. And the smoky, juicy, buttery, wood-fired oysters Rockefeller ($14) with pancetta and spinach were luscious, although I missed the traditional flavor of Pernod.
That wood-fired oven turns out some beautiful stuff, including wild salmon, swordfish, sea bass, and jumbo scampi. As with the steaks, you can pair your fish with a sauce (chimichurri, miso, pineapple tamarind, mango/blood orange barbecue, $2 each). I had the cloyingly sweet miso with my excellent salmon fillet, and I wish I'd skipped it and saved the $2 to tip the valet. A friend ordered morel cognac sauce with her filet mignon ($34 for eight ounces, plus $5 for the sauce; the 12-ounce is $42). All the beef we ate was too good to be true — beautiful marbling on the cowgirl rib eye and the 14-ounce New York strip ($38), both of them wearing charred, caramelized crusts and cooked exactly medium rare. On Sunday, we had prime rib (served Sunday only, $29), and it was a gorgeous pink slab of deliciousness rimmed in lightly browned fat and oozing juice.
A word about the sauces. I've always had a prejudice against charging extra bucks for a dab of chive butter, blue cheese, or wine peppercorn. It reminds me of A.A. Milne's king who keeps pleading for a little butter on his bread. Just a few drippings from the pan, maybe? I should give up this prejudice, I suppose, but it lingers — returning full force when said drippings aren't especially wonderful. At Cut, sauces are served on the side (whoever brought ours out didn't identify which was which); my friend's morel sauce had mushrooms aplenty but was noticeably short on the cognac (you pay an extra surcharge for the truffle butter too, which I doubt contains any real truffles — the smell of truffle oil, used in the potatoes as well, wafts from the kitchen). A small matter, but there's something nickel-and-dimey about this practice that's just on the verge of tacky. Throw in the sauces for free, guys, and I promise to let you upsell me on the wine.
All the sides we ordered were tops (the potatoes and the veg are $10 each). Blue cheese tater tots were crisp without, creamy within, flecked with chives and scented with truffle oil. Divine. Whipped to the consistency of cream: buttermilk mashed potatoes. Perfect. Maple sweet potato purée: like eating dessert, cutting right through the meat's salinity. Gigantic onion rings came stacked in diminishing circles like an infant's toy. Absolutely fabulous.
If I weren't eating to pay the bills, I would have done either the apps or the entrées — because most regular people won't need both. A plate of black pepper Parmesan spaetzel ($12) for instance, a glass of wine, and maybe dessert (the überdelicious cheesecake with its black Oreo crust, or peanut butter pie rich enough to explode your head, are $10) and you'd get out for under $50. As they did at Vertical, Albe and Belluscio are selling hundreds of wines by the glass. They're priced from $8 for Vinum Cellars Rosé to $700 (no, that's not a typo) for a 1997 Schafer Vineyards Select Cabernet. The bottles are a better deal, though. A Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé I'm fond of is $75 a bottle but $22 per glass. That Shafer Cabernet is $1,050 a bottle. You do the math.
Anyway, to summarize: Food's great. Place is noisy. Sorta expensive. Really crowded. Cool customers. Nice service. Lots of wine. Skip the sauce.
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