Restaurant Reviews

Meat Market

Warning: This review has not yet been rated and may contain nudity and graphic language. Children are advised to read this review only under adult supervision. Either that or disregard it altogether -- because minors aren't allowed to enter the establishment. Why? Because Rachel's, a steak house in West Palm Beach, also offers "adult entertainment." In other words, as classy as the Roman columns, cut-glass chandeliers, and carpets make the place look, it's basically a strip joint. A nudie bar. A plastic surgeon's showcase.

But while Rachel's is a men's club in every sense of the term -- totally nude dancers sashay down runways and swing on poles as patrons smoke cigars, sip martinis, and steal glances at sports games on big-screen TVs -- ladies who keep their clothes on are also welcome. Surprisingly, a handful of females were in the establishment the night I visited, and no one raised so much as a well-groomed eyebrow when I strolled in with my party, which included two other women.

Granted, some of the ladies hanging out in the bar looked like paid companions brought in by the male clientele, and a couple wives were clearly there to make sure only their husbands' eyes strayed. But a few seemed to have chosen to dine at Rachel's for the same reason I did -- not to giggle at the strippers whose thongs get caught on spotlights after they're tossed aside, but to savor some of the best steaks in town.

Although the Rachel's in West Palm Beach is one of three establishments in a growing empire -- the first opened in Casselberry almost nine years ago, the second in Orlando four years ago -- the South Florida location is the only one that offers a five-star dining room. (The others, like most strip joints, offer buffets and bar food.) Day manager Craig Bordeaux says owners Charlie Veigle and his brother Jim figured the Palm Beach market would support such a venture, and I think they were right. Since Rachel's opened 17 months ago, word has spread of the feast to be had there.

The raised dining room is separated from bar and dancers by a tiny flight of stairs and a railing. Don't think this means you'll be denied flesh, however. Those performers who aren't on stage walk around clothed in evening dresses; I use the term loosely, as they appeared to be more likely designed by Frederick's of Hollywood than by Vera Wang. And the garments can be removed as easily as a towel (Velcro is a stripper's best friend), so as to tempt diners into more than a bite of meat. For $15 you can arrange a bottomless (read: all nude) table dance. And while Rachel's claims to enforce a strict "touch-and-go" policy -- you touch, the bouncers standing by make you go -- I witnessed several uninterrupted burials (read: male heads interred in female bosoms), all of which were instigated by the saline-enhanced.

But let's be clear about this. For a price that, incidentally, is cheaper than any entrée on the menu, you can apparently order up a pair of mammary glands. Still, there aren't any breasts -- of chicken, that is -- on the menu. For all intents and purposes, Rachel's is a traditional steak house offering typical fare: shrimp cocktail, caesar salad, and plenty of steak.

Although anyone sitting anywhere in the 400-seat club can order from the menu, the staff prefers serving patrons in the 65-seat dining area, where reservations are suggested. You'll probably be asked to wait at the bar -- where a glass of wine goes for $10 -- anyway, but that's just to give you a chance to stimulate your, uh, appetite. And, of course, if you're not in the mood for food, you can go to Rachel's solely for the show; there's not even a cover charge to get in the building.

Once at the table, which is framed by leather wing chairs on rollers -- all the better to swivel on -- white-linen service is performed strictly by male waiters in tuxedos, who are about as desensitized to the female form as the guards at Buckingham Palace are to tourists. Fresh-baked loaves of sourdough bread are served without a bread knife, probably to encourage the barbarian in you to make use of your hands. (Add a three-inch thick veal chop, and you might be tempted to start in on a verse of "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am.")

The options for appetizers won't surprise steak house-goers, nor will items like French onion soup impress them. Overly sweet and a little grainy, as if the broth had been formulated from powdered bouillon, the soup was redeemed only slightly by a thick layer of cheese. The beefsteak tomatoes salad, which had been sprinkled with blue cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, was flavorful, but it didn't go beyond the ordinary. The "shrimp Rachel" starter with habanero sauce was even more prosaic; it turned out to be a simple shrimp cocktail served with a spicier-than-average cocktail sauce. Only the three plump prawns, big enough to demand more than one bite each, made the appetizer worthwhile.

But if the starters don't knock you out, don't worry. The main courses are the main attraction, and without exception each piece of aged, USDA prime beef we sampled was perfect. From the thick and juicy prime rib to the slightly more textured filet mignon to the double-your-pleasure porterhouse (sirloin on one side, filet on the other), the meat met and exceeded expectations. A tuna steak laced with peppercorns and an eight-rib rack of lamb encrusted with herbs were also superb, each cooked to a rare -- not raw -- finish.

Nudity and the occasional caress might not be illegal at Rachel's, but prices sure are criminal. Witness the wine list, which doesn't offer any vintage for less than $50. (After ordering two bottles of Stone Street chardonnay for a party of six, which comes out to about two glasses each, I'd already blown next week's budget.) Or check out the Australian lobster tail main course. We were stupid enough to order this delicious 23-ounce baby without asking for the market price, which turned out to be a whopping $86. Add the à la carte vegetables, ranging from lyonnaise potatoes to broccoli-cauliflower casserole baked with cheese, and the check can really escalate.

Dessert temptations, like the homemade apple-crumb pie laced with crystallized sugar, also don't help. One more meal like this, and I'll be forced to earn my keep on the runway. Which wouldn't be so bad, as long as I got fed and the calories molded themselves in all the right places, sparing me what seem to be the obligatory surgical fees.