Restaurant Reviews

Prime Rip

I'm not having an affair," a woman sitting behind us asserts. I can't tell if she's defending herself from a lover's accusation or rejecting the advice of a friend. But without craning around I can describe her: a white-blond, shoulder-length coif — platinum, like the jewelry she's wearing. How do I know? With the exception of my dinner guest, there isn't a brunette in the house.

The noise level at Abe & Louie's could be described as "festive." On a Monday night at 8, there isn't a table to be had without a reservation. Ladies are in uniform: jeans and sheer blouses, trippy little heels, and the most expensive handbags they can afford to rent. Their escorts have shaved heads, double-pierced ears, tans as deep as the Mediterranean — and for all I know, their tans have been purchased as dearly as the Cavalli leopard-print purses their dates are swinging.

We've come to Abe & Louie's, the popular Boston steak house now landed in Boca Raton, on the recommendation of our good friend Warren Buffett. "A great steak," Warren pronounced. Warren's opinion was right there on the Abe & Louie's website, along with accolades from Boston foodie Corby Kummer. "The best steak I've tasted recently in Boston," Kummer crowed. I got stuck momentarily on that "recently": Why had Kummer felt compelled to place this qualifier in an otherwise effusive sentence? What was he getting at, exactly — the best steak in the past three days? Two weeks? A year? Abe & Louie's also carried the imprimatur of Christopher Kimball, the man who, through careful instruction in Cook's Illustrated, had single-handedly and with great patience and detail taught me not only how to grill a steak but also how to mix a margarita and roast a chicken until it made my guests squawk with delight. I trust Kimball. I trust Kummer. Buffett is my man. If they claimed to love Abe & Louie's I was willing to crawl down 1-95 on my hands and knees to get there.

"Stop being dramatic," my spouselet said. "I'll drive." Meanwhile, I perused the menu of the Boca Abe & Louie's and wondered why these "great" steaks were wet-aged. I noted that they didn't boast the names of rustic farms either: no "Purple Mountain Black Angus" or "Organic Cloverleaf Lane Wagyu" here. In fact, no Wagyu at all. Just New York strip, porterhouse, and bone-in rib eye from the good ol' Midwest, the heart and soul of American Prime. Abe & Louie's, an old-fashioned steakhouse, evidently spurned pretense. I wasn't going to find "truffle jus" all over my filet mignon (just Portobello demi-glace, the "people's" reduction). They were only committed to dishing up a fantastic piece of beef. Everybody said so.

Let's take a moment to examine the practice of aging meat and see whether the howling about dry versus wet aging is worth the amount of blog-space it commands. If you're going to spend 42 bucks for a rib-eye at Abe & Louie's, you might as well know where you stand on the whole dry/wet debate before you shell out. Dry-aged beef is basically left to rot, very slowly at controlled temperatures, in open air or wrapped in cheesecloth (you can dry age in a vacuum bag also, but that's another story), from a period of two weeks to an extreme of four months. During this time, flavor intensifies as the meat loses water. Before you gag on the idea of "rot," consider that dozens of foods owe their acclaim to controlled ageing: fancy cheeses, expensive wines. Bacon. Dill pickles.

A wet-aged steak, instead of being aired, is sealed in plastic to tenderize in its own juice. According to a study at the University of Nebraska, most people prefer wet-aged beef. I don't happen to be one of them. I do know that the preference for dry-aged steak is one you have to acquire, because its flavor is stronger and more nuanced. I also propose that the average carnivore wouldn't know a great steak if it flew across the grand, brass-fixtured dining room at Abe & Louie's and whomped them in the kisser.

This state of affairs is certainly not the average consumer's fault. Our natural-born abilities to discern the relative deliciousness of meat have been hammered into submission by the American cattle industry. The beef guys sell us the cheapest cuts from steers hopped up on antibiotics and force-fed corn mush; they're dyed with chemicals to obtain the opium-poppy red we've learned to prefer. We want what we're used to — not grass-fed Argentine cattle, not long-lived plow oxen from Spanish farmsteads, not homegrown organic buffalo meat, and God forbid, not ostrich. Our beef is bland and looks red when we unwrap it. We like it tender as a baby's bottom. Give most consumers a piece of beef even a fractional notch above what they can buy at Publix, substitute "Prime" (all-but-unavailable to us mortal meat eaters except at upscale restaurants) for "Select," and we'll rave. Even Warren Buffett will.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd