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Restaurant Reviews

Steak Your Claim

At first glance, it might appear that aside from a fondness for serving beef, Angelo and Maxie's Steakhouse in West Palm Beach and Tusk Steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale don't have much in common.

And why should they? After all, Angelo and Maxie's is owned by Chart House Enterprises, which bought the 1930s-themed New York steak house in 1999 and turned it into an upwardly mobile chain with six national locations to date and more on the way. Tusk is run by Platinum Eateries, the corporation that's also behind the Pure Platinum adult entertainment club. A and M, called thusly after the song "Lullabye of Broadway," is located in the Palladium at CityPlace, upscale shopping mall and Palm Beachite gathering place. Tusk, named for the ultimate phallic symbol of power and strength, is connected through an open doorway to Pure Platinum, arguably the area's ritziest strip joint and testosterone collection area. The first, with its cigar-smoking-cow murals, represents an age of cancer and cholesterol ignorance. The second, with its peekaboo window over the bar offering tantalizing glimpses of an assortment of ladies with remarkable stage presence, promotes a loss of innocence.

Two restaurants couldn't be more diametrically opposed. Yet on closer examination, they're actually pretty evenly matched.

For instance, drive up to either eatery in a smokin' car and watch the valets scramble; chug up in a suburban SUV and see them saunter -- you're either there with kids or for a bachelor party. Check out the clientele and staff at both locations, which serve only dinner, and you can do on-site research for the area's best plastic surgeons. And at one or the other place, you can shout over booming disco music that "I'll have the strip," and the waiter will know exactly what you mean.

Naturally, in the grand tradition of steak houses, both eateries serve à la carte entrées. So you may want to start at Angelo and Maxie's with the classic "wedge," a triangle of crisp head lettuce dotted with chopped onions, tomatoes, and blue cheese. Tusk has some innovative salad options. Citrus-marinated Maine lobster tossed with frisée, haricots verts, asparagus, and truffle vinaigrette, at $16.95, sounds like a rich starter if you're, well, on the wealthy side. But fellow diners seemed to universally prefer the caesar salad, prepared tableside by waiters who take such pride in the slow rub of garlic into wood that it takes them a good 15 minutes to complete the toss of romaine. Parties on either side of us commented that the caesar was the finest example they'd ever had. And I'd probably concur, except that I never got the one I'd ordered.

Indeed, service can be a trifle off at both restaurants. At Angelo and Maxie's, it's generally because the place is packed nearly all the time with shoppers angling for a mild veal chop and lightly fried onion strings. We waited 20 minutes for our order to be taken while tables seated after us were served their main courses. At Tusk, the pace is leisurely for no apparent reason other than to allow patrons to peruse the generously displayed proportions of the hostess, whose "real name is Candy." I suggest ordering a martini first wherever you wind up. Angelo and Maxie's pours them out at the table, which is always a plus in my buzz book; Tusk makes such a strong one, you tend to forget your hunger -- for food, that is.

Of course, Angelo and Maxie's is the G-rated version of the two, and prices match the sophisticated family-friendliness of the menu. You can start with a crock of caramelized and gratinéed French onion soup and follow it with a pleasantly grilled, 15-ounce sirloin and come up with a $28 bill. If that sounds high to you, compare it to Tusk, where a similar meal could run you over $40. And that's without the G-string small bills, which aren't requisite -- the dining room is separate from the club and frequented only by "companions" who wander through fully dressed -- but you do have to walk through Pure Platinum to get into and out of the restaurant. For most of the cowboy-steak customers, that temptation's the real reason for being there anyway.

Oddly enough, despite the happy-hour promotions that Angelo and Maxie's likes to run (the three-course $20.99 prix fixe is a terrific sunset dinner option), I found the biggest bargain at Tusk, where the wine list starts at $40 and escalates rapidly to $100 per ho-hum bottle. It was accidental, I'm sure. I'd asked for the surf and turf, which is supposed to be served with caesar salad, a Maine lobster tail, choice of meat, and selection of potato and vegetable, all for $60. We already know what happened to the salad; as for the beef, I selected a flavorful, buttery eight ounces of filet mignon, which would have cost me $26.95 solo. At the end of the meal, I was not shocked to be charged for the creamed spinach I'd ordered -- just one more green thing the server forgot was supposed to be included. But I was amazed by the succulent, perfectly steamed lobster. Rather than a tail, the kitchen had prepared a whole Maine lobster that looked to be about two pounds, split it open, and plated it with drawn butter. If you consider that lobster goes here for $30 a pound, I was one lucky recipient.

In fact, at both Angelo and Maxie's and at Tusk, I found that the shellfish not only lived up to the quality of the beef and veal but beat it. As juicy and clean-tasting as A and M's marinated Roumanian skirt steak topped with slow-cooked onions was, we marveled more at the freshness of its Blue Point oysters on the half shell. While we really enjoyed the crisply breaded, pounded veal chop that had been dressed with mixed greens, mushrooms, onions, and balsamic vinegar, a special at Tusk, we liked an appetizer of shrimp saganaki even better. Hunks of bread had been toasted and topped with translucent, just-cooked jumbo shrimp and napped with a mix of tomatoes, black olives, capers, blue cheese, lemon, and oregano for a Greek emphasis. Rather than obscuring the shellfish, the pungent accompaniments raised it to more interesting heights than the typical cocktail sauce might.

Which is not to say that the two restaurants can't improve on other areas. Angelo and Maxie's needs to seriously tone down the bulbs in the minced garlic mashed potatoes with brown onions. The garlic was so potent, we were grateful for the refreshing ice cream that came on the apple crisp for two. And while I adored the coarsely chopped cream spinach at Tusk, the dessert list, featuring (yawn) crème brûlée, leaves a lot to be desired.

But never fear. Both locales offer consumer compensation in other ways. At Angelo and Maxie's, you can take your garlic breath to the dressing room, soothing yourself by spending the green stuff -- and we're not talking spearmint. And at Tusk, the ladies prefer you to satisfy unrequited desires with, of course, platinum.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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