I’ve been spoiled by MANNY’S – a steakhouse that sets the bar so high that almost every other steakhouse ends up disappointing me one way or another. Sure, a lot of them are fine; and many are good – the steaks are delicious, the service is crisp and efficient. But most of them, including some of the legends, end up leaving me cold. They’ve checked all the steakhouse boxes, but there’s no wit…no attitude or edge…it’s all prose, no poetry.
As Maureen Dowd wrote recently in the New York Times, “You can teach someone to dance, but you can’t teach ‘em to boogie.”
But I do have my favorites, many of which I’ve written about here. One of them is PRIME 112, a Miami steakhouse run by the Myles Restaurant Group, that city’s dominant restaurant company, which also has concepts called PRIME ITALIAN and PRIME FISH.
All three places are well-located and well-run. The principal thread of continuity, however, is the approach they take to dining. They’re about “big food” that’s also really, really GOOD FOOD. And it comes at a steep price. To most folks, they fall into the special occasion category – splurge places where you’d celebrate an anniversary, birthday, or a business success.
At PRIME 112, steaks hover around $60 – $70, and top out with a 16 oz. Japanese Kobe ribeye priced at $230 (that’s not a typo, folks). A platter of Asian chicken wings and an appetizer of five wagyu gyoza dumplings each clock in at $25.
Now, make no mistake, these dishes are generous and they are delicious.
Same with PRIME ITALIAN across the street on Ocean Drive: good, but steep. The Calamari appetizer costs $23. Pastas – all good, all bountiful – average north of thirty bucks a plate.
And then there’s PRIME FISH. This is a restaurant I was especially eager to try. After creating the Oceanaire Seafood Room, probably the nation’s first “power seafood” chain, I wanted to see how the Myles group ventured into the territory suggested by its name.
I was expecting something bright, unadorned, and masculine – like a Joe’s Stone Crab on steroids – but that’s not the ambiance of Prime Fish. This isn’t the seafood equivalent of a New York-style steakhouse. The ambiance is warmer, with a tropical feel appropriate for Miami (it has a beautiful courtyard). It’s a gorgeous restaurant.
Based on my experiences at Prime 112, I expected to be wowed. I wasn’t. Not on my first visit, anyway. As I recall (this is a few years back), the evening did not start well. I wanted to enjoy a simple salad, but all their offerings were composed (fussily, as I recall) and ran about $25. I noticed, though, that a few of their salads contained arugula, so I asked our server for a small arugula salad with a little olive oil and salt. A couple of minutes later he returned and informed me that the chef refused.
“We’re not happy ‘til you’re not happy.”
Joanne had a kale Caesar (today’s price is about $19). I can’t remember my salad. Joanne followed with an absolutely superb bowl of Lobster Bisque, redolent with little lobster knots that ensured a taste of lobster in each and every spoonful. You’ll pay $27 for it these days.
For our main courses, Joanne had King Crab Lasagna (for $49. Yikes!). I had Swordfish Saltimboca, priced similarly.
With a bottle of wine and Red Velvet Cheesecake for dessert, I think our bill came to just under $13 million dollars.
Remember, I go through this so you don’t have to. And what I discovered on subsequent visits is that you don’t have to break the bank at Prime Fish. Consider our follow-up dinners there. They took place fairly recently (it took a while to digest their refusal to give me the salad I wanted).
On the first of our recent dinners, remembering not just the sticker shock of the check, but the bountiful portion size, Joanne and I approached our dinner a bit more practically. We split an order of six deep-fried Oysters Rockefeller. That worked out to $11 a person. On another visit, we shared a Grilled Octopus appetizer reminiscent of Dirk Diggler as well as a whopping, immensely refreshing salad of chilled watermelon, feta cheese and roasted pepitas – perfect for a hot Miami night.
Our simply grilled Fresh Grouper entree (a 10 oz. filet) was plenty enough for the two of us. And on another occasion when a three-course dinner just seemed like too much, we shared a Fish & Chips. You could also split a Tuna Burger or a Lobster Roll and Fries – all substantially less costly than a main course entrée. Next time, just for variety, we just might make a dinner consisting of four or five appetizers. And wine. Of course.
With a little creativity, it’s possible to finesse expensive restaurant menus. Now, you may be afraid that your server will shame you into ordering more, but I don’t think that will happen – not at restaurants as well run as Prime Fish and its sister operations. They know that if you have a good experience, there’s a great chance you’ll be coming back. And we will, because on our two recent visits we left Prime Fish perfectly satisfied, having spent about $150 for the two of us, including wine. That’s not cheap, but for an absolutely top-tier restaurant in a market like Miami, it’s worth it for the food and experience. Remember, good seafood isn’t cheap (because cheap seafood isn’t good).
BTW, full disclosure…Joanne and I most always split courses at Manny’s.