First impression: The Palm is the country's first steakhouse chain, and I believe it's the most-consistent steakhouse experience in South Florida. Great steaks, top-notch service and a comfortably no-nonsense interior combine to create a memorable meal. It's an American steakhouse with a subtle Italian accent.
Background: Before Ruth's Chris (1976), before Morton's (1978) and before the Capital Grille (1990), there was the Palm. Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi, Italian immigrants from Parma, opened the restaurant in 1926 on Second Avenue and 45th Street in New York. They wanted to call their restaurant Parma, but a clerk misunderstood and issued a license for the Palm. Northern Italian fare morphed into steaks when cartoonists from nearby King Features Syndicate requested steaks along with pasta. Those same cartoonists were responsible for the caricatures that decorated the restaurant's walls. The second Palm opened in 1972 in Washington, D.C., and the third Palm is right across the street from the 1926 original. The Miami location opened in 1981.
Ambience: Go to another steakhouse if you want reproductions of oil paintings or faux Oriental carpets. Like the original, the Palm is decorated with caricatures, mostly of regular customers. Aside from the gorgeously coffered wooden ceilings, the Palm feels like a saloon with well-worn wooden floors and simple wooden chairs and tables covered with white tablecloths.
Starters: From an outstanding shrimp cocktail ($19.90) to lobster bisque ($13.40) and beef carpaccio ($17.40), it's tough to go wrong at the Palm. I'm a big fan of the Louis "Gigi" Delmaestro Salad ($15.90), which is big enough for three people to share. It's a combination of shrimp, green beans, tomato, onion, bacon, iceberg lettuce, roasted peppers, eggs and avocado tossed in a garlic vinaigrette. There's a classic Caesar ($12.90), of course, and an iceberg-lettuce wedge ($13.40), this one served with Danish blue cheese, toasted walnuts, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chives and fried onions.
Entree excellence: Steaks don't get much better than the prime, corn-fed beef aged a minimum of 35 days that's served here. Along with excellent New York strip steaks ($49.90, 18-ounce/$99.80, 36-ounce double cut for two to three people/$46.90, porcini-rubbed 14-ounce), the menu features filet mignon ($44.90, nine-ounce/$48.90, 14-ounce) and even a prime, 12-ounce steak burger ($18.90). The night we dined at the Palm, it served a boneless, 12-ounce rib eye ($41.90), which was a textbook example of this well-marbled tender cut. The Palm also expertly cooks steaks Chicago-style, which are charred on the outside and perfectly cooked inside. Prime rib ($56.90) is a specialty here, and it's served at perfect temperature with the kind of sinus-clearing horseradish my mother used to make. The prime rib has a slightly smoky flavor, and the cut is so large you'll be eating this for days afterward. Don't forget the Classic Italian section of the menu, where you'll find Veal Martini ($33.90), featuring Marsala wine with shallots, mushrooms, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Lobster (market price) is a specialty here ,and you can add half a lobster at half the price to any entree.
Side issues: All Brussels sprouts ($11.90) are good, but few are better than the Palm's, with shallots and lemon zest. Creamed spinach ($11.90) gets all its creamy goodness from heavy cream and Parmesan cheese, and if there's any nutmeg in this version, it's subtle. Hash brown potatoes ($11.90) are also remarkable with a crisp crust and a creamy interior.
Sweet! One of the best Key lime pies ($8.90) in South Florida is served here. It has the right combination of sour and sweet and creamy. Likewise, the Big Chocolate Layer Cake ($9.90) has seven perfect layers of cake and chocolate ganache.
Service: Refreshingly professional. Waiters combine years of experience with the kind of friendly demeanor you wish you could find at every restaurant.
Dining deal: Through the end of August, a lobster dinner for two costs $79.95. It includes a four-pound Nova Scotia lobster with melted butter and lemon, plus two starters and two side dishes.
9650 E. Bay Harbor Drive, Bay Harbor Islands
Cost: Very expensive
Hours: Dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free valet