The first thing you notice about the 4-year-old Steak 954 is that it doesn't look like any other steakhouse.
There's white wallpaper with thin, black-line drawings in the lobby. Inside the dining room, much of the furniture is covered in chartreuse upholstery. Brown floral wallpaper covers many of the walls, but the real showstopper is the wall-size aquarium filled with jellyfish. Watching these sea creatures cavort just may be worth the price of dinner.
Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr, who owns Steak 954, doesn't design ordinary restaurants. Since opening at the W Hotel in 2009, Starr has gone on to open Makoto, a Japanese restaurant at the Bal Harbour Shops and will soon debut a third South Florida restaurant at Pérez Art Museum in downtown Miami.
Like visitors to the W Hotel, folks go to Steak 954 to celebrate. They go there for special occasions, vacations or business. And the prices sometimes veer into ostentatious. The is the 16-ounce wagyu rib-eye from Sher Farms in Australia. It's delicious and tender and costs $85. But there was something more earthy and appealing to the 18-ounce, dry-aged rib-eye from New York distributor Gachot and Gachot. Ordering it is partly personal preference, I suppose, and partly being able to tell your friends about the $85 steak you ordered. No matter.
The Australian wagyu skirt steak ($50) is indeed the most tender skirt steak I can recall biting into. But like the two rib-eyes, it wasn't hot when it came to the table. That made it less appealing, but I took home enough leftovers to make two large sandwiches for lunch the next day. We were happy.
Among the sides we sampled was creamed spinach ($9) with not so much cream that it took over the dish. Brussels sprouts ($9) had little of the blistered flavor that's so popular these days. And stuffed hash browns ($10) combine the crispness of typical hash browns with the creaminess of onion and sour cream stuffing.
Better than any of the steaks, however, were the starters, which included an outrageously textured beef tartar ($18), made with hand-chopped filet and just the right amount of onion and mustard. Big-eye-tuna-and-foie-gras tacos ($19) are, our waiter told us, one of the most popular menu items. Three to an order, they are overstuffed and served with chipotle aioli, lime citronette and avocado salad.
Service mostly matches the prices here. These are professionals, from the hostess to the wait staff to the food runners and bussers. The place runs effortlessly.
Be sure to eat dessert. Sarah Magoon is one of the best pastry chefs working in South Florida.
Her Key lime baked Alaska ($10) is a perfect union of Florida and Alaska. The frozen ice cream is covered in meringue that has been textured to look like a sea anemone. The graham cracker genoise along with blackberry and kaffir soda add still more flavors. Double caramelized chocolate panna cotta ($10) is smooth and creamy. But true chocolate fans will want chocolate-and-cherry bread pudding with white-chocolate-crunch ice cream ($10). It is one of the richest desserts you'll ever eat, but with the right balance of chocolate, fruit and ice cream.
Readers of SouthFlorida.com just voted Steak 954 the best hotel restaurant in the region. While I'm not sure I agree, I would say it's a high-priced indulgence.
W Fort Lauderdale, 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; Sunday brunch
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Loud when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 validated valet