One might say Sean Brasel is the hardest-working man in the Palm Beach restaurant biz. The chef-restaurateur commutes several times a week between his Meat Market eateries in Palm Beach and South Beach.
Not too long ago, as he was refining the details of the 8-month-old Palm Beach steak house, he made the 150-mile, round-trip commute daily.
His drive (figurative and literal) has paid off in exceptional ways: Meat Market Palm Beach has earned a place in the local pantheon of top restaurants. The steaks are stellar, the service sensational, the ambiance downright sexy.
I had a glimpse of this some months ago when I visited Meat Market’s bar for happy hour. Not only were the bites exquisite (more on that in a bit), the service was stunningly efficient. When one member of our party dropped a fork, a server appeared within seconds with a tray of silverware.
“Did someone drop a fork?” she asked. True story.
This detail is important to note in a dining market that’s plagued by spotty and inconsistent service. My subsequent visit to Meat Market confirmed that excellent service is just as prized here as excellent beef.
About that beef: Meat Market’s menu offers a selection of reserve cuts, such as a 30-ounce Kobe beef tomahawk ribeye, a 7-ounce Kobe filet mignon and a dramatically presented 32-ounce center-cut dry-aged porterhouse ($90).
Indecision led me to the Gourmet Meat Sampler ($49), a combo of lemon-sized cuts of Kobe filet topped with a crispy potato chip, filet mignon crowned with marrow butter and a blackened marinated New York steak topped with pickled onions. The filets proved outstanding, but it was the New York steak I kept revisiting for its layers of flavors – the light char, the earthy beef, the acidic hint from the marinade and onions.
But steak lovers with heartier appetites are sure to find Nirvana in the 22-ounce, bone-in ribeye ($55), an amply portioned signature steak that takes its flavor from bone and marbling. At medium-rare, it is perfectly tender beneath a gorgeous char. And, sure, you could order a side of any of Meat Market’s rich steak butters (as in Boursin butter or chile-mole butter) or its homemade sauces (like Jack Daniels pasilla garlic sauce, au poivre peppercorn or wild mushroom and truffle sauce), but this is a steak that needs no help with flavor.
There are plenty of tempting a la carte side dishes to complete the main course – among them, a richly satisfying wild mushroom mix (hen of the woods, shiitake and tree oyster mushrooms, $12), and a flavorful and al dente lobster risotto ($12). But the two sides that had me at “hello” were the gouda tater tots (eight enormous “tots” that are stuffed with potatoes and onion slivers and fried crispy, $9), and the whole roasted cauliflower ($18).
Actually, the cauliflower is on the hot appetizers menu, and we ordered it as a starter. But we were so smitten by its lush complexities that we nibbled on it throughout the meal. Credit for the plump, golden orb that’s served upon a dreamy puree goes to Brasel’s chef de cuisine in Palm Beach, David Valencia.
The chef blanches the whole head of cauliflower in a broth of white wine, lemon juice, chile flakes, parsley and cilantro, and allows it to dry before roasting it with a sprinkling of Parmesan and toasted panko crumbs. It is dressed in a lemon-caper vinaigrette and served upon that heavenly puree of cauliflower that’s cooked in cream and blended with just a touch of white chocolate. What results ought to be illegal. (The dish is served only at the Palm Beach location.)
This attention to detail is a well-established theme here. That happy hour I mentioned? The bar bites rose above standard pub grub fare. The tuna tartare, for instance, hums with ginger and soy flavors and is beautifully presented between smashed avocado and chunky mango salsa. The Meat Market sliders are a pair of delicious wagyu burgers topped with bacon and gouda. Add to this an intimate bar feel, great conversations overheard and a bar staff that’s knowledgeable on the larger menu and food and you’ve got reasons to stop in for a cocktail.
But if you do, expect to be swept up in the feel of the place, the way the buzz intensifies as evening darkens, and know that you will wish you had made a reservation for dinner – because dinner here is not simply a meal. It is an exceptional experience. And isn’t that the reason we love dining out?
Meat Market Palm Beach
ADDRESS: 191 Bradley Place, Palm Beach
PRICE RANGE: Expensive
HOURS: Open Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday to 1 a.m.
CREDIT CARDS: Major credit cards
RESERVATIONS: Reservations strongly suggested
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms.
NOISE LEVEL: Manageable
FULL BAR: Yes, with a separate bar area
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother