Abe & Louie's
Boston gets its own kind of steak house
Dining Out by Robert Nadeau
The Palm steak house opened in Boston at about the same time that WBCN gave
Howard Stern the morning radio spot that used to belong to Charles Laquidara.
In my review of the Palm, I tried to write about the threat to Boston
sensibilities posed by the New Yorkization of steak and radio, but it didn't
work because, well, what was the Charles Laquidara of Boston steak houses?
Boodles and Grill 23 are locally owned, but neither really has the accent
Abe & Louie's |
793 Boylston Street, Boston
Open Mon-Fri, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m.; Sat,
11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight; and Sunday,
AE, DC, Disc, MC, Visa
Sidewalk-level access to most tables
Smoking allowed at the bar
But if another New York steak invader lands, I'm all set for similes, because
Abe & Louie's is here, courtesy of the Back Bay Restaurant Group. It has
the form of a New York steak house, with big knives and bigger portions, big
prices and à la carte vegetables, waiters pushing carts, and dark
paneling. But the owners have trimmed the New York nonsense: waiters with
attitude, walls plastered with photos featuring quasi-endorsements by
semi-celebrities, ritual displays of raw meat, and homages to gangsters aimed
to amuse the gray suits.
Abe & Louie's puts out a great steak, the way you ordered it, and makes
things easier for customers lacking in blood lust or big money. This, I think,
is how Boston wants a steak house.
Now, about the beef. It's really, really good. It has the right tenderness and
flavor for each cut, although in general US Prime (on the porterhouse and
sirloin steaks) is not as heavily marbled as it once was. Using US Choice for
the prime rib and filet mignon is a good idea, since these cuts are well
marbled, and the Prime versions can lack flavor. My benchmark steak is the
porterhouse ($28.95), because it has both tenderloin and top loin -- and
because it requires some intelligence to cut and cook, since the tenderloin
side cooks faster than the top-loin side. So I ordered mine rare, and got an
enormous steak, reasonably rare on both sides and with superb dry-aged flavor.
It didn't have the game-like, more-aged flavor you sometimes get at Morton's,
but that's an old-fashioned taste, and most people won't miss it. In any case,
the fun is in eating pieces from one side and then from the other. And given
the size of this portion, you can have fun with a cold steak sandwich the next
Filet mignon ($25.95) is not billed as dry-aged, but mine had very good flavor
for this often-bland, tender cut. Lamb chops ($28.95) are sometimes the best
thing in steak houses, and here they were beautiful -- three inch-thick loin
chops -- but almost flavorless, with none of that distinctive mutton tang.
My companions weren't all carnivorous, and for them there was chicken, tuna,
and shrimp. We also savaged the bread basket, with its excellent trio of
lavash, dense-crumbed sourdough, and wheat bread with nuts and raisins. Breads
this good alleviate the pain of à la carte potatoes, of which the
"hashed brown potatoes" ($5.50) were dry, salty, and lacking taste. Fried
Vidalia strings ($6.50) had a little onion flavor, and useful proportions of
grease, but were very, very salty. Caramelized onions, however, were
irresistible -- a great steak topping. Creamed spinach ($5.50) was also very
good, and not overly creamed.
In the land of big meat, appetizers are superfluous, but they're on the menu
anyway. Clam chowder ($5.95) is good but not especially clam flavored; with
plenty of cream and some potatoes, a hint of sweet spice, celery, and a peppery
bite, it tastes as much like cream of mushroom soup as clam chowder. Crab cakes
($9.95) are smallish, but with serious crab flavor. A lively salsa would be a
welcome garnish on almost any platter here; they should offer it as a side
dish. "Abe & Louie's Salad" ($6.50) contains the only obvious culinary
reference to Abe, who is presumably the late Abe Sarkis, father of owner
Charles Sarkis. It's a good Bibb lettuce salad with blue cheese, pistachios,
and apple slices with cinnamon and a hint of rosewater.
The wine list features big-night bottles but also has a few half-bottles and
several wines by the glass. (All the glasses are large burgundy bubbles,
proving that size is more important than wine-specific design.) We had reds, an
Anapamu pinot noir ($6 glass, $23 bottle) and an Estancia cabernet sauvignon
($4, $17). The latter had lots of spice; the former, whiffs of black cherry.
Both are friendly to red meat and black pepper.
Desserts follow the format: oversized, simply flavored, rich. The most
pretentious, mocha crème brûlée ($10.95), was also the best
-- just flavored cream topped with a burnt-sugar shell. Very good with the
top-quality coffee and decaf ($1.95). Apple pie ($6) is offered with vanilla
ice cream or melted cheddar cheese. Either way, it is a large piece of
nondescript pie tasting more of spice than apples. Cheesecake ($6) is sensibly
unadorned, and seemed light and delightful after steaks. Health considerations
aside, I recommend it. Chocolate cake ($7) was way tall, way big, with lots of
layers for extra frosting, and maybe a bit much.
Service was quite good, straddling the line between attentive and chatty, but
we did find a major lapse when we got home: someone else's doggy bag. We had
saved porterhouse and lamb chops, and got back chicken and prime rib. A human
error, but an important one in a restaurant where large portions will have many
diners asking for bagged leftovers.
The old steak houses were also cigar bars. Smoking in the dining area is now
illegal in Boston, but the cigarettes in the bar area provide a subliminal
sense of rightness without too much smoke. Abe & Louie's is also somewhat
loud, with wood floors where the Capitol Grille, say, has carpets. This
positions A&L between the top-class steak houses and the old middle-class
steak houses like Valle's and Emerson's. It's a comfortable niche, and a lot of
people are already comfortably filling Abe & Louie's. The décor has
upscale references, like marble and paneled bathrooms and napkins with
buttonholes; and downscale references, like big-band background music and
copies of French Impressionist paintings. (Steak isn't Paris, it's England or
One of the subtexts of Abe & Louie's is that, decades ago, Charles Sarkis
opened his first restaurant a few blocks away and named it after himself:
Charley's Eating and Drinking Saloon. This was not the present Charley's, but
an earlier one on the last block of Newbury Street. There was talk at the time
that young Charles wasn't really in charge; his father was a "known gambler"
and was suspected of secretly owning Charley's. Many years of whistle-clean
business, and the obvious creativity and drive behind numerous successful
restaurants, have put those rumors to rest. No one today credits anybody but
Charles Sarkis for the quality of Papa Razzi, Atlantic Fish Company, J.C.
Hillary's, Joe's American Bar & Grill, and now Abe & Louie's. Sarkis
never whined in public, never weaseled. And only now, in quiet love, has he
named his best restaurant after his late father.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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