TOWER OF POWER: The ahi tuna tartare is a tasty version of a familiar dish.
A visit to Malio’s Prime Steakhouse begins nicely enough with convenient, friendly valet parking. Then, after you make your way through the spare, sleek lobby of the Rivergate Tower, you are ushered into a world of leather booths, white tablecloths and shiny brass columns that rise up to luxurious tall ceilings to accommodate an upper-level mezzanine. It’s a lovely environment with a nice sense of privacy, and our taste buds are ready.
Appetizers feature escargot, calamari, crabcakes, and oysters on the half shell. We opt for tenderloin carpaccio, which arrives in long paper-thin slices along with a few truffled baby greens, some shaved piquant Romano, and squiggles of portobello aioli that snake their way down the strips of shimmering red beef. It’s fresh and tasty, and a great beginning. As is the ahi tuna tartare presented in a ring-molded tower, a long-famliar style that harkens back to the days of George Steinbrenner (the late Yankees owner was a frequent presence at Malio’s). Despite the tired presentation, the tuna is combined with luscious chunks of avocado, cucumber and tomato, lightly dressed with pickled ginger and a touch of soy. It is lush, creamy and delicious.
Unlike many upscale steakhouses, Malio’s includes soup or salad and sides with your entrees. The soup du jour on our visit is Italian sausage and rice in a savory tomato broth that is quite good. The sausage provides just the right bite, and is a perfect complement to the acid in the tomatoes.
The same cannot be said for the French onion soup, which, despite having the nice, deeply caramelized onions that I look for and rarely find, is totally undermined by bland beef broth, soggy croutons and a cheese cap so thick and overwhelming it reminds me of a science experiment gone awry. Balance is the key that is all but forgotten. Which, alas, is also true of the Caesar salad overwhelmed by garlic. The generic house salad also has to fight with an assertive combo of Italian and blue cheese dressings that dominate everything else in the bowl.
Malio's Beef Carpaccio.
Malio’s wine list offers a wide range of choices, both by the bottle and the glass. This gives you a chance to experiment or to revisit old, long-forgotten favorites. One of my dining companions is gleeful to have a glass of Michael David’s Earthquake Petit Syrah, remembered from a trip to California, but not seen back East. It’s a huge, ripe wine that provokes a smile from ear to ear.
The service is certainly attentive, if oddly fragmented. When our soup arrives, we have no spoons. When fresh bread and butter arrive oddly mid-meal, we have no knives. The service team does, however, make a valiant effort to keep our water glasses filled, and they couldn’t be nicer as they produce cutlery on demand.
The huge serving of pink prime rib is absolutely swimming in a metallic au jus that the mild horseradish sauce cannot hide. And if the filet is a prime cut, it is hard to tell. The requested medium rare is served medium well, dry and with no discernible link to prime beef. The grilled lobster tail is also a tad overdone. It is fine rather than luscious, but served with heated drawn butter over a flame that somewhat mitigates the rubbery situation. The enormous baked potato and the red potato mash with a hint of sour cream can’t make up for the underwhelming entrees.
When it’s time for dessert, we pass on the ubiquitous creme brûlée, key lime pie and New York cheesecake. These desserts are popular for a reason but rarely meet expectations, so I usually steer clear. Malio’s offers bananas Foster, that granddaddy of all flambéed desserts; let’s end the meal on a high point with a flourish of theatricality. Alas, they skip the opportunity to wow us with the flames tableside, and instead deliver a leaden, gooey banana cake, surrounded by squishy bananas in a pool of what tastes more like maple syrup than warm, rum-laced caramel.
Unfortunately, it’s been a downhill slide since the appetizers, without the speed to snag a medal.