Abe & Louie's
by Rachel Lebeaux
Want to experience a side of Boston dining enjoyed by the area's top athletes, visiting movie stars, Back Bay 9-to-5ers kicking back after a day at the office and anybody with some money to spend who's looking for a special night out? Then Abe & Louie's, on Boylston Street in the Back Bay, is well worth the splurge.
The steakhouse is the highlight of the Back Bay Restaurant Group, which also features next-door neighbor Atlantic Fish Company, Bouchee, Papa Razzi and more. In other words, this is a group of restaurateurs you can trust to treat your palate right. Its high-end American cuisine-centered on a top-notch wine list, Midwest-raised cattle and New England-sourced seafood-has garnered numerous awards from publications such as Wine Spectator and Boston Magazine.
But don't let those accolades intimidate you. "What's nice is, we're not pretentious," says manager William Seldon III. "There's a great vibe here, from business to casual."
There's an outdoor patio for people-watching - and, of course, to be seen. Inside, there's a lustrous, old-timey feel, with lots of dark wood and oversized, Renoir-esque murals that make diners feel as though they're private guests of a rich art collector, perhaps. Elegant chandeliers suspend from the ceiling, enormous fresh-flower bouquets perfume the two dining rooms, and a full bar provides a perfect background for any dining or drinking combination you seek (although be prepared to talk over other diners - it was quite loud on the evening we visited).
Service is perfectly in line with the atmosphere. Waiters wear suit jackets and some sport bow ties, and food is pushed around on carts (would you call that "Steaks on a Plane"?). My chair was pulled out for me and my napkin placed in my lap by our excellent waiter, Matthew, who has been with the restaurant for the past five years. There's even a buttonhole loop on the napkins, my male dining companion noted approvingly. You can easily see why Abe & Louie's has attracted its share of movie stars who pass through Boston, as well as members of the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots. In other words, this is a place for the city's power brokers, but also for Bostonians who appreciate well-executed cuisine and the chance to hobnob in one of the top restaurants this city has to offer.
The restaurant's sommelier tells us there are more than 600 bottles, featuring many Californian, South American and Italian wines. "Red's obviously the leader - it goes with our cuisine," he says. But pinot grigio, and even a nice rose on the patio, are also quite popular, he says. Red, white, sparkling and blush wines are served by the glass, ranging from a reasonable $7 to an extravagant $23. There are also half-bottles from $19 to $135 and bottles for every price range. Many martinis and other cocktails are served in "test tubes" submerged in beakers of cold water, which are then poured into glasses- a very pretty and creative presentation.
We began with the complimentary bread basket, highlighted handsomely by crispy cinnamon-raisin bread, as well as a crunchy cheese-laden variety, a sesame seed-studded flat, matzo-like cracker, and your basic bread and butter (which helpfully has the word "Butter" imprinted on it, in case you were confused).
Since we planned to focus on red meat later in the meal, we got started with some seafood by ordering the jumbo-lump crab cake with fresh fruit salsa ($15). It was stuffed with tender, shredded crab meat and hardly any mayo filler. Expertly browned on top, it didn't even need the accompanying lemon juice squeeze to taste divine. It was served alongside a mound of salsa with mango, pineapple, tomato, green pepper, cantaloupe and mint, as well as a hefty tartar sauce. My companion said he liked this appetizer best - while pricey, if you're going to order a crab cake, it might as well be superb.
I felt a bit like a deer in headlights when I inquired as to the market price for the lobster macaroni and cheese and was told it was $28 for the appetizer portion! Seeing my hesitation, the restaurant offered us a partial portion for $10, and thank goodness I didn't miss out, because this was an ooey, gooey masterpiece. Hearty lumps of fresh lobster meat were tossed with pasta shells, all enveloped in a blend of parmesan and dreamy gruyere. A coating of toasted parmesan crumbs across the top gave it some nice texture. This was comfort food at its classiest-I'm all about value, and I actually think I'd have paid nearly $30 for a full portion - and, trust me, I wanted a full portion. I would come back and order this as my main course. I couldn't stop eating it, plunging my fork in and twirling the cheese around it several times with a half-hearted murmur of, "Just one more bite."Gush gush gush, you get the idea. Just order it for yourself, please.
There are other appetizers, of course: award-winning clam chowder ($9) or pepper-seared ahi tuna with ginger soy sauce ($13). And you couldn't help but notice the seafood tower as it lumbered by, a mélange of oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster, clams casino, oysters Rockefeller and crab-stuffed mushrooms that's intended to serve six to eight people. The price of a full portion? A whopping $125. If that's too rich for your blood, a half-portion can be had for a mere (wink wink) $65.
For the non-red meat eater who finds him or herself enjoying an evening at Abe & Louie's, there are still a lot of choices, including a swordfish chop with a ginger-soy glaze and basmati rice (market price), a two-pound lobster Savannah combined with mushroom and peppers in a sherried cream sauce and browned with parmesan (again, market price) and shrimp and scallop Louie, with wood-grilled scallops, baked shrimp, citrus beurre blanc with basmati rice ($33).
But make no mistake: We were here for the steer. I ordered the restaurant's signature steak, the bone-in filet mignon with a Portobello demi-glace ($45). Filet mignon comes from a steer's tenderloin, which runs along either side of its spine. Because it is a non-weight-bearing muscle and receives little exercise, the meat is extra tender, and the Abe & Louie's version matched the hype. What arrived at my table was a thick, generous, exquisitely-seared cut that derived extra flavor from the bone. I also requested a melted, bubbly layer of blue cheese across the top, which was $2 very well spent. It was a decadent, deservedly praised dish, one I'd heartily recommend to anybody longing to sample the very best in steak.
My companion picked the bone-in aged prime rib eye steak ($42), billed as the restaurant's richest cut. Again, the bone-in preparation is thought to enhance the cut's flavor by letting the extra moisture and fat close to the bone season the steak. As a result, it had a tremendous, beefy flavor and came right off the bone, and the medium-rare preparation provided the perfect pink interior. Also, be sure to try this steak with a bottle of Abe & Louie's signature steak sauce, a tomato-based blend with a piquant flavor owing to cider vinegar and horseradish.
For our entrée sides, we had inquired about the secret behind the no-cream creamed spinach, and Matthew informed us they use béchamel sauce. We opted instead for the sautéed spinach with garlic and mushrooms ($8). It was good, though not spectacular - it's something one could prepare pretty easily at home, whereas it's always nice to try dishes in a restaurant that require a chef's deft touch. But it was a nice healthy accompaniment to all of this rich food.
Looking for a traditional carb, we also ordered the mashed potatoes with blue cheese ($8). The consistency was smooth and creamy, and I could definitely taste the cheese, though it wasn't overwhelming (I actually wished it had been stronger). Other sides on the menu include a jumbo-baked sweet potato with brown sugar, fresh asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and sautéed mushrooms (all $8).
I'll cut right to it: The colossal chocolate cake ($8) was no joke. A seven-layer monstrosity (I use that word with awe and admiration), it was tipped precariously to one side, our very own leaning tower of chocolate on top of chocolate on top of chocolate. While the cake part was a tad dry, the ganache, mousse, and powdery cocoa dusting more than compensated. "It takes over your mouth," my companion marveled.
The warm blueberry pie, a special this evening, was accented with premium ice cream and a sprig of mint. The berries oozed out of its warm, flaky crust, and while it wasn't overly sweet, it had a nice bit of tartness. And that a la mode ice cream could have been dessert all on its own - creamy, dreamy and luscious.
There dessert options don't stop there. There's also key lime pie ($8), crème brulee ($8), fresh seasonal berries with crème fraiche (market price) and many more.