At its heart, Michaels is a simultaneously traditional yet innovative steakhouse. Half of the menu features the expected steakhouse staples — French Onion Soup, Beef Carpaccio, every cut of steak known to man — but the other half is a fun, inventive collection of exciting dishes. The Tuna Nachos are what every tortilla chip aspires to become in its short, delicious lifetime. Crispy wontons are topped with fresh tuna wrapped in a crunchy sesame crust, which is tossed in a mixture of sweet and acidic ponzu and mild wasabi cream. Another standout on the appetizer menu is grilled octopus, my favorite cephalopod. The octopus is meaty and charred and paired simply with a lemon and oregano vinaigrette.Michaels’ entrées feature the aforementioned traditional steakhouse offerings (filet mignon, USDA Prime New York strip, sirloin) all flown in from Chicago’s famed Allen Bros., each of which is handled beautifully by the kitchen. But the rest of the entrée menu is often too interesting to pass up. Michael’s Veal Chop is stuffed with prosciutto, basil and fresh mozzarella and topped with a marsala wine and mushroom demi-glace. It’s easily enough food for two, but one bite of the perfectly cooked veal and you won’t want to share even a nibble.
Even if the food wasn’t as delicious as it is, Michaels would still be a garden oasis away from the crowds on Duval Street. And let’s not forget — one of the best parts about the traditional steakhouse experience is the traditional steakhouse bar, except (in traditional Key West style) the bar at Michaels is outside in the garden instead of in a dark, dimly lit recess. The martinis are plentiful (I’m partial to Mike’s Moldy Martini myself), but the Greenhouse (gin, muddled cucumber and lime, honey, and fresh thyme) and the Ruby Sipper (grapefruit vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, lime, and fresh basil) are herbaceous, palate-awakening aperitifs that are a delightful gateway to your meal.
Enticing though the cocktail menu may be, the best things that come from Michaels bar may not take a liquid form. If, like yours truly, you’re the type who shows up to happy hour hungry, the best part about sitting at the bar is the fondue menu. Michaels serves six types of cheese fondue, something for every kind of turophile. Feeling Italian? Try the Pesto Pot (a classic gruyère and emmenthal fondue spiked with hot peppers and basil pesto). Want something with an earthier vibe? The Wild Mushroom pairs gruyere, emmenthal, morels and porcinis to delectable effect. And you can’t really go wrong with the Four Cheese (gruyère, emmenthal, brie, and Roquefort) or the Classic (gruyère, emmenthal, white wine and kirschwasser cherry brandy). Have a dinner reservation? You may want to avoid pre-gaming your meal with the fondue, as the fondues are meals in and of themselves. Each fondue is served with a cornucopia of accompaniments, including smoked chicken breast, sausages, roasted shallots, and the expected bread, fruit and vegetables.
And for dessert? Michaels’ Volcano Cake with a molten chocolate center and vanilla ice cream is impossible to resist. Similarly, crème brûlèe, cheesecake, key lime pie and red velvet cake are all familiar classics. The dessert martinis are decadent and sure to send you home with a tipsy smile on your face. The Key Lime Martini is made with a key lime liqueur and lime juice and served in a graham cracker-rimmed glass. And the Thin Mint Martini is certainly not Girl Scout friendly. Stoli vanilla, crème de cacao and crème de menthe are served in a martini glass rimmed with everyone’s favorite Girl Scout cookie. (Okay, almost everyone’s — I’m a Samoas girl.) And those two drinks are just the highlights on a menu that, much like the rest of the offerings at Michaels, are exciting and delicious at the same time. ¦
Michaels Restaurant 532 Margaret Street www.michaelskeywest.com