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Prime Choice?

Vital Information | Dec 11, 2001 09:54 AM

Once a year, I gather in Las Vegas with a group of friends for a "high roller" dinner. Granted, we show up in Vegas for the craps, but a fancy dinner makes a for a nice change of pace. We invariably seek red meat. Previous dinners range from the incongrous (Circus-Circus Steakhouse) to the chain (Ruth's Chris) to the star-driven (Delmonico). We have gone ironic (AJ's in the Hard Rock) and as un-ironic as possible (Golden Steer). This trip we reached deep into our chip stacks. We asked the question was Prime, really primo?

Jean-George, master of upscale French, down-scale French and French-Thai, followed his fellow celebrity chefs to Las Vegas. Wisely, he realized that his best path lay not in anything French, but in steak. Where the high rollers dined.

The first thing you notice upon entering Prime is the oppulence, not your typical steakhouse decor. Soaring, polished, thick,on the floors and draped from the ceiling; art deco black lacquer and mirrored silver; wedgewood blue plaster trim, Paris as filtered through a movie-set reproduction of a 1930's supper club.

The second thing you notice at Prime are the prices. Prime attempts to answer the question, can a high roller blush. Even cheap Mondavi runs (as Calvin Trillin might put it) into the low 2 figures per glass. The third thing you notice is that high prices be dammed, the waiters are going to push for as many profit centers as they can, bottled sparking or flat, more cocktails, would you like a salad with that red meat. Still, the prices are meaningless until you notice the first course.

The four slices of carpaccio/steak tartar ordered for the table came in such a small platter that one of my friends scoffed so audibly that you knew it was not an artifical reaction. The carpaccio equaled in mass, perhaps, a single playing card left-over from the 21 table, the tartar the size of a few stacked chips. I honestly can tell you what the stuff truly tasted like because my micro-sample barely registered upon my palate. To be fair, I could tell you that this dish should not be shared, but to be honest, I do not even know if the portion would have satisfied one.

So, that leaves you more than ready to notice the trademark dry-aged meats, and I have to say, what I noticed around our table was not so impressive. I noticed that my brother-in-law recieved the world's smallest porterhouse steak. I notice that my medium rare steak came remarketably pink, and I was compensated on the re-do with a bit too much red. Fillets looked just like fillets. The house does comp you a couple of sauces, bernaise and a cognac peppercorn, or you can ask for the assorted mustards, which they allow you to choose from sparingly. Our appreciation of these steaks went from none (the porterhouse) to high (the stip steak with six, yes count 'em, six different peppercorns). No one thought it close to the equivilant of the price.

Even though Prime's steaks run at least ten dollars higher than other similiar steakhouses, they do include a vegetable. The house also allows some flexibility in the pairings. You cannot substitute a starch, but you can change the veg. Some spagetthi squash and jerusulum artichokes around the table went rather untouched, but that has more to do with eating priorities. My carmelized califlower was certainly a best of breed. Additional sides ordered came out in predictably tiny portions and did not do much to improve our overall experience. The rissotto cake was described by more than one as fried bad rice pudding. "Tuscan" fries meant a garden's worth rosemary decorating mediocre twice-fried potatos.

So, you will notice that next year, we will have no trouble picking a new place for our high roller dinner.


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