At 5:50 this afternoon over 20 people were stacked up at the host's desk at the Prime Rib on K street waiting to be assigned a table. All dressed to the nine's with coat and ties, heels, as well as a few fur and leather trench coats which there was another line for at the coat check room. Outside a half dozen cars or more were lined up on K street waiting to turn into the service road for valet parking.
We, thoughtfully, parked across the street avoiding one of the several lines.
To the Prime Rib's credit we were seated at 6:05. Menus, the wine list and greetings from the soon to be everpresent waitstaff followed. Tables to the left and to the right of us were seated shortly after us. At 6:10 our waiter moved down the row, one table after another, taking orders for wine and/or drinks. Another server three or four minutes later brought our bottle of 2001 J. Lohr Cabernet which was the wrong bottle. Within another two or three minutes the correct bottle of '99 J. Lohr Hillside Vineyard showed up at our table along with the larger wine glasses that I had requested. They were still quite small.
I don't know exactly when it was that we ordered but it couldn't have been more than several minutes after this. At some point I stopped looking at my watch. But, soon after the order was taken my wife's lobster bisque and my salad of tomato, feta and Vidalia onions both were placed on our table.
I really enjoy a salad like this: fresh, in season beefsteak tomatoes (even if they are from Florida or are "bred" in season at a hothouse somewhere), sweet, thickly sliced onion and crumbles of feta (or bleu) cheese with a crumbly viniagrette incorporating olive oil and more of the feta/bleu cheese. At its best and freshest this is delicious.
The thickly sliced onions were not from Vidalia, Georgia. Nor from Texas. Not even from South America. These babies were heavy Spanish onions as raw and pungent as any I have ever had! The few crumbles of deli feta and the few drops of olive oil did little to offset the pain and agony of my first incendiary taste. Down my throat the onions left a trail that I can still taste as I type this!
Couldn't someone at The Prime Rib for an $8.50 salad tell the difference between a sweet onion and a regular onion? For me, on Valentine's Day with my wife, they could not.
My wife's lobster bisque tasted for all of the world as if the chef responsible had a last name of Campbell.
Curiously, to me, was the presentation of both the soup and the salad: on fairly small plates. The soup was NOT poured on top of the lobster chunks in the bowl at the table. In fact there were no lobster chunks for anything to be poured on! The broth was thickened with flour, tasted slightly gummy and was among the worst lobster bisques that I've ever had.
Ten or so minutes after these plates were set on our table, we finished and they were taken away. WITHIN TWO MINUTES OF THEIR LEAVING OUR TABLE OUR ENTREES SHOWED UP. Two Minutes!!!!!!! Bone in "Prime Rib" steak about 2 inches thick for me ($37.00 a la carte) and crab cakes ($31.00 a la carte) for my wife. We also had sides of potatoes au gratin, sauteed mushrooms and fresh broccoli, each priced separately.
The crab cakes were served with an absolutely superb tartar sauce. Made in house it may have been the best I have ever tasted. In fact it was so good that even mediocre lump crab cakes would have tasted good coated with it. And these did.
My bone in steak was Pittsburgh black and blue. I had requested medium rare. Our waiter, everpresent until the serving, was nowhere to be found. My steak had a nice charred crust so I sliced into it with the German steak knife they provided me. Sliced through the thick gristle (took a bit of time) and into the dark red center where fortunately there was no "moo" from the piece of beef on the plate in front of me. There was, honestly, very little flavor. A lot of juice!Well, blood if I must be honest, but little flavor.
In truth I have no problem with a very rare steak especially if it's good beef and the flavor is extraordinary. But this was a thick, gristly, nondescript sacrifice that could have led me directly to vegetarianism!
My wife tried a bite and said that it didn't begin to approach the bisteca she likes from the Outback owned Carrabba's. THIS was a kiss of death if there ever was one!
The mushrooms, potatoes and broccoli were all "ok." Not sides to long for or search for adjectives to describe sensorial reactions. Rather, fairly bland, non threatening, non intimidating variations of vegetables that were a step up from what might be found at a good cafeteria. Except these were priced $6 to 7.00 each.
During dinner our waiter frequently lifted our bottle of wine and topped off our glasses, even when they were already above the halfway point of the glass. At some point, near the end of the main course (this is about 15 minutes after the first course was removed!), our waiter poured the remainder of the $60.00 bottle into both of our glasses, filling my wife's dangerously close to the rim. In truth he was quite skillful (perhaps practiced) in doing this since he came thrillingly close but did not cause it to spill over!)
Our plates were removed and a dessert menu appeared.
We thought about this. The Prime Rib has a very good version of strawberries Romanoff, made with Cointreau and whipped cream. In the past it has sold for about $9.00 and been worth every penny. But, for whatever reason, we decided to pass on it.
I asked for the check.
Sixty second later it was presented.
$205.00 later and several minutes and we pulled back our chairs and stood to leave. It was now 7:03. We had a complete dinner at the Prime Rib on K Street on Valentine's Day and were in and out in 58 minutes and $205.00 dollars. On our way out we noted there was a group of people lined up, probably with reservations, eager for our table. Perhaps eager to beat our 58 minute record for Valentine's dinner.
What can I say? This is a landmark restaurant that I have recommended for years in D. C. It is a Washington institution. Swanky, dress to the nines, this is the restaurant that most Washingtonians choose to visit for a celebration or an anniversary. If you're a man and own Brioni or Zegna this is where you wear it. It's also where 65 year old Congressmen show off their interns including the couple seated just down from us.
But celebrations and anniversaries should last longer than 58 minutes, especially on Valentine's Day.
It will be a long time before I return to the Prime Rib or recommend it. They probably got their 3, if not 4 turnover tonight. But they lost me, a 30 year customer who loved them and thought their food was good. Tonight it was not. Nor were they.