Prime directive

Steakhouse Chef de Cuisine John Frank grills a Tomahawk steak.

Steakhouse Chef de Cuisine John Frank grills a Tomahawk steak.

Photo By Allison Young

A good steak is, I think, one of the purest carnivorous pleasures available. A hearty prime rib dinner has its charms, of course, as does a slow-cooked, gelatinous stew, but neither is as absolutely, almost primitively meaty as a simple, properly cooked, steak. I decided that I was going to find quality bang for the buck and good meat.

So, I had my heart set on a steak, but Chef de Cuisine John Frank suggested a prime rib dinner for $24.85 that he assured me would “please even the most discriminating meat-eater.” His pedigree starts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., follows a path that saw him student teaching at the CIA with Charlie Palmer, jobs at very high end establishments in New York and Los Angeles, and then landing at Harrah’s Steakhouse for 15 years. He tried his hand at his own place near Topaz until settling back into “an old routine” in his new role at Circus Circus. I’ve learned to always listen to the chef, especially when they have these kinds of credentials.

The Steakhouse has a very well structured, fair-priced menu with starch and vegetables included. This particular offering was from the early dinner menu, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: certified Angus beef prime rib, chicken oscar or shrimp fettuccini alfredo, all $24.94. These are served with your choice of house salad or lobster bisque soup and a classic steakhouse cheesecake. But the regular menu has everything from New Zealand lamb ($34) to salmon with a maple glaze ($26) to chicken coq-au-vin ($25) to beef rossini ($34) and steaks ($30-$36), of course.

Chef insisted I try some appetizers and sent out a trio. First, a crab cake ($14)—lump crabmeat, roasted corn, peppers and Southern style spices served on tomatillo salsa verde, Ancho chile aioli, and frisee salad with candied pecans. Then, a stuffed Portobello mushroom ($12), stuffed with a creamy mixture of spinach, onion, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts on a bed of rich Mornay sauce with a drizzle of red pepper pureé. Lastly, a lobster ravioli ($15) in a saffron cream sauce atop shredded lobster and crab.

Every one of these was superb. The crab cake was moist, lightly Panko coated, golden brown, and the sauce added a little bite with an earthy tomato finish. The mushroom was savory with a rich finish of the Mornay consisting of half Gruyère and half Parmesan cheese with a sweet-tart finish ala red pepper drizzle. The ravioli was plentiful in lobster meat and sitting on a stack of shredded lobster and crab with the Saffron sauce made with a wine/fish stock and heavy cream giving a rich, grassy sweetness to this finish. Wow!

When the prime rib came, I was half full but saw a great presentation of a piece of meat (10-ounce plus), medium rare that filled my plate. It was about an inch thick with just enough fat on the edges to show me the quality cut. Slow cooked with limited seasonings—garlic, salt and pepper—it was tender and succulent. It was accompanied by au jus cooked with shallots, sinus-clearing, fresh horseradish, fresh, baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, Parmesan mashed potatoes, and John Frank’s signature—sweet red cabbage. No hype, this was bang for the buck.

A comfortably elegant room with proper linens, a well-trained wait staff, full bar, and a very respectable wine list ($21-$120) offers great ambiance. Food and beverage director Dave Brody tells me the new by-the-glass list ($7-$12) will have excellent value point wines, too.

In fact, manager Monique Chandler just finished a wine tasting and brought me a ’08 Schramsburg sparkling ($35), ’10 Duckhorn Merlot ($79), ’08 Steele Pinot Noir and a ’10 Goldeneye Pinot Noir ($86), all on the list, and the prices are very reasonable. The secret of food lies in memory—of thinking, knowing, and then remembering the tastes of the food. You’ll leave here with fond memories.