There’s a moment when a violinist plays one verse of “Happy Birthday To You” to a group of four or five women at a nearby table. Given the subtle elegance of Harrah’s Steakhouse, it seems perfectly fitting that the music doesn’t last long and that a few other diners in the luncheon crowd clap and laugh softly.
In that moment, I wonder how it could be that I haven’t been to this restaurant for nearly two years. Parking isn’t a problem. And, despite the elegance and the incredible quality of the food and service, it isn’t any pricier than many popular lunch spots in town.
My dining companion, staff writer Carli Cutchin, had never been to the lower level of Harrah’s before we went for lunch last week. Carli has an aversion to casino dining in general. Maybe it’s the crowds or the noise of slots or video poker.
But Harrah’s Steakhouse is a world apart. The subdued lighting and an older, richer-looking clientele give the place an air of something distinguished. For an hour, I understand how Nicolas Cage’s character in the movie The Family Man can say he feels like a “better person” when trying on a expensive suit.
The service at the Steakhouse dates back to a time when such things truly, deeply mattered. The hostess greets diners warmly, whether they’re in designer garb or $25 Levis. When she tells us, “Margie will be with you shortly,” she means it. Margie is at our table within seconds.
The linen table coverings, crisp cloth napkins and a fresh-cut, long-stem rose in a vase remind me of a visit to another fine restaurant. There, I paid plenty for an entree, but I had to wait 45 minutes for the meal, look at fake plants and wipe my hands on the kind of paper napkin that’s sold in packs of 150 for 99 cents.
Carli and I both order the creamy five-onion soup ($5.50), which Margie says is the soup “people talk about.” Before the soup arrives, dripping with cheese and served in a large scooped-out onion, we are served a basket with three kinds of bread. Carli loves bread, but it seems kind of a shame to ruin the soft, rose petal-shaped butter sculpture.
The soup, combined with the bread, is hearty and filling. So Carli and I skip right to dessert, deciding to share an order of profiteroles ($5.50), small cream puffs filled with homemade ice cream, drizzled with hot fudge and topped with whipped cream and a strawberry.
In other restaurants, shared desserts are often served up with two spoons. Margie, though, serves the shared concoction as two perfect creations on two plates. After this, warm lemon-scented towels are brought to the table, along with an entire bowl of foil-wrapped chocolates.
I know that fine dining, like expensive clothing, can’t really make you a better person. But as we walk out of the Steakhouse and the hostess thanks us warmly, the noisy world beyond seems just a bit nicer.