Thursday, September 12, 2013

One More Fast

It has been a busy few weeks hasn't it? Packing for my move, driving from Minneapolis to DC, Rosh Hashanah, moving into the new apartment, trip to Vegas, unpacking boxes ... it goes on. Today was supposed to be cable and internet installation, but, you know, it's Comcast, so obviously that didn't happen (I'm using the internet in the resident lounge, which was its own special saga). Tomorrow is Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur is on Saturday. I'm hoping to duck out of the break fast to watch the Mayweather/Alvarez PPV -- I bet a total of $80 on that fight ($40 on Mayweather and $40 on it to go 12 rounds).

How was Vegas? Well, on the gambling side, let's just say that I'm suddenly very glad to be starting work at a big DC law firm. But the food was magnificent. In addition to Gordon Ramsay steak, we also ate at Central (I'd been to the one in DC and knew I liked it), Noodles (the penang fried kway teow needed some soy sauce and sriracha, but was fantasstic once I mixed those in), Gordon Ramsay's BurGR (delicious, even it did take me way too long to recognize the play on the spelling -- we're going to try to make our own devil dogs), Julian Serrano's Tapas (awesome), and D.O.C.G. (excellent homemade pasta).

Still, I'm quite tired, and ready for all the chaos to end. We probably have to do some shopping on Sunday (our dresser didn't survive the move), but after that it's clear skies ... I hope.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Review: Gordon Ramsay Steak - Paris Las Vegas

In my life I have been to many nice steakhouses. The Palm, Morton's, the Prime Rib, the Capital Grill, Manny's, Chicago Chop House, Ray's the Steaks, BLT Steak, J & G Steakhouse, among many others. Back when Jill was a vegetarian, we actually used to go to steakhouses relatively regularly, since we discovered that steakhouses had the best vegetables. They'd invariably give you a massive baked potato and a forest of broccoli, making Jill a very happy camper. We even had an idea for a book where we would drive across the country visiting America's great steakhouses, where Jill would do an anthropological study from a vegetarian perspective (I'd provide comic relief as the dumb, carnivorous boyfriend). It was to be called Meat and Potatoes. Unfortunately, Jill is back on the meat train so the concept's gimmick is gone. But we still liked the idea.

Anyway, the point is that while I'm normally not much of a foodie, steakhouses are one area I do feel qualified to talk about.

We're in Las Vegas for my brother's 24th birthday, but Gordon Ramsay Steak was my dinner selection. Jill and I are huge fans of Chef Ramsay -- we religiously watch Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef, and have checked out his other shows too. Ramsay has three restaurants in Vegas: the Pub and Grill at Caesar's, Burgr at Planet Hollywood (where we're going for lunch today -- incidentally, it wasn't until the airport until I got the play on words), and Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris. The latter was the easy choice -- in addition to the aforementioned love of steak, the head chef is HK Season 10 winner Christina Wilson. Unfortunately, she's on vacation this week, so we didn't get the chance to meet her. But it was still neat to be in her restaurant.

GR Steak is right on the floor of the Paris casino. As we were walking up, a troupe of showgirls in tight football-inspired outfits came marching past blowing whistles and waving at the crowd. Though probably a coincidence, I choose to believe this is how they greet all incoming reservations. The restaurant is separated from the casino by a short tunnel (chunnel?) which represents the move from Paris to London. Thematically the decor is heavily based on red and black -- my two favorite colors -- so I already had warm feelings. The restaurant is two stories high -- a bottom floor which is wide open to the kitchen and very boldly designed, and a top floor which has a balcony and some more private, quieter rooms (we ate in the latter). The layout will be quite familiar to Hell's Kitchen fans.

On the way up, our hostess pointed out an art piece on the ceiling that she said "was inspired by the way Chef Ramsey moves his hands while creating his famous beef wellington". I thought the piece was pretty cool, but I couldn't begrudge my dining companions a bit of an eye roll. At first, this looked to be a running gag for the evening -- the folks at GR Steak were very anxious to highlight Chef Ramsay's personal involvement. There was Chef Ramsay's "personal" five course tasting menu, which was "personally designed" by Chef Ramsay, and if we got it we would get a photograph "personally signed" by Chef Ramsay. The times "Chef Ramsay" came within three words of "personally" rapidly started to reach a breaking point, and I couldn't decide if they were offensively trying to impress the rubes or defensively trying to assure us that Chef Ramsay lent more than his name to the establishment. I was actually mildly intrigued by the tasting menu, as it was clearly inspired by the Hell's Kitchen menu. Unfortunately, being unable to eat either a lobster risotto or scallops, it wasn't worth it. I'll have to get an autographed photo personally signed by Chef Ramsay some other way.

Now to the important part: the food. The opener was a variety of complimentary artisanal breads, which were all quite good. Appetizer-wise, I tried the ale onion soup and a caesar salad. The soup was, as my brother put it, very "beery" and thus more bitter than your typical onion soup. The caesar was delicious but simple, save for the included scotch egg. Overall, the appetizers were perfectly good, but did not distinguish themselves from any other nice steakhouse which does the same thing. I should also mention here the beer, wine, and cocktail list, which came on an iPad. We're not a big drinking family (and Jill hit her limit when we found a bar earlier that afternoon that offered BOGO cosmopolitans), so only my mom and my brother got drinks. My mom's Vodka Martini was a fine if normal example of the genre, but my brother confirms his red wine (I believe a Malbec) was superb.

We all ordered steak (except my mom, who foraged off the rest of us): one filet (I got American prime beef, they also offered American Kobe), one beef wellington (Jill), and two ribeyes (my dad and brother -- dad got his Pittsburgh-style). But before I talk about the steaks, let's talk about sides. Typically, steakhouse sides are massive, but, with the exception of a loaded baked potato the size of a landmine, these weren't. Our other three sides: sauteed spinach, sauteed mushrooms, and potato puree, were all reasonably portioned, but definitely not "family style" (which is to say, they were perfectly able to be spread out amongst the whole family, because "family style" usually seems to assume the Duggars are dining out). The table consensus was that the baked potato and sauteed mushrooms were amazing, the spinach okay, and the potato puree good but a little difficult to eat given how gloopy it was. Again, judging on appetizers and sides, thus far GR Steak is well within the wheelhouse of a nice steakhouse, but doesn't distinguish itself.

But then we get to the steak. Oh, the steak. All four of our steaks were ordered medium rare. All four came out a perfect medium rare. Seriously, these were basically the platonic ideal of medium rare. It might not be an exaggeration to say this was the best cooked steak I've ever had. The filet had a peppery glaze on top which would not have been my personal choice (I'm very no-frills when it comes to my steak), but was nonetheless delicious. I also got to try the wellington and the ribeye, and both were exceptional. The ribeye, in particular, seemed to be somehow almost as tender as the filet, which is a remarkable accomplishment. All four of us easily polished off our entire plate. Literally our only complaint was the oddly-shaped steak knives (the handles are perpendicular to the blade), which were hard to hold (especially it seemed for lefties).

At that point myself, my brother, my dad, and Jill were all prepared to happily enter a food coma. My mother, however, had not gotten her own entree and thus was interested in dessert. Since we were nominally celebrating Jason's birthday, we acquiesced, and the waiter was quite emphatic that we get the the Sticky Toffee pudding, which is apparently their signature dessert. It was great -- I'm not usually a fan of toffee, and the "brown butter ice cream" served to look like a stick of butter initially raised an eyebrow, but everything came together beautifully and topped off a delicious meal.

So to sum up: For me, my top two steakhouses have always been The Palm and Manny's in Minneapolis. The question is whether GR Steak could topple these venerable institutions from their perch. And for me, it's too close to call. On the one hand, I definitely prefer the sides, soups, and salads at Manny's and the Palm (if GR steak showed off the platonic ideal of a medium rare, the Palm offers the platonic ideal of a caesar salad). And as noted with respect to the filet I'd rather have it without the pepper glaze. On the other hand, ribeye-for-ribeye I think GR Steak smokes anywhere else I've ever been. And again, each steak was cooked so absolutely perfectly I was left in awe.

But who needs to choose? Manny's is delicious, the Palm is delicious, and Gordon Ramsay Steak - Paris is delicious. Any one of them will leave you going home happy, and all of them should get a spot on your must-try list.

Ambience/Decor -- 9
Service -- 8.5
Appetizers -- 8.5
Sides -- 9
Steak -- 10
Dessert -- 9
Overall -- 9