Monday, May 5, 2008

Las Vegas restaurant- Prime Steakhouse

A game of high steaks at the Bellagio

The drone of hopeful millionaires waned as the six of us dipped into the paneled honeycomb of Bellagio’s steakhouse, Prime. We had drifted away from the hoots and hollers of night owls and seemingly onto the set of a high budget film that hadn’t decided whether its focus was Old Hollywood, Gone with the Wind or French Victorian. Blue, velvet drapes careened from ceiling to floor, busting from a girdle of gold chords that could easily fashion Scarlett’s next dress. Fountains flitted outside the window like children intent on a game of tag and added just enough Disneyland amusement to complete this abstract portrait.

Despite swiveled heads and rubber necks we arrived at our table unscathed and dwarfed by an immense painting resembling Venus’s sister (staring wide-eyed at our plates to ensure we ate all our vegetables). An ocean of carpet, thick enough to swallow any signs of dropped silverware, necessitated “Alice in Wonderland-like” gold knockers on the back of each chair for easy towing.

Auditioning for the stereotypical role of “Jeeves”, our waiter ascended with a raised nostril of disgust (Scene 1: sniffing dirty sweat sock) and upon ordering drinks (Scene 2: serving a stiff cocktail of contention), one of my culinary colleagues murmured, “I feel like the waiter thinks he’s better than me.”

We laughed, but the apparent exasperation wasn’t funny. Jeeves’s superiority was stifling from the first wrinkle of his nose to his wafting stench of arrogance, and not only did it lessen our experience, but lowered the overall standard of the restaurant. A true upscale establishment ensures the customer’s comfort at all costs and Jeeves couldn’t even spare a dime.

Our annoyance was overridden by a dining cart bearing silver orbs of secrecy, each cover lifted and replaced in the edible version of “find the queen”. My fork first tore at symbiotic landmarks of top grade tuna and avocado wading in ginger/ soy with its light, rejuvenating effects similar to a Fountain of Youth (for the palate). The salad set posed an ordinary looking Caesar like a diminutive wallflower, but beneath his classic cover laid a defined body and final punch of citrus that lifted his status to “crowd pleaser Caesar”.

Unfortunately, the crispy goat cheese fondue did not rival Caesar for top billing and was a disappointment in concept and taste. This tomb of fondue bandaged goat cheese (head to toe) in a fried, phyllo sarcophagus that trapped the necessary tart-n-creamy catalyst. “The curse of teeth rotting sweetness” attacked an unassuming frisee salad with grapes and pear vinaigrette (its pungent antidote only inches away).

The “meat and greet” came next with the promise of the protein packed main course that had led us here. My lamb chops, encrusted with chili crumbs, were ordered at medium rare, but arrived closer to rare. Still delectable, I ravaged them, dipping sporadically in the bevy of sauces accompanying the meal (bĂ©arnaise, spicy pepper, etc.) The steak au poivre was paved with a thick asphalt of peppercorns (not a pothole of naked meat to be seen) with a potency that could remove tar. The tearing and coughing induced by this dish might be used as protection in a dark alley- the original pepper spray.

Two of our other carnivorous constituents ordered the porterhouse- one requesting medium rare and the other medium. A couple bites into the meal, the medium rare “requestee” found himself in the middle of medium man’s steak. Medium man had already manhandled the “mis-steak” placed before him (cooked almost exactly like the other) and munched happily on what he thought to be his order. This was inexcusable- not only did these prices demand perfection (around $50 a steak), but the moniker of “steakhouse" insists on the chefs’ aptitude for mastering meat temperatures. This was a blunder that couldn’t be overlooked as easily as Jeeves’s snippy quips and would be the resounding memory of the meal (though thoughts of their lumpy, heavily salted mashed potatoes would be reminisced of fondly).

I could now empathize with Dr. Malfi’s attraction to Tony Soprano. I was immediately enamored with this piece of work’s over-the-top and muddled alter egos, but inconsistency and a mafia sized payoff eventually marred my fond feelings. As Prime puckered for its “kiss of death” in my final farewell, I still admired its larger than life character, but couldn’t trust Prime’s rep enough to invest that type of dough.

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