Shortly before the arrival of our main course at Gordon Ramsay Steak in Las Vegas, my wife Kathryn leaned over to me and said, “This has been a very weird experience.” She was right. The service had been weird. Quite weird. However, the food was more than worth the weird.
This story begins almost three months ago, when I read in a blog somewhere that Gordon Ramsay would be opening a new steakhouse at Paris Las Vegas. I told Kathryn the news, and we were both excited to give it a try.
We’ve watched some of Ramsay’s television series, including the U.S. version of Hell’s Kitchen and the U.K. version of Kitchen Nightmares. Several years ago, we made a special point of visiting Terra Verde at Green Valley Ranch where we got to meet Rock Harper, winner of Hell’s Kitchen Season 3, who was executive chef there at the time. However, we’d never eaten in one of Ramsay’s restaurants.
As soon as Gordon Ramsay Steak began accepting reservations — sometime in late April, if I remember correctly — Kathryn got on the phone and booked us a table. Later we moved our reservation up a week and back 90 minutes. Up a week because, for various reasons, we decided to visit Las Vegas a week earlier. Back 90 minutes because having a 6 pm reservation on an evening when the sun wouldn’t set until 8 seemed just a little too geriatric for my taste. 7:30 was more reasonable.
When the day arrived, we showed up at the restaurant around 7:15. For some reason, I just can’t seem to avoid showing up early for things. It’s in my blood, I think. When I arrange to meet my parents at a certain place at a certain time, I always arrive ten minutes early, because I know they’ll have already been there five minutes at that time.
Our early arrival was apparently not pleasing to the hostess who received us. She invited us to wait in the lounge while our table was being prepared. She told us we were checked in and that someone would get us when our table was ready. Okay. We were early, so we expected that.
As we entered the restaurant from the casino floor at Paris Las Vegas, we passed through a short tunnel. I think the tunnel is modeled on the Chunnel between France and England. After all, we’re supposed to be leaving Paris and arriving in a British steakhouse, right? The fact that the tunnel is about a half-dozen steps long does cut short the effect.
We found one of the few empty tables in the lounge and chose the seats with our backs closest to the wall so that we could enjoy a view of the bar and the rest of the lounge area. The music — all British — was thunderously loud, so we sat close together in order to be able to hear one another.
The beer selection was interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Stone Arrogant Bastard on draft anywhere before. I ordered a pint. Since we were staying at Bally’s and could get back to our room without ever tasting fresh air, Kathryn didn’t need to assume her traditional role as designated driver. Old habits die hard, though, and Kathryn just had a glass of water. In spite of the British theme, I received a U.S. pint, not an imperial pint.
It didn’t take me long to realize the wait staff in the lounge were all female and all gorgeous. The uniforms were extremely flattering, and they all had the bodies to match. This wasn’t exactly the kind of observation I wanted to bring up while chatting with my wife. However, I lucked out a few moments later when she made the same observation herself.
For their part, the bartenders had their own interesting uniforms, although not quite as sexy. Bartenders — which came in both sexes — wore light blue shirts with white collars, along with red ties and red suspenders. Basically, they looked like Union Jacks.
Speaking of which, we couldn’t help but look at the ceiling, which was decorated with a giant oval Union Jack. Under the oval was a white display of neon. It could have been a representation of the wrinkles on Ramsay’s forehead. It could have been an order of onion rings. It could have been nothing at all. I’ll let the art historians fight over this one.
_Update (June 24): If you look at our photo of the Union Jack over the bar, you can see that the St. Patrick’s cross is not “pinwheeled” correctly. I didn’t notice. I learned that a blogger brought this detail to the attention of management a couple nights after we dined there and that the error was corrected within a few days._
Since we were waiting for a table in the restaurant, we didn’t order anything to eat in the lounge. However, I did have a look at the bar menu, and it was intriguing. Most of the appetizers from the dinner menu were available in the bar, as were all the dessert choices. There were a number of main course items available, none of which was more than $30. If one wanted to check out Gordon Ramsay Steak without spending $100-plus per person in the dining room, it’s certainly possible in the lounge.
As I neared the bottom of my beer, we started to notice that 7:30 had flown by and we were much closer to 8. Kathryn, being somewhat less patient than I, decided to walk back to the host station and find out what was going on with our table.
Apparently the hostess didn’t remember us from 40 minutes earlier, and somehow managed to blame Kathryn for us not being checked in. Apparently, I say, because I was still in the lounge when this went down.
Kathryn came back with the hostess who led us to our table. She didn’t tell me what had been said between them until after we had ordered dinner and another beer was in front of me. I think she thought I would have walked us out if she had told me sooner. She may have been right.
This was only the beginning of what was weird about our experience.
After being seated, our waiter and another server presented us our menus. The dinner menu looked like a dinner menu. It was also a relatively simple menu. If you’ve never watched Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay often recommends restaurant owners simplify their menus. We had decided long before arriving that we would order the beef Wellington for two. For us, the menu was only used to choose a starter.
The cocktail menu, on the other hand, was a pretentious tablet computer application. It was set on the table at an angle with its own stand, as if it were placed there to watch a movie. One could touch the drinks that looked appealing, and it would display all the details about them, along with the price. I suppose the gee-whiz factor impresses some diners, but it frankly played no factor in helping me decide I wanted another Arrogant Bastard. After choosing a drink, they took the tablet away. Apparently, if you wanted to try something different during the course of your dinner, you’d have to ask your server to bring the tablet back.
We were also asked if we wanted flat or sparkling water. I’ve heard this question so many times in Europe and have trained myself to order neither when I’m overseas, assuming I’m in a country with decent tap water. Here in the U.S., I’m so unaccustomed to hearing this question that I flubbed and ordered flat water. Moments later a $9 bottle of fancy-pants bottled water arrived. I guess it tasted slightly better than Las Vegas tap water.
While we were deciding, the next bit of pretentiousness — a steak trolley — was rolled over to our table. On this large stainless steel and glass contraption, the waiter showed us several different cuts of steak and explained their different flavors. He placed much greater emphasis on the Kobe steaks — which, by the way, weren’t genuine Kobe, but domestic Kobe, sometimes called Fauxbe. Mirrors were positioned at an angle above each cut so that we could see all sides without getting out of our seats. Again, since we had already settled on our main course, it was a complete waste of time.
Kathryn and I decided to go light on the starter, both of us ordering salads. Kathryn ordered a garden salad. I looked at the menu and saw a Caesar salad with one ingredient that was unfamiliar to me — Scotch egg. I asked the waiter for a clarification. Essentially it’s a quail egg that’s soft-boiled and peeled, then rolled in a breading and quickly pan-fried. I took a bit of a chance and ordered the salad. It was delightful.
I offered Kathryn part of the Scotch egg so she could try one. After a bad experience with Vietnamese food earlier in the day, she wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous. That’s another story, though.
The waiter had advised us the beef Wellington would take longer than most of the other main courses, so we had some time to kill after we finished our salads. We used this time to fill up on bread — always a bad idea. The butter was topped with some kind of coarsely ground black salt. I’d never seen such a thing, but I liked it. The assistant server pointed out that the salt was black, like him. Subtle.
Then came the most ridiculous part of the experience, the part that caused my wife to lean over and tell me how weird this meal had gotten. Our beef Wellington, now completely cooked but neither carved nor garnished, was brought out to us in a frying pan lined with what appeared to be coarse salt and a handful of peppercorns. Basically we were teased with our dinner, only to have it taken away again. I’ve decided to call this the proof-of-life phase of our meal. They showed us our dinner just long enough to let us know it existed, and then quickly returned it to hiding for another eight to ten minutes.
We continued waiting as patiently as possible. The volume of the music in the dining room was only slightly less obnoxious than in the lounge. We heard one song at least twice. Eventually our food arrived.
At this point, I’m not sure what to say about the food. It was impeccable. The beef Wellington was beautiful. The pastry sarcophagus we had been presented ten minutes earlier was now carved to display a perfect medium-rare steak, lightly seasoned and drizzled with a reduction, set atop a thin layer of mashed potatoes.
This being a steakhouse, we had to order any side dishes we wanted separately. Since we had started light, we went with the macaroni and cheese, which was prepared with three distinct cheeses and truffles and served in a small stainless steel pot. It easily could have been a meal by itself.
Simply put, we cleaned the plates. The little stainless steel pot, too.
Next, we ordered a dessert to share, a sticky toffee something-or-other, the exact name of which I can’t remember. It was drizzled with a chocolate-raspberry sauce and served with a bar of brown sugar ice cream that looked like a small stick of butter and was almost as creamy. The whole thing was decadent.
Finally the bill arrived. With tax, a modest tip, and the beer I had in the lounge, the damage was $240 for the two of us. Considering that our bar bill was minimal and we shared a dessert, I’d say the $85 average check listed on the Paris Las Vegas website is wishful thinking.
So, for all my complaining, would I eat at Gordon Ramsay Steak again? Absolutely. The pretentious details aside, the service was excellent after we were seated, and the food was to die for. I’d like the music to be half as loud, though. Other than being seated so late, that’s my only real complaint. I wonder if it’s quieter on a weeknight. I also wonder if it’s quieter in the mezzanine-level dining area, as we were seated on the main floor. If we ever go again, I’ll know which questions to ask.