Most of our road trips to Las Vegas involve tossing away a few hundred dollars on slots, video poker, or craps. However, on this most recent trip, we reallocated our gambling budget to an obscenely expensive lunch at one of the hottest celebrity restaurants on the Strip right now, Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen, located in the outbuilding in front of Caesar’s Palace that was until recently the home of Serendipity.
Getting a reservation at Hell’s Kitchen is tricky if, like me, you don’t plan your meals weeks in advance. I got online for a reservation Thursday morning, and there were no tables left for any reasonable dinner time the entire weekend. The only options were a very late dinner Saturday or Sunday — and by “very late” I mean after 10:30 pm — or lunch Sunday. After a quick check of the lunch menu, Kathryn and I agreed a Sunday lunch splurge after Mass sounded like a nice idea, so I booked it.
When we arrived, they were seating walk-ups who were willing to wait up to an hour. I’m guessing that would not have been the case on a Saturday at dinnertime. We arrived a few minutes early and were seated almost right at our 1:15 pm reservation time.
The sleek red dresses worn by the hostesses caught my eyes right away. The uniforms were both highly flattering on some figures and highly unforgiving on others. The hostess who led us to our table was in the first group.
As we were being led to our table, the hostess discretely pointed to the booth where actor Nicolas Cage was dining. I couldn’t personally see his face, so I’m taking her word for it. Maybe he couldn’t get a Saturday evening dinner reservation either? It made me feel a little better about slumming it on a Sunday at lunchtime.
We had studied the lunch menu before arriving and knew what we wanted, but we took a quick glance before ordering anyway. The lunch menu is quite different from the dinner menu, with lighter fare like burgers and pizza. Looking around the dining area, that’s how most people were ordering.
However, Hell’s Kitchen also offered a lunchtime “express” three-course prix-fixe, an abbreviated version of the dinner prix-fixe, that included the signature beef Wellington. We’d had the beef Wellington years ago at Gordon Ramsay Steak, and we were eager to have another go at it. So we each ordered the prix-fixe, along with the wine pairing.
Before we’d had time for much chit-chat, our first glasses of wine arrived, a chardonnay, and we learned quickly why it’s called an “express” lunch. On the heels of the wine, the Caesar salad appeared.
There’s not much to say about any Caesar salad anywhere, so this wasn’t exactly a mind-blowing course. It was romaine lettuce with the bare minimum amount of dressing. The crisped cheese accompanying the croutons was a nice touch, though.
While Kathryn still had a third of a salad on her plate and two ounces of chardonnay left in her glass, the beef Wellington was delivered to our table. It was arranged beautifully, but the beef appeared tiny on the enormous plate. Kathryn finished her wine and salad, and then we waited for the server to bring the cabernet sauvignon before digging into our main course. We may not have sophisticated wine palettes, but even a knuckledragger like me knows you don’t pair chardonnay with beef.
After a few bites, it became apparent the beef Wellington was bigger than it looked. It was, in upon further reflection, an appropriately lunch-sized portion, that with the accompanying potatoes and vegetables was quite enough to fill me up. That said, we still had one more course to go.
The dessert wine arrived shortly after they cleared the plates from our main course. It was a tawny port that Kathryn found a bit too sweet. She changed her mind after she had a bite of dessert.
The dessert was another Gordon Ramsay signature, a sticky toffee pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. It was decadent. To me, it seems like more of a cake than a pudding. I struggled to finish it, and regrettably I succeeded.
Our overall experience at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen was positive. The food was great, the service was attentive without being overbearing, and unlike some other Gordon Ramsay restaurants in Las Vegas that left our ears bleeding, the atmosphere, while hardly subdued, was relaxed enough for us to have an adult conversation.
During our drive back to Phoenix yesterday, Kathryn and I discussed whether or not, for the price, Hell’s Kitchen was a good value. I’m swinging back and forth, to be honest. For the two of us, the three-course lunch with wine set us back $250 with tax and tip. From a purely nutritional perspective, it’s completely insane. Comparing it to, say, a nice steakhouse elsewhere in Las Vegas, it’s probably not far out of line.
Obviously, part of what we were paying for was the celebrity of Gordon Ramsay and his television series. How much was that premium? My back-of-the-envelope guess is about 20%. Is it a premium worth paying? Maybe once every few years, tops.