By Jay Jones, Special to Tribune Newspapers
7:51 PM EST, February 8, 2013
LAS VEGAS — It's official: According to a reputable travel industry source, "Strip" steaks are the best in the world.
A New York strip is a great cut of beef, but the Strip to which the Robb Report, a lifestyle magazine for the uber-rich, is referring is the street also known as Las Vegas Boulevard. It's where, according to its restaurant critics, the best steaks in the world are served.
In a city that, in recent years, truly has become a dining capital, the accolade is yet another feather in the city's culinary cap. And, as a visit to any of Las Vegas' growing number of fine steakhouses will prove, it's a well-deserved honor.
No offense, backyard barbecue experts, but even your most superlative, sizzling-off-the-grill offerings can't compare with what's being plated in Vegas. Don't fault yourselves. Sin City's finest chefs say it's impossible for you to compete, because the playing field isn't level.
It's all about the quality of the meat, they explain. Supermarkets generally sell "select" or "choice" grades. Top restaurants won't settle for anything less than "prime," something many of the finest neighborhood butchers only dream of procuring.
"If I go to the supermarket to get a steak to grill at home, the difference is pretty dramatic," noted Sean Griffin, executive chef at the appropriately named Prime (866-259-7111, bellagio.com/Prime), a steakhouse at Bellagio. "It's hard to find prime-grade beef because it's a very limited commodity. I don't think there's a whole lot left over (to sell) after the high-end steakhouses."
Most of Griffin's meat comes from ranches in Colorado and Nebraska. But it's the local distributors from which he — and his competitors — have to buy.
"We've built quite a relationship with the suppliers that we use for our beef," Griffin said. "There are variations in prime-grade beef. Everything isn't the top. It goes from moderately abundant to abundant in marbling. And with the relationships we've established, we get the cream of the crop."
The "cream," as Griffin put it, is a steak with abundant marbling. That's chef-speak for the small drops of fat within the muscle that, when a properly cooked steak is eaten, literally burst with flavor.
Proper grilling (at temperatures up to 1,300 degrees), seasoning and resting are the keys to unlocking a steak's savory side.
"If you have an amazing steak, and it doesn't have the right amount of caramelization (char) on it, you lose a level of flavor," Griffin observed. "If you have a great steak, and it's lacking in seasoning, then it tastes a little bit bland. If you don't let it rest properly, it's not going to be as tender."
(To "rest" a steak means to give it few minutes after plating but before serving to allow the red juices to absorb back into the meat.)
"If it's really done right, it melts like butter in your mouth," said Christina Wilson, head chef at Gordon Ramsay Steak (702-946-4663, parislasvegas.com). Located inside the Paris resort, a reservation here is one of the most sought after on the Strip. Wilson took up her post in September as the prize for coming in first on "Hell's Kitchen," one of Ramsay's TV shows.
While Wilson is now a regular fixture both in the kitchen and in the dining room, where she routinely greets guests, don't expect to spot Ramsay. He makes occasional appearances at his Vegas outpost, but his worldwide enterprises keep him busy elsewhere.
With its red-and-black decor (with plenty of chrome accents) and amplified "house" music, Gordon Ramsay Steak seems to be aiming for what a competing chef, Charlie Palmer, called a "hip and trendy" crowd.
Palmer said his namesake restaurant at the Four Seasons Las Vegas has "a very fun but mature feel." At Charlie Palmer Steak (702-632-5120, charliepalmer.com), he said, there's much more than just the traditional "steak, asparagus and baked potato" on the menu.
"It's not just meat on a plate," Palmer said. "It's about the way a menu's set up at a steakhouse that allows the diner to choose whatever they feel like eating. They're not locked into a composed plate of food."
Though it doesn't have a celebrity chef in the wings, a simply-named restaurant hidden inside Circus Circus is a favorite both with Las Vegas locals and a growing number of out-of-towners.
The Steak House (702-794-3767, circuscircus.com/dining), with its "old Vegas" ambience, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012.
Ron Randazzo has been the manager for 27 of those 30 years. Here, the emphasis clearly is on traditional rather than trendy.
"People come back year after year, and they're happy to see that the menu hasn't changed, the quality of the food hasn't changed, and they're also very happy to see that the staff hasn't changed," he noted.
Diners can expect knowledgeable servers to explain the various steaks on offer. That knowledge comes from years and years on the job.
"I have not hired a waiter in 15 years. One guy's been here 22 years," Randazzo said. "The least senior busboy, I think, has 12 years. We're a family."
While steakhouses clearly are in abundance along the Strip, Palmer is not convinced that Sin City deserves the "best steaks on the planet" crown bestowed by the Robb Report.
"I don't think you can discount the fact that some of the greatest steakhouses in the world are in New York and Chicago," he said. "Are there a lot of great steakhouses and great steaks coming out of Vegas? Absolutely. But I won't say that's not happening elsewhere too."
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