Kelly’s Prime Steak & Seafood is nothing if not an old-school steakhouse.
There’s the fact that Kelly’s — the flagship of which is in Long Beach, Calif. — was founded in 1958. There’s the fact that the Las Vegas Kelly’s Paradise Road location fills the spot vacated by the venerable Ruth’s Chris Steak House. There’s the dark-wood-and-white-linen vibe, which may or may not be a leftover from Ruth’s Chris (this time, memory doesn’t serve) but at any rate honors the tradition of both the former and current tenants of the spot. There’s the old-school menu, which has a few updated choices but leans heavily to the cuts of meat and seafood of yore, such as chateaubriand, porterhouse, steak Diane and rack of lamb.
There was even, I noticed immediately upon entering, a certain staleness in the air. In the old days I’d ascribe it to old cigarette smoke but it’s been years since there could have been much smoking in this space. Still, stale it was — which, just as in days of yore, marred the classic elegance that Kelly’s clearly is going for.
So, unfortunately, did a few other things.
Let’s start with the strong suits, of which an entree of sand dabs ($23) most definitely was one. Although much more commonly served in Kelly’s native stomping grounds this fish is tough to find in these parts and more’s the pity, because properly prepared it’s a delicious break from the standard salmon and tuna. It’s totally at the other end of the fish spectrum, delicate little fillets sauteed briefly in butter, sauced with some lemon and wine and sprinkled with capers. The fish was excellent and, considering the local scarcity, alone would probably warrant a return trip.
As would the steak tartare ($20), which you also don’t see much in Southern Nevada. Again, it was an excellent rendition, tenderloin coarsely chopped and topped with a little quail egg yolk, surrounded by piles of chopped shallots, hard-cooked egg white and egg yolk, capers and mustard. With crisp toasted baguettes for scooping and spooning, it was a great start to dinner.
Creamed spinach ($12) is a classic steakhouse side, and this was a good one. The menu said it was flavored with bacon but that was extremely mild, which is a good thing because it can easily overwhelm. But there was a problem here: The cheese that had been sprinkled atop the family-style dish and melted so nicely just before it came out of the kitchen solidified soundly a few minutes later, and scooping the spinach became nearly impossible. We approached it with a spoon, we approached it with a steak knife, and we finally gave up, which was a shame. (It also reinforced our theory that management of any restaurant should sample everything on the menu periodically — as the customer does, and not just in the kitchen — to see what may not be working out there.)
There was a problem, too, with the prime rib, of which we had the English cut (10 ounces, $37; $42 for 14 ounces and $49 for 20). Well, the prime rib was fine, thinly sliced in this version and with substantial flavor, and the mashed potatoes, too. But we were looking forward to the Yorkshire pudding, which is something else practically no one does anymore, and that part of the entree was a dismal failure. Yorkshire pudding should be crisp, but soft in the middle, almost creamy. This one, in a sort of popover shape (the popover being a close relative) was both too thin and overbrowned, so that it was just a whole bunch of crisp, dried-out dough.
And a New York steak (14 ounces, $49) was medium rare, as ordered, but on the dry side, which was sort of odd, especially for this cut, which isn’t exceptionally lean. Kelly’s offers Bearnaise, mushroom Bordelaise or peppercorn sauce with its steaks and when we demurred — if we’re eating steak, we generally want to taste the steak — our waiter expressed his surprise. We see a connection there.
Speaking of our waiter: He was fine when he was there, but he wasn’t there as much as he should have been. Kelly’s takes the team approach, which we like, but the waiter was far more polished than his assistant. That’s understandable, but because it was the assistant who did most of the talking, things ended up out of whack.
I’ve never been to Kelly’s in Long Beach but now I’m more curious than ever, because a restaurant that has become an institution generally has done so by correcting flaws, minor or not. And Kelly’s of Las Vegas has much of that to do if it ever wants to achieve such status.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.