If a steak is a steak is a steak, how can a steakhouse stand out from the crowd?
It seems that steakhouses are forced, more than any other type of restaurant, to drop an anchor somewhere on the traditional-to-innovative continuum. Steaks in themselves are pretty basic and straightforward, and then there are the expected starters and side dishes. There isn't a lot of inherent room for creativity - which is why we were pretty delighted with some of the innovative touches we noticed at 35 Steaks + Martinis at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Our starter, for starters. The whole artichoke ($10) was billed as coming with a boursin-spinach-tomato dip, which sounded a lot like the bar-favorite spinach-artichoke dip. And it was, but only after a fashion. The artichoke had been trimmed and cooked just until tender, then the center cavity filled with a warm and creamy mixture that was a lot like boursin but cheesier. By preparing it this way the kitchen ensured that everything was nice and warm, but the dip also sort of seeped between the leaves, becoming one with the artichoke. It was an innovative treatment and a delicious one, not to mention a hearty starter for two at a price that's downright reasonable for the tourism corridor.
Among the list of steaks we noticed a 12-ounce prime rib ($40). That wasn't surprising; while prime rib is technically roast beef rather than steak, there's a lot of hair-splitting there. No, what intrigued us was that this was billed as Prime (as in USDA Prime) prime rib, dry-aged 35 days, and I wondered what both of those flavor-intensifying, texture-improving factors would add to the meat.
And - not much, as it turned out. Oh, it was good prime rib, and rare exactly as I'd ordered it, but we didn't notice a deeper flavor or firmer texture. And the "horseradish jus" promised on the side was your basic jus, without any detectable flavor of horseradish. So I offer points for effort, but not for execution.
Colorado lamb ($42) was pretty darn perfect, but what we especially liked about this one was the somewhat offbeat (for a steakhouse, anyway) side dish of couscous cooked with apricot and dates, which had a natural affinity for the lamb.
We wrapped things up with steakhouse-classic creamed spinach ($8), which was a very good but fairly standard treatment.
Service throughout was fine, with the team system in place, which is more effective than the single-server system because if one member of the team gets tied up there's another ready to step in if needed. On the other hand the mood was somewhat uneven, with a friendly female server and a somewhat reserved male one.
We also liked the atmosphere in the place, which is sort of tucked away near the Hard Rock's convention center. It's sleek but interesting, with accents such as a white stacked-stone wall and paintings in muted, soothing colors.
The bread basket, with its accompanying generously sized cup of butter, contained four varied rolls, all variations on the French/artisanal theme, crusty, with an elastic crumb.
It stuck us, actually, as reflective of 35 Steaks + Martinis, which has found a way of being a classic steakhouse without being boring.
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.