The employee of Gordon Ramsay Steak had wheeled the big silvery steak cart to our table and was meticulously explaining the attributes of the various cuts of meat displayed on it. As he spoke, his face betrayed a bit of bafflement about what we knew were the blank looks on ours.
It wasn't that we weren't following him. It was that, to use one of the chef's words, we couldn't hear a bloody word he said, because he was totally drowned out by the restaurant's sound system.
Actually, up to that point, I had been enjoying the music, which contributed a bright bit of energy to the overall up-tempo atmosphere of the new restaurant at Paris Las Vegas.
The problem was that such personal touches, which would be at home in a more intimate atmosphere, are at cross purposes with the high energy of this one.
Ramsay said recently that the restaurant was still being birthed and that he was keeping things small as a result. Wise man, he, because there still are a few service wrinkles to be worked out.
When we called for a reservation during the week we wanted to review, we were told the restaurant was totally booked for the evening that was our first choice. On our second choice, 5 p.m. was available. Fair enough; we can adapt our schedules to fit just about anything, so 5 it would be.
But when we arrived at about two minutes before the appointed time, we were confronted with a line streaming from the restaurant entrance partly across the casino. Standbys - or something - we figured, as we approached the desk and announced that we had a reservation - only to be directed to the line.
So there we stood, feeling very much like we were in line at the buffet instead of at a restaurant run by a top chef. At a few minutes after 5, we in line were instructed to again approach the podium and announce our names, after which we were directed to stand at the door until we could be escorted to our seats. So, as the man behind me said, we lined up to line up to line up again.
There's a more graceful way to handle this, guys.
And the cattle-call method caused other drawbacks, the first (or second, or whatever) being an obvious crush at the bar. We were seated a few minutes after 5, and a server approached with an iPad that contained the cocktail and wine lists. He gets credit here; he explained the list without making us feel that he assumed we were technical idiots, and we're sure more explanation would have been forthcoming had we needed it. But then we ordered, and it was a good 15 minutes before our drinks - including a lovely and refreshing Pimm's Cup ($14), one of the featured cocktails - arrived. By then we had ordered, and our appetizer arrived very shortly after our cocktails.
Things evened out after that and there were some graceful touches, such as the carafe of water kept on the table and frequently refilled (and at no charge), as were our glasses, and the fact that servers, when pouring, protect customers from splashing with a folded napkin. But the glitches that exist shouldn't happen in a high-end restaurant - and hopefully won't when GR Steak has been open for more than a few months.
The food? The food was perfection itself, and that started with the bread, which appeared well before our cocktails. Here we had an absolute riot of textures and flavor, complementary contrasts all over the place: lemon-thyme foccacia glazed with olive oil, pancetta-fig and truffle mushroom brioche pinwheels and a walnut-Stilton that was crisp-crusted and in the French tradition. Served with them was a large button of English Devonshire butter with a stripe of volcanic sea salt, which was a total gilding of the lily.
For starters, we'd ordered the smoked beef tartare ($22) in large part because we wondered how they managed to smoke beef tartare, since smoking generally cooks a dish and beef tartare is raw. And, of course, we shouldn't have; the exceptionally coarsely cut (that's a good thing) beef arrived in a domed vessel with the smoke trapped inside, to be released just as it was served. And so the seasoned beef, with a quail egg yolk on top, was just lightly tinged with smoke.
Despite missing the patter from the steak-cart guy (who, by the way, arrived after we had ordered), we knew that GR Steak's steaks are aged for a minimum of 28 days in a Himalayan salt room. But frankly, I wasn't expecting that much from my 8-ounce Prime filet mignon ($53), which isn't the most flavorful of cuts, and considered a sauce.
Wrong again; this was without doubt the best filet mignon I've ever had. It was perfectly charred, the interior red and juicy, with a depth of flavor that was big and beefy, yet subtle and buttery with more layers and nuances than I could imagine.
Beef Wellington ($54), one of the chef's specialties, was likewise perfection, the pastry and beef equally buttery but with different definitions, of course. The smooth potato puree and velvety glazed root vegetables were very effective complements.
No less so, though, than the Parmesan-cream spinach ($12), as addictive as crack but way more healthy, the suspected quantities of cream, butter and cheese notwithstanding.
Normally we skip dessert if we're verging on the uncomfortable but we made an exception this time and were glad we did. Sticky toffee pudding ($14) is always a moist, rich, not-overly-sweet delight when well executed, as it was here, and made even better by the pool of browned butter and a stick of brown-butter ice cream, with a table knife whimsically slicing into it as if it were butter.
And to end: French-press coffee, served with three spoons, each carrying a liqueur-filled chocolate tablet - amaretto, Bailey's and Chambord - for stirring in.
As most of you know, the Review-Journal pays for my meals, and on an evening like this I'm especially grateful for that. But you know what? This was so exceptional that I'd happily repeat it soon, on my own dime, as soon as I've saved enough dimes.
Which will hopefully give them time to work out those service glitches.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-0474.