AJ's Steakhouse a blend of old, new Vegas

In its decor, AJ's Steakhouse at the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road, takes diners back to the old days in Las Vegas, but the menu puts a contemporary touch on standard steakhouse fare.

Early rock 'n' roll and pop standards from the 1950s and 1960s provide background music while the paintings of old Vegas on the walls give a visual flavor of the way the city used to be.

Chef John Church, formerly of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant and Aureole, applies his philosophy of "cooking with the seasons" to the menu, which will include more fall items in September including venison with bing cherries, lamb T-bone with lamb loin and veal short ribs. He also plans to do more dessert tastings with smaller portions.

"I'm trying to use the best organic produce, steroid-free and hormone-free organic chicken and seasonal products," he says. "Get the best ingredients and combine them with the best cooking techniques and you get the best food."

Despite working within a steakhouse concept, Church says he has a lot of creative freedom. "I can use a lot of Italian and French techniques with American cuisine. But we're not trying to reinvent the wheel."

Operating out of an exhibition kitchen, Church also can get creative with nightly specials.

Seating 125, AJ's Steakhouse is open from 6 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Reservations are accepted (693-5500).

Starters: Crab cakes with spicy rouille, arugula and Meyer lemon ($16); tuna tartare with watermelon, Key lime and chili ($14); beef tartare with Dijon, capers and quail egg ($12); and seared sea scallops with corn, green onion and garlic ($14).

Soups and salads: Classic sweet onion soup with gruyere, herbs and miche croutons ($8); lobster bisque with spicy crayfish, crème fraiche and tarragon ($8); Caesar salad with anchovies, Parmesan reggiano and croutons ($9); field greens with caramelized onions, candied walnuts and goat cheese fritter ($8); and heirloom salad featuring minus 8 vinaigrette, mozzarella and basil ($11).

Entrees: Steaks include 16-ounce prime New York strip steak ($39); 22-ounce bone-in prime rib-eye ($36); Colorado organic lamb rack ($32); 10-ounce filet mignon ($38); and 2 1/2-pound Maine lobster (market price). A choice of steak rubs and sauces include blue cheese, bearnaise, red wine demi and peppercorn sauce.

Other items: Guiness-braised short ribs with pearl onion, garlic potatoes and sage ($32); roasted organic Rocky Jr. chicken with corn, crisp bacon and sweet onion ($24); Dover sole with toasted almonds and brown butter sauce ($39); and ahi tuna with citrus-soy glaze, parsnip puree and arugula ($28).

Extras: Side orders include roasted beets, fingerlings or corn; pureed Yukon potatoes, sweet potato or cream spinach; sauteed wild mushrooms, brocolini or asparagus; and baked Idaho potato, four-cheese macaroni and cheese or potatoes gratin ($8 each).

Dessert: Root beer float with vanilla bean ice cream and Kahlua whipped cream; dark chocolate cake layered with chocolate fudge; Key lime pie; lemon and raspberry tart; Granny Smith apples and caramel pastry cream baked on a crisp puff pastry shell; sour cream cheesecake with strawberries; seasonal fruit sorbets and ice creams; and creme brulee with caramelized vanilla sugar and berries ($7.95 each).

Appetizers is a weekly informational column about new developments on the Las Vegas dining scene. Items should not be considered reviews..