The Union Jack
dominates the main
dining room at Gordon
Pastry chef Steve Yi
Pastry chef Steve Yi creates desserts
such as this stickytoffee
cream—served with a
Calvin Trillin once said that going to a barbecue restaurant run by someone besides an African American is like going to a gentile internist. Things might turn out fine, but you’re hardly playing the percentages. The same thinking could be applied to steakhouses not firmly rooted on American soil. We popularized them, and we Americans love our no-nonsense, masculine, clubby vibe and the large portions of whatever protein fits our fancy. Meanwhile, aside from a few pub-grub staples such as bangers and mash, British food is generally held in low regard by anyone who is not to the Isles born. Until a certain bombastic Brit came along, the very idea of a British steakhouse would have made as much sense as a haggis alfresco.
But Gordon Ramsay is not a man who slinks from a challenge. “We’ve had some rough patches with our American restaurants,” he says, referring to ventures in New York and Los Angeles. “But the time was right for us to bring our new concepts to the public. We knew Gordon Ramsay Steak would be popular, as steak is so popular here, and the Vegas market is so vibrant. But the response has been like a volcano erupting. It’s just about doing it a little bit differently.”
That bit of understatement doesn’t explain how a Scottish-born, Frenchtrained chef has so quickly mounted the greatest adaption of an American original since The Beatles hijacked rock ’n’ roll. Call it the power of personality, publicity, or having four television shows in heavy rotation on Fox, but Gordon Ramsay Steak has been packed since day one. It now averages more than 400 patrons a night and is one of the hardest tickets to find in town.
The chef himself has been a monthly fixture in the restaurant since it opened in early May. “I wanted to plant a proper stake in the ground with my opening here,” he says. “We are under a lot of pressure [to succeed], but pressure is a good thing. People get better under pressure.” Since he brought it up, I ask him if his chefs and staff are intimidated by his television persona, as Ramsay is notorious for having a fiery temper on his cooking shows. “Not in the least bit,” he says. “I’m brutally honest with them about what I expect, and they know it all comes down to what’s on the plate.”
What he’s brought to the steakhouse genre is both an homage and a cheeky British spin. Massive portions and artless presentations have been replaced by finely constructed plates that look as good as they taste. Short rib tortellini comes atop a foie gras emulsion and is garnished with sweet little bay scallops and Sausalito watercress, while the appetizer-size lobster tail gets dressed up with a chorizo stuffing and brandied lobster cream sauce in a combination that’s more Guy Savoy than Peter Luger.
When it came to planning his steak menu, Ramsay and chef de cuisine Kevin Hee took it easy on themselves by putting their meat in Pat LaFrieda’s capable hands. LaFrieda handpicks steaks for some of the best houses in New York, and here they get the royal treatment, as dry-aged cuts are wheeled to each table on a gleaming chrome cart that displays each as if it were a piece of jewelry. His fish and chips are given the upscale treatment by frying loup de mer (sea bass) filets with the skin on and serving them with addictive truffle french fries.
Lamb lovers won’t find a better shepherd’s pie this side of London, and the side dishes—from mac and cheese to fire-roasted corn—show the eye-pleasing attention to detail for which Ramsay is famous. For dessert, everyone gets the sticky-toffee pudding (with a brown-butter ice cream that’s so good it ought to be illegal), but it’s a mistake to dismiss pastry chef Steve Yi’s other offerings. Even his trifle is nothing to be trifled with.
Ramsay hasn’t redefined the American steakhouse as much as he has refined it—and given the Las Vegas restaurant scene a breath of fresh, British-accented air. “My customers are my harshest critics,” he says, “but so far the response has been tremendous.” Another bit of classic British understatement: So far, everyone is leaving Gordon Ramsay Steak singing “God Save the Queen.” Paris Las Vegas, 702-946-4663