THE FLAME Shines Brightly at the El Cortez

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Walk around the El Cortez hotel these days, and you will witness the changing face of Downtown Las Vegas. This old-timer has spent real money upgrading its facilities to appeal to the party-as-a-verb crowd. At the same time, it maintains an old-Vegas (in a good way) vibe that keeps the coupon-clippers happy. Through it all, its main restaurant (now The Flame, formerly Roberta’s) keeps a foot in both worlds and hardly ever stumbles—at least when it comes to what’s on the plate.

Before you confront your meal, you will first have to deal with the room. Dull beyond words, it is well-lit (some would say too well), and comfortable in a generic, franchised-coffee-shop sort of way. The sole design elements are provided by hi-def flatscreens showing fabulous, color-saturated travel videos of Italy. We’re not sure management intended this effect, but the views are so sparkling and seductive, they make you wish you were anywhere but the El Cortez when you’re watching them.

Restaurant Guide

The Flame
Inside the El Cortez, 600 Fremont St., 385-5200.
Recommended dishes: stone crab claws, $28/pound; fresh oysters, $10.50/6; French onion soup, $5; crab cakes, $11; steak Diane, $24; Walleyed pike, $18.
Recently Reviewed
Top of the World (5/5/10)

Even if you’re not on the Amalfi Coast, the food is good enough to draw some of your attention. When they’re in season, which doesn’t begin again until October 15, Florida stone crabs are the appetizer to get. They are only flown in for Friday and Saturday nights, are run as a special and are always fresh.

For the next four and a half months, though, you will have to settle for fresh, sparkling Kumamoto oysters with a textbook mignonette, blue-crab cakes nicely studded with chunky lump meat accompanied by a decent remoulade, and littleneck clams steamed in chardonnay. Skip the baby-backs unless you like pork ribs for dessert.

They serve mealy tomatoes out of season here (about the only hangover from the El Cortez’s cheap eats days), but otherwise the salads are acceptable, though not exceptional. The “garbage salad” comes nicely dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette, and the iceberg wedge is a blue-cheese-lover’s delight.

The issue with restaurants in small hotels is they have to be all things to all people. Dinner-only places (when you’re the only dinner-only joint in the joint) don’t have the luxury of niche marketing to seafood faddists, local locavores or meat fetishists. Instead, expect to see chicken, meat and fish in all their familiar guises. What distinguishes the Flame is its careful cooking of these primary tourist staples, the aforementioned stone crabs and, drum roll please … the wall-eyed pike. As any upper-Midwesterner will tell you, this is pretty much the king of freshwater fish. Its dense, sweet flesh makes it perfect for grilling or deep-frying, both of which are done to a turn here. At $18, it is the biggest bargain on the menu, and also the best.

Not as successful is the untrussed roasted chicken—served with legs splayed and slightly dry for that reason—but the lamb chops, double-cut pork chops and steaks will more than satisfy a carnivore’s craving—at prices $14-$20 less than you’ll pay three miles south. If gussied-up beef is what befits you, the steak Diane—sliced tenderloin in a cognac mustard-cream sauce—is steak sauced the old-school way, and again, a steal at $24. Speaking of sauces, another indication this place has upgraded itself are the six house-made sauces, ranging from green peppercorn to Marsala to a quite respectable béarnaise.

Desserts are unmemorable, but you won’t forget the wine list—mainly because it’s short and priced to sell. A William Fevre Chablis ($35) fits nicely with the fish, and the most expensive red, Clos du Bois Marlstone, tops out at $55.

Priced-to-sell pretty much sums up the Flame. The only surprises on the menu are pleasant ones, and in this price range, it pretty much sets the standard for quality comestibles. All the restaurant needs now is a décor to complement the food and give it some personality, something the hotel has had since 1941, and seems to be getting more of daily.

7 thoughts on “THE FLAME Shines Brightly at the El Cortez

  1. The FLAME shines bright and in the center of it all is the worst pictured food I have ever seen. How could you enjoy eating any of that garbage. You frequent Costco often for pallets of toilet paper.

    From James beard dinners to, close to homeless handouts. Amazing the acceptabilty and tolerance for mediocracy.

  2. Pretty much gotta agree with Count negative. The presentation is for the most part, brutal. The one item I was curious to see, the hyped up wall-eyed pike, is nowhere to be found.
    Oh and the Sea Bass better not be Chilean.
    Darn the Flame was on the radar to try but not now. And I’m a fan of the DT, unlike ELV.

  3. to these two boys up top. one thing you guys are missing is that you have to take a restaurant for what it is. If $15-$20 entrees are served…you have to judge it as that. Granite its not the best food being served in vegas but as a food critic you have to be looking at the location, the customers its meant to attract, the prices and criticize accordingly. Im sure Mr. Curtis has ate at some decent places and know how a properly roasted chicken, or a dressed salad looks like. But you take it for what it is.

    P.S. I personally love the big mac from McDonalds…is there a better burger out there? Yes. But you take it for what it is and understand what your paying for it and where your eating it. Its not meant to blow your mind or inspire you…and at the end of the day its all about taste…dont let pictures fool you.

  4. Actually we serve about 100 000 meals a year in the $ 10 – 20 range at my place. Why so many? Cause they don’t look like the photos above.

  5. 100,000 meals a year in that price range…i would love to see photos.

  6. now, you, know; I have to say, you dont know shit.

    In my pretentious ways, I dont take nothing for granted and I dont take it for what it is, which is shit.

    When I click on to ELV’s blog, squandering my precious time, I expect only the best and unique of experience, and unfortunately on your behalf, this shit shack does not qualify.

    I view it more as, ELV MAD TV, “HEY LOOK AT WHAT DUMP WE DECIDED TO EAT AT” Episode. Keeping the elitist foodies smurking, and folks like you feeling good about yourself. It completly flew over your head.

    So go eat off another dollar menu, and Im sure we’ll see you in the hospital with a blown ass gasket, from eating monsanto vegetables, beef scraps, farmed raised atlanic salmon from chile and saline, antibiotic fed chicken… anything else I forgot to mention.


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