Since ELV seems destined never to pay for a bite of food at Old Homestead, he approaches this “review” of it with caution, as should you.
This is hardly something new around the ELV offices, as our non-anonymity is now ubiquitous (we even get busted in Chinatown these days). So it is among other critics (in Vegas and elsewhere) as well, but it still gives us pause before we launch into telling you what we really think of a place, since it’s obvious to both of us that the experience we’re writing about will not exactly be yours.
Truth be told, it is that experience differential that bothers us more than the receipt of free stuff. We always offer to pay, can afford to pay, and really want to pay for the meals at the restaurants we review. But certain restaurants and owners are insistent (charmingly so), and more often than not on the Strip, we don’t pay anything except a hefty tip.
Does this quasi-bribe cause us to conflate or constrict our criticism? In subtle and maybe subconscious ways perhaps, but we like to think at this point in our career that everyone involved knows we will come, taste, and let our opinions rip regardless of whether we threw down for the full cost of a meal.
Does this mean that we’ve developed a certain immunity to the cost-value of what we’re eating? Yes. Were we to actually pay the $300 or so for all of the above food, we might be a bit more prickly about whether we got our money’s worth. But most big-city critics don’t pay with their own money either, so, in their own way, they’re immune to the bite of the tariff as well. (Our buddy Tom Sietsema pays with a Washington Post credit card – most impressive)
Does being recognized and getting free food mean we’re getting anything better than you will? Not really. A busy restaurant has no time to hand-tailor a dish or a plate “just for the critic,” although it’s a fair bet the top toque in the kitchen will take a few extra seconds to make sure the plating is perfect. Overall though, the food we’re getting is the same ingredients and recipes you will get (albeit with more truffles). With that in mind, we have a clear conscience about posting our opinions, and telling the staff in the restaurants exactly what we think of a dish. It seems we’re doing this more and more these days — much to the Food Gal’s consternation — as most meals have a table-side conversation with the chef or manager where they ask what we thought and we call ’em as we see ’em.
“You were pretty rough on him about that sauce,” she’ll whisper sotto voce.
“Maybe…but it was nothing more than a bland, over-salted demi-glaze,” we’ll shoot back, fuming. “Calling it a sauce Perigourdine is blasphemy.”
Are we over-compensating a bit? Flexing our critic’s muscle just to show we can’t be bought? Again, maybe, but we also think we’ve built up enough street cred over the past 17 years to have the chefs respect our opinions, and want to hear them on the spot, rather than reading them a week later. They also know how much respect we have for them (well, most of them anyway), and when we criticize, even harshly, it’s just another form of tough love.
Service, of course, is something else entirely. We know we’re getting VIP attention, appreciate it, but also know how we are treated in no way reflects how the general public is. It’s the reason we rarely, if ever, mention service in our reviews.
By the way, the food at Old Homestead is fucking fantastic.*
OLD HOMESTEAD STEAK HOUSE
In Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
* Except for the “Thick Cut” smoked bacon, which is salty, tough and $5/slice…which ELV didn’t pay.