It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. – A Tale of Two Cities
In short, late 18th Century France wasn’t that different from today. Superlatives are everywhere, no matter how good or evil something is, be it a Reign of Terror, a beheading here or a Donald Trump there, Whatever “comparisons” are being made — by “noisy authorities these days” — are made not to educate, but to sell.
One or more of these “authorities” will soon be telling you that Alder & Birch is a great steakhouse. It is not. It is a vastly upgraded dining option at The Orleans Hotel and Casino, and for that, anyone looking for a meal on West Tropicana should be grateful. The decor is modern, sleek and sexy, three words we never thought would collide in the same paragraph with the name of this hotel. That decor is so far above the typical, no-brow digs of The Orleans, you’ll have to remind yourself what hotel you’re dining in.
Lest anyone bamboozle you about the food, though, be advised: the steaks are of choice not prime quality, and about what you’d expect for a $41, grass-fed, dry-aged porterhouse. (This makes them a good twenty bucks less than the ones on the Strip, and a little more chewier for it.) The service is a bit amateurish but sincere, and the wine list is filled with more interesting bottles than you might imagine at this address, all of them for well under a hundy.
As for the rest of the food? Well, it was hit or miss — a good onion soup, a lettuce wedge with brown edges, a mountain of watermelon with dull goat cheese — but the steak was cooked right and the condiments were just fine, even if the Bearnaise was too cold and the mustard cabernet sauce tasted like the Madagascar peppercorn sauce (two bucks each).
Where our meal really went off the rails was with the roasted veggies, in this case Brussels sprouts and assorted other edible plants:
All of them were woefully under-cooked — bordering on raw — and tasted like the line cook who made them had never heard the words “par-boiled” or “chewable.” No matter, because the meat was properly done (even if the char left a lot to be desired), and those sauces quickly distracted us. Some of this can be attributed to A & B’s newness — it opened only this month — and we hope the kitchen can iron out the kinks, because a local’s steakhouse at this price point is a welcome addition to our dining scene.
Yes, you heard us right. Despite the flaws, Alder & Birch is a joint we wouldn’t mind returning to. And when you think about it, isn’t that the ultimate test of a restaurant? If you leave your meal thinking: “I’d like to come back to this place,” then they’ve done something right.
One place that always seems to do the right thing is Lawry’s The Prime Rib: a joint that hasn’t missed a beat since it opened in the Howard Hughes Center in 1997. A Facebook foodie friend recently asked us if we’d ever reviewed this palace of prime (first opened in Beverly Hills in 1938!) and we had to sheepishly admit that we had not, despite having eaten here dozens of times over the years.
Our only excuse can be that Lawry’s does what it does so flawlessly that it seems almost ridiculous to “review” it. The prime rib is the stuff cholesterol dreams are made of, the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes even more so, and the prices more than competitive with the modern market. That cut above was truly a cut above and cost almost the same as our steak at Alder & Birch ($44). In terms of a quality comparison, it was no contest.
As long as we’re confessing, we have to admit another reason why we’ve never reviewed this American ode to Simpson’s in the Strand (the 187 year old London restaurant from whence Lawrence “Lawry” Frank got his inspiration):
(In London, they dress up to go out for roast beef)
And the reason is….wait for it….because we always get the exact same thing when we dine here: Lawry’s cut (medium rare to rare), spinning salad, creamed spinach (one of the best versions you’ll find anywhere), mashed potatoes and lots and lots of whipped cream horseradish. We’ve had this meal dozens of times over the years, and are so satisfied with it, we see no good reason to try anything else. This sort of menu myopia does not a good critic make, and explains why we have never actually reviewed the whole restaurant — because we’ve never experienced any more of the restaurant to review.
If you insist, we will say that the spinning salad is always served too cold and the wine list is too limited, but those are small flaws indeed in what is otherwise a magnificent meat-fest. And when you’re this close to perfection, why change a thing?
Of course, there is ONE thing we’d like to change about both venues: not having our appetite ruined by having to look at slobs like this while we’re eating:
Which, unfortunately, seems to be the de rigueur, default dress code in a certain kind of steakhouse these days.
Like Charles Dickens said: It is the epoch of incredulity, darkness and despair, especially when it comes to how people look in restaurants.
ELV’s two steak dinners (for one but more than enough for two, with a couple of glasses of wine at each) came to, coincidentally, $140 each, and he left a $30 tip.
ALDER & BIRCH
In The Orleans Hotel and Casino
4500 W. Tropicana Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89103
LAWRY’S THE PRIME RIB
4043 Howard Hughes Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89169