After the fiasco of a meal that we had at Francesco's the evening before, I knew my reputation was on the line in picking out another restaurant for our evening meal in Las Vegas during CES. The consensus early in the day amongst my colleagues was steak. Ian suggested going back to Binion's. I said, "Let's try to get in to a new place instead of one we've eaten at already."
I had an ulterior motive - well, actually two. One - I wanted a new place to write about for my blog; and Two - I wanted to get into one of two places that I've eaten at before in Vegas. The first place - The Steakhouse at Circus Circus - is an exquisite steakhouse situated in one of more run-down and schlocky casino-hotels in Vegas. As you wander through Circus Circus and stumble upon this wonderful restaurant, you think, "What in the hell is this nice place doing in a dump like this?"
I tried to get us into The Steakhouse, but for a large group (8 of us) it was either get seated at 5:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. Well, since the show didn't end until 6:00 p.m., the early seating was out. And 9:00 p.m. was just too late.
So, I tried a place that I have eaten at a couple times before, but not in a long while - Hugo's Cellar in the basement of the Four Queens casino/hotel (see map). Hugo's Cellar is also the quintessential old-time Las Vegas steakhouse that is known for great food, and for the table side preparations of their signature Caesar Salad, and main entrees such as the Duck Anise Flambé.
While the Four Queens is sort of a similar dump like Circus Circus, Hugo's Cellar is an oasis of great food, great service and a relaxed comfortable place to get away from the glitz and noise of Vegas. It's one of the best kept secrets in Las Vegas.
I was able to get us in at 7:30 p.m. That was perfect as we were invited to and sentenced to go to a party that Shunyata - one of our distribution partners - was putting on over at the Mirage after the show ended for the day.
It had been a rough day for us in our company. My boss, Daniel, had to fire a longtime colleague who had worn out his welcome in the company. And he had to fire him on the spot in Las Vegas at the show. It was a bad situation all around and as close of a "family" atmosphere my boss promotes, he was particularly upset that he had to take those steps at that time. So, getting a good dinner was something that he wanted to do to take the next step forward.
After attending the party, we ended up at Hugo's Cellar just before 7:30 and they seated us right away. They put us at a large circular table and brought us our menus. Hugo's Cellar also has the distinction of being on Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" list. And they've held that distinction every year since 1993.
Hugo's Cellar is a cozy place, dark and muted throughout with red brick walls. It's very reminiscent of the old time supper clubs that used to be the best places to eat in the "old" Vegas. Although I don't think they've changed the decor much since when they first opened in the 60's, it's not tired like some of the old guard restaurants in downtown Las Vegas.
While we all initially ordered a stiff drink to help drown the hurt that we had from the episode earlier in the day, I had the honor of picking the wine for the evening and it was pretty tough with all the choices. Since everyone was getting beef (with the exception of one guy), I opted for a 2003 William Hill Cabernet. We ordered a couple bottles to start us off.
For dinner, I ordered the Prime Rib, as did another colleague of mine. Three of the guys ordered filets. One other got the ribeye, another the New York strip. And Todd, being the odd duck, so to speak, ordered the Duck Anise Flambé. He said, "I want to see them smoke this thing at the table!"
About five minutes after we ordered, the waiter wheeled out a salad cart to our table. Individually, he asked each person what kind of salad they would like, and he'd make it there on the spot. As I said, their Caesar's Salad is their signature salad and he'd make each one with a theatrical flair.
After finishing the salads, it wasn't long until they brought our main entrees out. And then the waiter wheeled out a cart with Todd's duck on it. He poured a little brandy into the pan and ignited the liquid over some flame. It went "Whoosh!" We all sort of laughed when he did that. One of my colleagues remarked, "I think my eyebrows got singed!"
Along with some good ol' Atomic Horseradish, my prime rib was excellent. It was cooked perfectly, and it was very tender and flavorful. In fact, each of us remarked how good the place was.
But Daniel was having trouble with his filet. Someone asked, "Is there something wrong with your steak, Daniel?"
He said, "No, I just don't have much of an appetite after what happened earlier today."
We all gave a knowing nod. He's such a great guy and he really cares about the people who work for him. He's big on the "team" concept when it comes to working together and he had to get rid of a guy who had, quite frankly, become a "cancer" in the larger scheme of his business philosophy. And it just pained him to know that someone was trying to undermine his efforts and he had to go.
After dinner, Ian said, "OK, Will. You're off probation. You can continue to pick restaurants out here."
Whew! I was relieved they all liked it.
It was getting late and we all passed on dessert, although some of the guys got coffee or cappuccino. Hugo's Cellar isn't cheap - the bill came to about $750 with tip. But the food, the service and the atmosphere was outstanding.
With all the great new restaurants that have come into Las Vegas over the past few years, Hugo's Cellar holds their own. It was one of the finest places to eat in town before the restaurant boom out there, and it continues to be one of the better places to get a steak in Vegas. It's sort of tough to find, but it's worth the trip to downtown Las Vegas.