Over the past couple three years during our annual trips to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, I was the one who made the arrangements to get what usually is a large group of people in one place for dinner. Being that nearly everyone in our company are food and wine aficionados, it's usually going to be at a pretty nice restaurant. However, with some pratfalls, some bitching and some poor meals because most of the time we have to choose from fixed menus because of the large group, I gladly relinquished those duties this year to my colleagues Jon and Todd. But one place that they came up with was a place that I've wanted to eat at for a long time - Charlie Palmer Steak in the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas.
Charlie Palmer Steak is the Las Vegas edition of the network of restaurants owned by the famed New York City chef/restaurateur Charlie Palmer (pictured right). Palmer is well known in culinary circles as one of the pioneers of farm fresh versus factory processed food. Trained in the tradition French style of cooking, Palmer opened his first restaurant - Aureole - in 1988. Aureole featured what Palmer called progressive American cuisine, featuring a menu using a blend of regional ingredients that caught the eye and taste buds of food connoisseurs and critics, alike. Palmer has opened a dozen more restaurants around New York City, Washington D.C., Dallas, Reno, Northern and Southern California, and the Charlie Palmer Steak and Aureole restaurants in Las Vegas. He also owns a couple boutique hotels, a wine shop and works exclusively to provide food services with the Seabourn Cruise Line - an upscale company that features small cruise ships.
Three of our guys have gone to Charlie Palmer's in the past and they've declared it the best steak house they've ever eaten at. I was just chomping at the bit to go at some point. But when Todd said that he had made reservations for 17 at Charlie Palmer Steak, I was a little worried that it just wouldn't be as good as if we had a much smaller group. One of the problems is that they had a prix fixe menu - a fixed price menu with a per person price. Oh, we'd still have our choice of some of the items that you'd find on the regular dinner menu. But trying to do 17 orders at once for a large group is taxing and convoluted. I knew it just wouldn't be the same.
One of the reasons our group was so big was because we had 13 people from our company at CES this year. We were showing at three different locations with six booths or suites total, so we needed to have that many people. And on top of that we had 5 people from Focal over from France for the show, as well, who came out for dinner with us. One of our colleagues, John, did not join us that evening. However, he was already at Charlie Palmer's hosting two gentlemen from Audio Advisor - one of our largest dealers.
Now, Charlie Palmer Steak is not cheap. Even with a fixed price menu it was still $65 bucks a head. And it was $35 dollars per person for three hours of unlimited drinks including a pre-determined white and red wine. Plus, there was an automatic 18% gratuity added to the bill for such a large group. Since we were the ones who invited the Focal people out to dinner, my boss was giving Todd a minor ration of shit that maybe, just maybe, we were going a little overboard on this particular dinner. But we were sort of contracted into it - he had made the original reservations a month in advance and had to provide a non-refundable $500 deposit via credit card to hold the private room we'd need for the dinner. Todd said, "Geez, now I know why you and Ian don't want to be responsible for any of the dinner plans. It's a (freaking) hassle!"
We arrived at Charlie Palmer's at the Four Seasons (see map) just past our 7:30 p.m. reservation. For some inexplicable reason, we had to wait another 20 minutes to get into the room - most likely so that we'd have to get some drinks at the bar while we waited. A couple of the guys did just that, but I thought that if we were getting charged $35 bucks a head for drinks until about 11 p.m., I'd do my best to make a dent into not only my obligation, but a couple of other people's, too.
Eventually, we were shepherded back to a large room with a long table. The room had cream colored walls with artwork and dark walnut wainscoting along the base of the wall. One of the best things about having a large group is that sometimes you get sequestered into your own room. And while you can't carry on a conversation with everyone at the table, it's a lot more quiet in that type of setting.
Well, they certainly let us get a head start on the doing all we could to make a serious dent into our $35 per person drink obligations. It was nearly 45 minutes before they came in to take our food orders. Actually, the red wine we had was from an obscure Northern California winery and it was pretty good. I looked at the bottle, but didn't recognize the name. And, of course, I forgot to take a picture of the label.
When it came time to order food, it was a three course meal with your choice of a salad, a main entree and a dessert. Three different salads were available and I ordered Chef Steve's Caesar Salad - hearts of romaine lettuce wrapped in prosciutto with marinated anchovies. For dinner, I went with the 18 oz. bone-in rib-eye steak - rare. I had my choice of that, a 16 oz. New York strip, a 10 oz. beef tenderloin filet, fire-roasted chicken, crispy skinned Australian sea bass, or prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin. And we had to make our choice of dessert at the time, too. I wasn't certain if I'd be able to eat dessert, but my choices were a Chocolate Peanut Butter bar topped with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce (no way!), a caramel baked apple and frangipane tart (no, I don't think so), and a maple glazed crème brûlée. Yes! Sign me up for that!
Of course, with that large of a group, the food was going to take a long time. It was about a half hour before our salads made it to the table. But the wait was worth it. I certainly liked the presentation of the two romaine hearts wrapped in prosciutto. And the taste was wonderful - their homemade Caesar dressing was understated and didn't overpower the salad. It was very, very good.
And about 15 minutes after I finished my salad, out came my steak. A steamed half-shallot adorned the top. We were also given sides of citrus-braised asparagus, potato puree and wild mushrooms with caramelized onions. The steak was probably a tad more done than rare and it was served to me somewhat cold. In fact most of the people around me who had steaks cooked rare said theirs was served cold, as well. Cold, as in, just above room temperature. Not like it was just off the grill.
But that didn't matter all that much. It was still good. They age their beef for 28 days at Charlie Palmer Steak and mine was tender and flavorful. I can't really say it was the best steak I ever had, but it was certainly very good.
My colleague Michel got the 16 oz. strip steak, rare (top left picture). Michel is a huge carnivore and he loves steak. I've seen the guy down 32 oz. porterhouse steaks in a sitting. He said his steak was just excellent. And, quite surprisingly, he couldn't finish it. "I had a late lunch today," he said. "I didn't know where we were going for dinner tonight, but I knew we would be eating late."
And my colleague Michael, seated to the left of me, got the 10 oz. filet - also rare. He said, "This may be the most tender steak I've ever had. It's so juicy and flavorful."
We determined that Charlie Palmer Steak uses some sort of a seasoning on their beef, similar to a Montreal or Quebec beef spice that consists of coarse salt, dried minced garlic, cracked tellicherry black peppercorns, a little sugar and some coriander. I've been using that almost exclusively on my steaks at home and I have to say it really helps zip up the taste of the meat. The seasoning Charlie Palmer's used was a nice complimentary taste to the meat.
I really wanted to pick up the bone of my steak and gnaw on it to get the rest of the meat, it was that good. But I decided that decorum wouldn't allow such a thing at a nice place like Charlie Palmer's. But by then, I had enough wine in me and my "give-a-damn" factor was pretty low at that point. I just picked the thing up and took a couple quick bites at the corner of the bone. We all kind of got a laugh out of that. Michael said, "Hey, in Europe, that's totally acceptable!"
I asked, "Really?"
He said, "I don't know, but it would be a good excuse if anyone would call you on it!"
After our main courses were cleared, our desserts came out. Now, I am a crème brûlée junkie. I've eaten crème brûlée all across France and North America. I will have to say the crème brûlée at Charlie Palmer Steak was - hands down - the best I've ever had. First of all, the maple glaze is what made this creme brulee taste so good. The crème brûlée, itself, was just outstanding. But the maple glaze on top just added so much pizazz to the taste. I told the guys near me that I was almost tempted to order another one.
When the check came, the waiter handed it to Todd, who happened to be seated next to my boss. What came next was told to me by Todd -
"The waiter handed me the bill. I opened it up and it was well over $2100 bucks. Daniel (our boss) saw it and sort of shrugged his shoulders. He knew it was going to be a big one. But then Jean-Phillipe (Fontaine, the export sales manager from Focal) reached across the table and said, 'No, no. This one is on us.' He grabbed the check, looked at it and his eyes just got huge. Then Gerard (Chretian, the managing director for Focal) looked at it and almost jumped back in his seat. Well, suddenly they were stuck with the check and I think I heard Daniel give a sigh of relief."
Charlie Palmer Steak was very good, but I really think it would be much better if we had a much smaller group. We talked about this amongst ourselves later on during the show that it may be easier to make three separate reservations for six at the same place. Even at a large table, you can't carry on conversations with people at the other end. That wouldn't be much different than having two other groups at two tables at a restaurant. We're all there together, but we're conversing with those close to us. Now, I don't know if my boss will sign off on another visit to Charlie Palmer Steak. It was definitely an expense account meal. But it was a great dining experience and one that I was happy to enjoy with my colleagues and friends.