During the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we were invited by the kind people at Focal to join them for dinner at Lawry's the Prime Rib in Las Vegas. It was originally a dinner for just the Focal car audio distributor for the United States and their reps, but they found that some of the reps wouldn't be able to make the dinner due to conflicts. (One of the conflicts - the Monster Cable party was going on that night and the entertainer was Alicia Keys). They ended up inviting the North American home reps to dinner, as well.
I've eaten at the Lawry's in Chicago on a couple three occasions in the past - the first time was in 1986 when I had just started as a rep on the road. One of the lines I was representing - Bang & Olufsen - had a dinner for the reps at Lawry's during the old Summer CES they used to hold in Chicago until the early 90's. I was kind of a wide-eyed young pup at the time and didn't want to make a bad impression on my hosts that evening. I got the bone-in prime rib that Lawry's is famous for and, I have to say, I left a lot of meat on the bone that night. I was seated next to a wonderful lady by the name of Nancy Rusboldt who worked for Bang and Olufsen of America. She saw the prime rib bone on my plate, then she leaned over and whispered to me, "You know, if I were eating this at home, I'd pick that thing up and start gnawing on the bone." Nancy and I were good friends from that point on.
For years, I always thought the original Lawry's was located in the former McCormick mansion in downtown Chicago. It wasn't until I ate at the one in Las Vegas that I found that the original Lawry's was in Beverly Hills. The first Lawry's opened in Beverly Hills in 1938 by business partners Lawrence Frank and Theodore Van de Kamp. Frank had married Ted Van de Kamp's daughter and the two began a potato chip bakery in Los Angeles in 1915. In 1922, Frank and his brother-in-law, Walter Van de Kamp, joined forces with the potato chip shop and a bakery the younger Van de Kamp was running. The two began the Lawry's corporation - which was Frank's nickname. One of the first things the partners did was to open a restaurant - the Tam O'Shanter. Now entering it's 91st year in business at its original location, the Tam O'Shanter is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Los Angeles.
In 1938, Frank and Van de Kamp opened the original Lawry's on La Cienega Blvd. in Beverly Hills. The restaurant was unique in that it sold only one thing - prime rib. Oh, and Lawry's famous Yorkshire pudding. The prime rib was served from cutting carts and cut by a chef to order. This is a practice that is still done today by the Lawry's restaurants. (Picture courtesy Old Los Angeles Restaurants)
The original Lawry's also was a pioneer in the restaurant business by selling their own seasoned salt for beef. Today, the company has dozens of marinades, seasoning mixes and spice blends available at grocery stores across America.
The original Lawry's eventually moved across La Cienega to a larger location in the 60's. In 1974, the second Lawry's opened in Chicago in a renovated mansion that was formerly owned by the McCormick family. L. Hamilton McCormick was the son of one of the founders of International Harvester (now Case IH), Leander McCormick, and he had the mansion built in 1892. Richard N. Frank, the son of Lawrence Frank, bought the building in 1974 and renovated it into the second Lawry's Prime Rib restaurant.
Over the following years, Lawry's opened five international locations primarily in the Pacific Asian Rim, as well as locations in Dallas and Las Vegas. Lawrence Frank's grandson, Richard R. Frank, is the CEO of the Lawry's empire today.
The Las Vegas Lawry's is located on Howard Hughes Parkway just off E. Flamingo Road. (see map) We showed up at the appointed hour of 7 p.m. and after an hour of drinks, mingling and speeches, we finally were seated at large round tables in a private dining area off the main dining room.
Now, I know that beggars can't be choosers when it comes to situations like this, but I detest eating dinners with a large group of people. That generally means that we won't be ordering off the menu. Oh, I love the conversation and the camaraderie, but the food usually suffers. For a moment I forgot I was at Lawry's which is famous for feeding large groups of people, including participants in the annual Rose Bowl game each New Year's Day. A couple three days before the game, Lawry's in Beverly Hills hosts the teams on successive evenings for their annual "Beef Bowl". The teams get their fill of Lawry's prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. If Lawry's can pull that off every year as they have since 1957, then the Las Vegas location can handle about 40 sales and marketing people.
The first thing brought to the table was a shrimp cocktail appetizer - four large shrimp hung over the side of a cocktail sauce. My colleague, Todd, who is a big seafood aficionado, scarfed his up right away and was able to finagel a couple more servings from one of the servers that he shared with me. The shrimp were very good. I love a good shrimp cocktail although the cocktail sauce could have used a little more horseradish.
After we finished up the shrimp cocktail, a salad was brought to each of us. It was a prety basic salad of mixed greens with Lawry's signature dressing. Lawry's is famous for their spinning salad bowl - they take a glass bowl and spin it on a bed of ice adding greens, beets, chopped eggs and croutons, then top it off with their signature dressing. It's sort of a spectacle when it's done tableside. It would be a little difficult to do it for 40 people all at once.
After the salads were finished, a server came over to ask us how we liked our prime rib. They had two serving carts near the entry way to the private room and the servers were going back and forth between the tables and carts getting orders. I told the server, "I like it as rare as you can get," fully knowing that cutting a slice off a large prime rib may mean getting it medium-rare, at best. When he brought back my plate, it had a large slab of a bone-in cut of prime rib more medium-rare than rare. I believe the call it the "Jim Brady cut". Another server came around with pieces of the Yorkshire pudding, another person came around with mashed potatoes and gravy, along with creamed spinach. After our plates were filled to the edge, we were able to dig in.
The prime rib that was served to me was juicy, flavorful and outstanding. It was easy to cut with a knife and was also able to be pulled away from the main piece of meat with a bit of effort with a fork. I didn't care about the Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and gravy or the creamed spinach - I was there for the beef.
One thing that I definitely needed was pure ground horseradish. Lawry's serves a horseradish, whipped cream mixture. I wanted the real stuff. I asked one of the servers if they had Atomic Horseradish. His eyes lit up and he said, "Absolutely, sir!" We had gone to The Steak House at Circus Circus a couple nights prior, (click here to see my entry on The Steak House) and I had introduced Atomic Horseradish to a couple of my colleagues. (Click here to see my entry on Atomic Horseradish.) When the server brought the Atomic Horseradish out, my colleague, Michael, said, "I don't know if I want to try any more of that stuff. It's a killer!"
While the prime rib didn't need any help, the Atomic Horseradish did really zip up the taste. It was a breath-taking, nostril-clearing experience once again.
After dinner, we were offered some dessert, but I declined. When everyone decided to get an after dinner drink, I ordered up a glass of The Macallan 15-year-old scotch. On top of the two scotches I had before dinner and all the red wine I drank during dinner, I probably didn't need another scotch. But they had The Macallan 15 and I didn't have to pay for it, so I got it. Besides, I had a great 2012 with Focal and I didn't feel guilty in the least.
I really can't say many bad things about our visit to Lawry's. Even though we couldn't order off the menu, the food served to us was very good. The service was impeccable. The private dining area was very nice with tasteful steakhouse-style decor. I may have to go back to the Lawry's in Chicago at some point to see if the beef they have in Las Vegas is as good as the beef they have in Chicago. I'm guessing it isn't.