Monday, Feb. 8, 2010 | 10:33 a.m.
Every restaurant in Vegas would be a steakhouse if it could be. Ask any restaurateur on or off the Strip and they will tell you that steaks 'n' spuds are what sells, and nothing whets a Las Vegas tourist's appetite like a big plate o' prime beef. What follows are our top 10 beef emporiums, listed according to the quality of their meat (and the cooking of that meat), how interesting and well-done their nonsteak items are, and the overall restaurant experience you will have when dining in them. These are the best in town (and, by extension, among the best steakhouses in the world). None of them are cheap, because great prime beef isn't, either. But at any of them, you will get some of the best beef money can buy, and a superb dining experience no matter what you order.
A note about "wet-aged." There really is no such thing. "Wet-aging" seals the meat in airtight plastic that actually inhibits the aging process. When done right, dry aging tenderizes and intensifies the flavor of the meat. "Wet-aged" is a marketing ploy that chefs like because there's less shrinkage, and they can therefore make more money on more volume (but less flavor). But by valuing size over substance, they deliver a product that has a serumy/bloody/metallic edge, rather than the naturally tenderized, luscious, mineral-rich, brown-roasted, beefy flavor that true carnivores crave.
1. CARNEVINO: The best steak in town? The answer is simple. If you're a connoisseur of aged beef, order one of the 6-to-8-month-old, dry-aged beauties from Molto Mario's Italian steakhouse in The Palazzo.
Think 30 days is "aged"? Those are for vegans. Sixty days seems like an old piece of beef to you? A mere tyke. The last one of these ancient porterhouses we had was 260-plus days old and tasted like beef from another planet. The texture is almost ham-like, the flavor like steak infused with some vague, subtle, blue cheese essence. You know you're eating steer muscle, but it's beef that has transcended its humble roots and metamorphosed into something ethereal — earthy, funky, silky and soft — with an umami depth charge that lasts a full five minutes after you've swallowed a morsel.
Carnevino chef Zach Allen tells us they are the only steakhouse in America aging their beef for this long, and if you want one of these "riserva" steaks, you need to call in advance. Those just wanting the second-best steak in town — Carnevino's 60-day, dry-aged strip or rib-eye — can get one any night of the week, or also at lunch.
These steaks alone would qualify Carnevino for our top spot, but it also features Batali's boffo pastas and Italian specialties, most of which take a back seat to none in town. Combine all of this with one of the best Italian wine lists on the planet, and you have the recipe for Las Vegas's greatest steak house. At the Palazzo Las Vegas, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 789-4141. Click here for more info.
2. CUT: CUT is all about variety in a lineup of carnivorous delights. For a price, it will put before you three cuts of the best steaks in the world: A-5 true Kobe (Wagyu) beef from the Kagashima Prefecture in Japan; prime, hormone-free, corn-fed sirloin from Nebraska; and 35-day dry-aged beef from Illinois. Those steaks are presented in raw form first, perfectly trimmed, and ready to tempt you off that low-cholesterol diet you've been struggling with.
If those aren't enticing enough, chef Matthew Hurley whips up a bone-marrow flan, warm veal-tongue salad and oxtail bullion that is nose-to-tail eating at its finest. At the Palazzo Las Vegas, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 607-6300. Click here for more info.
3. CRAFTSTEAK: The trouble with ranking Craftsteak in any steakhouse competition is you could eat here forever and never think about ordering a piece of beef. The vegetables (many trucked in from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market) are some of the most pristine anywhere, and chef Matt Seeber has a fine way with fish as well — making this a steakhouse even vegetarians can love. If it's steak you're after, though, the American wagyu skirt steak — almost purple-red and rich with beef flavor — is the best deal on the menu. At the MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 891-7318. Click here for more info.
4. DELMONICO: Along with Prime in the Bellagio, Emeril Lagasse's bastion of beef in the Venetian was among the first of our great meat emporiums. As with Carnevino, all of this top-shelf beef (and Cajun specialties like killer crab cakes and N'Awlins gumbo) are available at lunch. Sometimes the Bam Man can go overboard with his caloric creations, but there's no denying the perfection of his dry-aged rib eye, matched with one of super-sommelier Kevin Vogt's wines from the Wine Spectator Grand Award list. Caesar salad lovers should note this one is made tableside (the way it should be), and is one of the best versions around. At the Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 414-3737. Click here for more info.
5. STRIPSTEAK: If butter basting is your thing, then Michael Mina has got the cut for you. The conceit here is to sous-vide (vacuum poach) the meat at a low temperature before finishing the cuts over a wood-burning grill. This results in a rib eye or porterhouse that is as tender as these cuts can get. Like many steak chefs, Mina puts a lot of love into his sides. His spinach soufflé, duck-fat fries, foie-gras sliders and Kobe shabu shabu might be even more interesting than that large slab of steer muscle that brought you here. At Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 632-7414. Click here for more info.
6. PRIME: The guy whose name is on the door — Jean-Georges Vongerichten — comes to Vegas about as often as I go to a monster truck rally, but this place has bred some serious talent over the years — including molecular wizard Wylie Dufresne and Kerry Simon. Rob Moore (now at Jean-Georges Steakhouse in Aria) has supervised the stoves over the past five years and even with his departure, you can be assured this place will rarely miss a beat. It may be the most expensive steakhouse in town, but it is also the most beautiful, and the six-peppercorn-encrusted strip steak (and the short ribs and the veal chop), along with outstanding side dishes, keeps Prime in the pantheon of perfection. At Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 693-7223. Click here for more info.
7. NERO'S: Once called the Spanish Steps, a steakhouse has been located on this corner of the sprawling Caesars casino as long as we can remember. Now called Nero's, it serves some of the best dry-aged steaks in town. The Black Angus beef comes from Creekstone Farms — one of the top purveyors of hormone and antibiotic-free beef in the country — and are better by far than the steaks in better-known places. The New York strip competes with the best in town, but we love the chateaubriand, served with a nice vegetable assortment and a perfect Béarnaise sauce that is so good, you know there's a Frenchman — in this case corporate executive chef Eric Damidot — behind things in the kitchen. At Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 731-7731. Click here for more info.
8. SW STEAKHOUSE: The room has never been one of our favorites — huge, open and with all the charm of a bus station inside the Wynn — but there's no denying the succulence of the steaks, or of chef David Walzog's tasty sides. That big open space and stupid, intrusive Lake of Dreams light show does nothing to deter the crowds though, which show up every night for dinner. Before coming to Las Vegas, Walzog made his name at Strip House in New York, where he perfected his potatoes rosti, signature creamed spinach, truffled creamed corn and lots of other things to make your heart beat faster. At Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 248-3463. Click here for more info.
9. N9NE: Military-jet afterburner decibel levels and wall-to-wall poseurs do nothing to deter the throngs who pack this place nightly in hopes of spotting an Ashton here or a Gaga there. The food is secondary to the scene, but doesn't have to be. The Kobe burger is top drawer, and the kitchen is justifiably proud of the crab-stuffed 'shrooms, fried rock shrimp, colossal lump crab cake and braised beef ravioli with melted root vegetables. We also love the super-charred steaks (grilled at 1,200 degrees) and could spend all night sitting at the bar watching hotties do their celebrity-spotting in between bites of our sirloin. At the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road, 942-7777. Click here for more info.
10. THE STEAKHOUSE AT CIRCUS CIRCUS: Another forerunner of our plethora of prime rates a wave for longevity (24 years), dry-aging its beef on premises, and for cooking the steaks just right over super-hot mesquite charcoal. Its biggest drawback is that you have to walk through the seedy, low-rent, no-tell-motel smells of the Circus Circus to get to it. Once inside, all of that will be forgotten as you tuck into a superior steak, in clubby, masculine surroundings, for 10 bucks less than the same piece of meat costs in swankier digs. At Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 794-3767. Click here for more info.
HONORABLE MENTION: GOLDEN STEER: Nothing about this joint is as good as it was years ago (or even five years ago), but when you've been open for 52 years, respect should be paid. The ghosts of the Rat Pack still haunt this place, and it's a hoot to tuck into Sammy or Dino's tuck and roll booth and then into a sirloin. And if you listen carefully, you can almost hear "Beyond The Sea" playing amidst the tinkling of highball glasses and whiffs of cigarette smoke. 308 W. Sahara Ave., 384-4470.
— Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly