I recently wrote a short history of the Las Vegas steak house for the April issue of Saveur magazine in which I included a quote from former Mayor Oscar Goodman, whose moniker is on a new steak house under the dome at downtown’s revamped Plaza Hotel & Casino.
“No one cares where the meat comes from,” he told me. “They want a big martini, a few broads and a nice evening.” Mr. Goodman: That thinking is behind the times, even for the downtown crowd. Judging from the success of meat programs with American wagyu and steaks from boutique purveyors such as Pat LaFrieda at Old Homestead in Caesars Palace, a new day has dawned with regard to the venerable American steak.
“People care about the provenance of the meat, whether or not it is hormone-free and what the cattle was fed,” says Charlie Palmer, who has a steak house of his own on the Strip at the Four Seasons. And given the fierce competition—there are more than 100 steak houses in Las Vegas—the long-term success of a steak house depends on perfect pitch.
That’s not what you’ll find here. However, Oscar’s does have a few things going for it, such as a much lower price point than top Strip steak houses, as well as a bevy of delicious girls in suggestive garb and bartenders who really know how to mix a drink.
There is also the éminence grise himself, “Hizzoner” Oscar Goodman, who literally keeps an office behind the bar with a glass door and a large plastic rat quite visible on his desk. Does this add up to enough to make a great steak house? Not on your tintype.
But general manager Adam Margolies has assembled a competent service staff, and a few of executive chef Jeffrey Martell’s dishes are competent, though hardly brilliant.
I liked, for instance, a thick chicken soup with bits of ground chicken, adapted from a legendary soup at Alpine Village, a restaurant from Las Vegas’ bygone days. I never tasted the original, which locals tell me was much different—and better.
And I think the Spilotro-Style skirt steak, laced with whole garlic cloves and marinated with red peppers, is perfectly fine if slightly tough but intensely flavorful and a bargain at only $26. I ate something like it at Gene and Georgetti in Chicago, and while this one isn’t quite as good, a steak on the Strip will set you back far more.
Joey C’s Filet Mignon, an 8-ounce steak for $32 ($42 for the 12-ounce), tasted properly beefy, correctly aged and nicely tender. Nicky’s Roasted Chicken and Artichokes is tasty, with natural jus and mashed potatoes. And Oscar’s Mayor “Weiner” Schnitzel, a bone-in veal chop with a light crust and a flurry of arugula, radicchio and endive on top, is excellent.
Still, there are missteps. Hymie’s house-made latke isn’t a latke at all, rather just a hash brown pancake. “We’re working on it,” Goodman told me. (I’ll believe it when I see it.) And Johnny Quinn’s crab cake, about which Goodman has bragged, is rubbery.
The room is comfy, with black leather booths, white tablecloths, a trio of crystal chandeliers original to the casino under the dome’s center and tables that look out over the Fremont Street Experience. The wine list is intelligent, too, featuring lots of good, reasonably priced choices such as Sokol Blosser Evolution, an Oregon red blend for $42 or $10 by the glass.
From the limited dessert list, choose the fluffy New York cheesecake, an authentic, crust-free version topped with fresh mixed berries.
Well, Mayor, I’ll agree that no one cares where the cheesecake comes from.