Regular readers know I often say one of the secrets to restaurant longevity is to, yes, offer the time-tested dishes that your customers have come to expect, but also to add newer selections to keep things fresh.
For years, Lawry’s the Prime Rib seemed to be a rare exception to this formula. Going back to 1938, Lawry’s had pretty much offered all prime rib, all the time, along with its ever-popular Spinning Bowl Salad and steakhouse sides of mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and creamed corn. If memory serves, when I moved to Las Vegas more than 15 years ago the only other available entree was a daily fish selection and maybe a lobster tail.
And there was a lot of tradition that went with all of that prime rib. Although all of the locations of the chain worldwide (which include the Five Crowns and the Tam O’Shanter in Southern California) have unique designs, most of the interiors evoke earlier times, in the case of the Las Vegas restaurant a sort of ’30s-Art Deco look in keeping with the chain’s founding. In addition to the retro lighting fixtures and other decorative touches, that also means high-walled booths and ’30s-style server uniforms complete with starched headpieces and “Miss So-and-so” name tags.
And prime rib. I liked Lawry’s from the beginning, and that hasn’t changed. Yes, there’s not a lot of variety and certainly no new culinary ground being broken, but the place knows exactly what it is, and if you’re looking for a good prime-rib dinner you’re not likely to find one better.
The routine is simple: The server asks who at the table wants prime rib. If you do, you don’t actually order until the man arrives with the gleaming cart, under the dome of which is a large standing rib and the aforementioned sides. You tell him what size you want and how you want it and you’re good to go. This stage is preceded by excellent sourdough and a salad of mixed lettuces, grape tomatoes (starting before they were trendy), beets, chopped eggs and croutons and a light vinaigrette. The server brings the salad bowl to the table, spins it atop a bowl of ice while drizzling the dressing from on high and then serves it on chilled plates, complete with chilled forks.
The prime rib this time was just as good as it’s always been, but Lawry’s definitely reflects the skyrocketing prices in the beef industry, and so the smallest California cut is $39, with the range extending to $59 for the bone-in, double-sized Beef Bowl Cut served each year to members of the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl football teams. With it we had the addictive creamy horseradish (regular horseradish also is served), thick mashed potatoes and deeply flavored traditional brown gravy, and the crisply crusted, custardy Yorkshire pudding that’s brought to the table in a separate pan. Creamed corn ($7) was fresh-crisp, creamy and slightly sweet.
But Lawry’s has added to the menu in recent years, in the form of boneless and bone-in rib-eye steaks, a vegetarian selection and the beef Wellington ($46), which comes from the kitchen instead of the cart. It, too, was very traditional, the tenderloin that very much lived up to its name topped with a mushroom mixture, cloaked in crisp, buttery puff pastry and served with excellent scalloped potatoes and an herb-topped tomato. Creamed spinach ($7) was creamy and bacony.
Service throughout was top-notch, formal without being stilted or stuffy.
Lawry’s prime rib is such a triumph I’ve never been moved to order anything else, but this visit made it clear that old dogs can do quite nicely with new tricks.