WINNER IS SERVED

It's a spiffy place, way off the tourist track, that caters almost exclusively to discerning locals who, like me, wouldn't poke a hotel dinner buffet with a pitchfork.

Done up in gleaming black and white, Anthony's features Ert‚ prints and long mirrors in the small room. Billie Holiday songs are piped in at low volume. Young, earnest, tuxedo-clad waiters with the appealing habit of calling us "Sir" at every opportunity furnished smooth service. Appetizers are scrumptious. Scallops Ren‚ features half a dozen moist, barely cooked scallops garnished with artichoke hearts in a powerful garlic cream sauce. Stuffed mushrooms come smothered with shrimp and topped with a bubbling layer of molten cheese. And the caesar salad is prepared tableside, authentically laced with heavy doses of Parmesan and anchovy.

The appetizers helped to ease my companions' apprehensions about the main dishes. You'd think that someone like Harvey, adventurous enough to take Phoenix minus 24 points against the Dallas Mavericks, wouldn't quake at the mention of venison. Meanwhile, the waiter reassured Mark that the alligator was farm-raised, not hauled up from a Florida swamp by a cracker named Zeke. And I quieted all worries about the wild boar, telling my friends that Anthony's serves no swine before its time.

Pleased with the lusty, gamy flavor, Harvey surprised himself by devouring the fresh, fork-size morsels of venison. It certainly didn't hurt that the meat was served in an out-of-this-world amaretto cream sauce that was good enough to scoop up with a tablespoon.

Mark initially looked at his alligator dish, fashioned Creole-style with peppers and onion, with a bit of discomfort. The alligator was cut into strips, like chicken, and, in fact, had a similar taste and texture. But once he shed his prejudices, he managed to down most of it, unhappier about the too-spicy sauce than he was about the gator meat.

The wild boar, served as medallions, had no shortcomings. Milder than the venison but more intense than pork, it was wisely paired with a heavy, cream peppercorn sauce that enhanced the flavor without overwhelming it.

Whatever your feelings about wild game, Anthony's is worth a stop for its bananas Foster dessert. All the ingredients are wheeled up to the table, and then the show starts. Ripe bananas are coated with caramelized sugar and doused with banana liqueur, vodka and brandy. It's all set aflame and cooled on a bed of vanilla ice cream. Despite some mixed thoughts about venison, alligator and wild boar, we agreed completely about another species--Buffalo. This would be the year the underestimated Bills would crush the overhyped Dallas Cowboys and claim Super Bowl victory. We headed back to the casino to put our money where our mouths were.

Binion's Ranch Steakhouse, 128 Fremont Street (Binion's Horseshoe hotel), Las Vegas, 1-702-382-1600. Hours: seven days a week, 5 to 10:30 p.m.

On their last night in Las Vegas, where do real men go to forget about tomorrow's return to reality? Where do they go to forget about the crushing blow Dallas delivered to their wallets and their football-handicapping egos? Where do they go to get the best and most reasonably priced steaks on the planet?

If they have any sense, they go to Binion's. The small room is always jammed, crowded during prime eating hours with high rollers and favored hotel guests. We managed to get in, though, wise to the old dining-room custom that inevitably melts the heart of even the balkiest maitre d': First, we flashed him our toothiest grins; then, we flashed him a ten-spot.

This place has a real steak-house atmosphere. Pastoral paintings featuring edible farm animals fill the walls. Lights are low enough to hide the tears of Buffalo fans. Big, comfy booths and big, comfy bourbons and water help to ease the tension of three days and two nights of unrelenting casino battle. And the service is understanding and sympathetic--yes, our waiter agreed, the Bills should be individually tarred and feathered before being burned at the stake.

Binion's offers a couple of appetizers that were tasty enough to make us put off for a few minutes our animal lust. Six escargots came hot enough to burn the tines off a fork, bubbling in garlic and butter under a canopy of puff pastry. The scampi starter consisted of five big critters treading in a lake of garlic cream sauce. The fresh, hot French bread got a workout in both dishes.

But what sets Binion's apart are its steaks. They're aged U.S. prime, cooked on an open pit over mesquite charcoal. They're so good that our homicidal thoughts toward the Bills gradually softened. Flush with beef and mercy, we agreed that several years of incarceration would be ample punishment for the 52-17 thrashing they inflicted on their supporters.

Every steak I've ever had here has been fabulous. Pick out any of your favorite adjectives--juicy, tender, moist, beefy, flavorful; they all apply. And none of these hunks of meat costs more than $20.

The man-size, 20-ounce porterhouse steak made us wish we lived in a world without cholesterol and waist sizes. It's astonishingly tender, and juicy enough to require a glass instead of a knife.

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