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Steak-Out: One of the Valley's hottest restaurant rumors concerns Morton's, the upscale Chicago steak house that has been opening branches all over the country the past few years. Phoenix is on the new site list, so I thought I'd get a preview by checking out the fare at Morton's Las Vegas outlet. It wasn't easy. Our 8:30 p.m. reservation wasn't honored until 9:15, and the sneering, who-are-you? maitre d' couldn't have been less sympathetic. Kenny Rogers and his entourage, however, didn't have to cool their heels. On the other hand, in our town of nobodies, this kind of celebrity boot-licking probably won't cause much of a problem. In contrast to the oddly refined decor--wine lockers for regular customers, copies of the Wine Spectator and Cigar magazines by the reservations desk--service is delightfully informal. Don't look around for a menu. First, servers recite the appetizer choices. Then they wheel over a cart and show you the main-dish offerings: lobster, fish, chicken, lamb and steak. Later, they'll bring over a dessert tray. Everything, including side dishes, is … la carte. One word of advice. Don't schedule a physical or a trip to the tailor the day after you dine here. This food is designed for a world that never heard of waist sizes or the surgeon general. Meals start off with a steaming hot onion loaf, which unfortunately looks a lot better than it tastes. It seems to be all air and crumbs, and will decorate the garments of even the most fastidious diner. When I asked her if she enjoyed sweeping a zillion crumbs off every table every few minutes, our waitress just rolled her eyes.

There's nothing remotely trendy about the appetizers, which feature shrimp or crab cocktails, oysters and smoked salmon. Three gorgeous, bacon-wrapped sea scallops ($9.25), at least two inches thick, make up in flavor what they lack in novelty, and are aided by a peppery apricot chutney. But no one is here to fill up on onion bread or appetizers. People come to get their recommended annual allowance of animal protein in one evening. And Morton's steaks are exquisite. This is serious prime beef, enough to make a guy pound his chest and howl. The one-pound rib eye ($22.95) is the most heavily marbled cut (i.e., it's got the most fat), so it's perfect for those who want to marry tenderness with beefy punch. The magnificent, bone-in 24-ounce porterhouse ($29.95) combines T-bone flavor with tenderloin softness. A New York strip sirloin ($29.95) and a double filet mignon with b‚arnaise sauce ($27.95) are also available.

Nutritionally incorrect side dishes sport the same kind of quality. Scorchingly hot lyonnaise potatoes ($4.25) are skillet-fried slices of baked potato, dripping with bacon and onions. A medley of spinach and mushrooms ($4.25) comes soaked in butter. And a superb hollandaise destroys the healthful effects of steamed broccoli ($4.25). You'll need a professionally trained belly even to contemplate dessert. Luckily, I have one. Look out for the overwhelmingly intense chocolate velvet cake ($4.95). It's so powerful that you may require the services of a paramedic. In Las Vegas, Morton's is at Fashion Show Mall, 3200 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Call 1-702-893-0703.--

 
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