*Photos by Zach Bauman
It makes sense that the new Gordon Ramsay Steak is located inside a Kansas City casino. Where else would you put a restaurant that has as much razzle-dazzle as a Vegas showgirl? And Gordon Ramsay Steak is meant to dazzle, from the gilded portraits of the eponymous chef in action on the walls and the oversized chainmail Union Jack flag in the dining room to the steak trolley displaying the raw cuts of beef that is wheeled from table to table and, yes, the Caesars Palace price tags.
When it opened in early November, the restaurant was booked with reservations. If you were interested in eating in the sumptuous dining room, where you could shrink under Ramsay’s intense glare and enjoy a soundtrack of hits by everyone from Wham to Mumford and Sons, you’d have to be happy with a dinner time of nine or later. Walk-ins were unilaterally directed to the bar and lounge, essentially a loud, dimly lit holding area for that quintessential cross-section of society that dines in casinos.
Ramsay is a busy guy, with thirty-five restaurants globally. The Gordon Ramsay Steak at Harrah’s is the fourth casino installment for this branch of his brand (other locations include Baltimore, Atlantic City and Las Vegas) and the first time Ramsay has dipped his toes into the Midwest market. The restaurant layout has not changed from when it was ’37 Steak, but the decor, at least, is an upgrade from the previous dark brown and polka dot color scheme best suited to a mid-range hotel lobby.
Staff spent months training before this restaurant opened, and many were flown to the other Gordon Ramsay Steak outposts. Front-of-house staff is uniformly attentive and well-informed: It shows in the way the hosts direct your attention to the dry-aging meat display, where you can observe spotlighted slabs of beef that are “temperature- and humidity-controlled to enhance the meat’s natural flavor and tenderness.” You can hear it when the same host tells you, with no trace of irony, that the glass-walled red wine room you pass on your way to the dining room “holds approximately 100 red wine bottles” and enables the restaurant to offer “the largest high-end wine program by the glass in Kansas City.” It is apparent in the way servers present that improbable steak trolley with three-hundred-and-sixty-degree mirrored views with a note-for-note spiel about how chef Ramsay designed this contraption himself so that guests could better appreciate the marbling of their choices.
Fun fact about that steak trolley (I prefer the term “meat cart”): There are two to three on the floor at any given time, and all the cuts on them — everything from the KC strip to the Porterhouse, everything except the Japanese Wagyu — are in rotation with the cuts that get ordered. Our server said the cuts might be on the floor for up to four hours. (“What can be said on the record is that they switch the cuts out as needed — and when the trolleys aren’t in use the proteins are properly refrigerated,” says the restaurant’s PR representative.)
The cult of the celebrity chef has made Ramsay’s name a commodity that makes charging upwards of seventy-five dollars for a piece of steak seem somehow reasonable, even in a city where steak is in our blood. Gordon Ramsay Steak is, by the way, the most expensive steakhouse in town: Prices average sixty-four bucks at Stock Hill and just fifty-seven at Capital Grille.
Ostensibly, you are forking over your hard-earned cash for a taste of the perfection that Ramsay’s name is associated with. This meal is meant to be the best you can get anywhere — and definitely the best steak in Kansas City right now.
It’s not the worst, either, but for what you’re paying, you don’t want the wow factor to end the second the meat cart gets shuffled off to impress the next guest. Unfortunately, much within Gordon Ramsay Steak feels like a slot machine spinning only to land on the bar.
Other than being under-seasoned, I have no great issue with the twenty-eight-day-aged prime beef steaks. The sixteen-ounce Kansas City strip and the eight-ounce filet came from Arkansas City, Kansas, and were, in a word, fine. They were cooked to the temperature I ordered and served hot. I ordered the two most affordable cuts on the menu — forty-nine dollars and fifty-five dollars, respectively — and wondered how much different my experience might have been if I had budgeted instead for the American Wagyu filet at seventy-four dollars or the Japanese Wagyu at thirty-five dollars an ounce (with a required minimum of three ounces). Both steaks were improved by a large boat of robust shallot and red wine steak sauce, which I would absolutely have purchased a bottle of had it been available. On the other hand, the foie gras butter carried no hint of foie nor, curiously, butter.
A lack of flavor was a common theme. The tuna tartare was devoid of personality, and the most exciting thing about the limp Caesar salad was the warm Scotch egg that came with it.
Almost every side dish we had was off: the Brussels sprouts so thoroughly charred and drowned in cider vinaigrette they would have made a better dessert; the shiitake mushrooms absent of the soy glaze and garlic they purported to have; the absurdly large pile of shoestring truffle fries sans even the scent of truffle; the asparagus, somehow simultaneously undercooked and flabby, redeemed only by the brown butter bearnaise, which would have been better served atop one of those steaks. Only the baked potato — a hefty offering sliced open and implanted with thick Gouda bechamel and fat cubes of lardon — felt like it lived up to decadent steakhouse standards.
But there was perhaps nothing more disappointing than the Kurobuta pork belly, executive chef and Kansas City native Matt Powers’ one signature dish on a menu filled with imports. Pork belly is delicious on its own, and the coveted Kurobuta pork belly, taken from heirloom breeds in Japan, should melt in your mouth. Both our server and the menu described this appetizer as being “burnt-ends style.” I’m not sure which part of our microscopic portion of applewood-smoked belly surrounded by a candy-sweet black cherry gastrique and droppings of polenta mush was supposed to recall one of Kansas City’s most iconic dishes.
The disparity between the exceptional showmanship and service carried out by the front of house and the lackluster product coming out of the kitchen is perplexing, though I can guess at how the cracks have appeared.
On both occasions I dined at Gordon Ramsay Steak, my servers seemed excited to present us with what they genuinely believed was mind-blowing food. I’m sure they tried the menu items during training while under the direction of Christina Wilson, the executive chef of Ramsay’s U.S. division who spent several weeks training the Kansas City staff. Whatever the case, the main problem with the kitchen seems to be that it is following the recipes of a man to whom they have no attachment. Without the watchful guidance of one of Ramsay’s corporate leaders, the precision cooking has drifted.
It’s not all bad. Ramsay’s famous beef Wellington was superb: Tender filet mignon marinated in Dijon then wrapped in prosciutto, delicate crepe, thyme-spiced portobello duxelles and puff pastry, this elaborate entree holds up to the hype. The rack of lamb is generously portioned and juicy, though be sure to discuss your temperature preference when ordering — medium-rare was too bloody for my comfort level. In a genius move, the lump crab cake is held together not with starchy breadcrumbs but with an airy scallop mousse. The only thing wrong with the braised short rib Bolognese, covered in a snowy peak of shaved Parmesan, is that there isn’t more of it.
Desserts were a triumph, and they helped soothe much of the disappointment dinner brought on. Ramsay’s sticky toffee pudding is all charm. The warm cake is luxuriously drowned in a tableside pour of caramel-toffee sauce, and even the gimmicky plating of the brown butter ice cream — which looked so much like a stick of butter some in my group were momentarily confused — delighted. The mascarpone cheesecake is pretty and light, and the pot de creme is served in a snowglobe, its delicate scene a playful array of textures and flavors between creamy chocolate custard, caramel mascarpone, dark chocolate brownie, crunchy cocoa nibs and sticks of espresso meringue.
You’ll pay more for the cocktails at Gordon Ramsay Steak than you would almost anywhere else in town, but they’re worth it. Standouts include a riff on an old fashioned called Buffalo in the Wheat Field, with smoked Wheatley vodka and Buffalo Trace bourbon-orange syrup, and a gin bramble made with beets and cucumber called The Beetles.
If you’re going to Gordon Ramsay Steak for a taste of excellence, you might find it if you order right. At the least, your chances of winning are as good at dinner as they are at the tables.
The beef Wellington is worth every penny — and it’s quite a few pennies ($56). Don’t skip the crab cake ($24), and definitely save room for the sticky toffee pudding ($15).
Despite high food and cocktail prices, the wine list at Gordon Ramsay Steak is surprisingly approachable. The selection is overwhelmingly domestic, with plenty of bottle options for under $50.