Kelly Lamrock has a personal steakhouse showdown with BLT and Camelot.
The Vegas steakhouse is, for me, a quintessential part of the Vegas experience. Judging by the fact that almost every resort has at least one high-end entry in the category, some of you out there likely agree.
There is always a part of me that feels a bit guilty using a night out on the Strip for steak. After all, Vegas is now a premium dining destination, with Michelin stars and celebrity chefs oozing out of every casino floor with aplomb and squid ink pasta. With so many adventurous options, why use a premium meal expense of time and cash on a meal built around something that can be done decently at home with a trip to Costco and a little BBQ know-how? I mean, sure, Tom Colicchio probably still grills a Steak superior to mine, but I bet I can keep it closer than I would if I tried to make sushi with the culinary team at Morimoto.
So why the Vegas Steak experience? That word likely captures it all – experience. A good steakhouse captures some of the essences of Vegas. There is excess, with large portions of red meat and unapologetic consumption of it, vegans and cardiologists be damned. There is indulgence, through a vacation power move that comes from engaging in comfort food at its highest levels. The steakhouse does not demand of you, telling you to be better or more curious or more appreciative of the Yuzu lemon reduction. You demand of the steakhouse; you arrive, you sit in comfort, and you tell the chef what you already know you like, and you get it better than you hoped. And there is exclusivity, or at least the illusion of it. A proper steakhouse is all leather and wood, making you feel like you’ve crashed into the circles of power. If you ever notice, steakhouse wait staff are very good at extending this feeling of a club – specials are shared in an almost conspiratorial whisper, letting you know that there is something good that you would appreciate because, after all, you had the sense to come here. When you order, inevitably, the waiter will nod and praise your choice as if you and he share the secret of knowing just how good the bone-in ribeye will be. Your very presence here tells you that you have won at the game of life, and with every bourbon cocktail and pricey side, your winning ways are acknowledged.
The steakhouse isn’t just about Steak. It celebrates that you are here, on the Vegas Strip, and others are not. The steakhouse is Vegas itself.
But of course, if the steak sucks, the illusion is pretty much screwed, eh? So, let me share with you two true old-school purveyors of the Vegas Steak Experience – BLT Steak and Excalibur’s Steakhouse at Camelot. Pull up a plush faux leather seat and hear the tale of my Vegas trip with not one but two steakhouse visits. Accompanied as I was by two balky teenagers and a girlfriend who had recently completed six months in India and craved beef in its “sacralicious” glory, the steakhouse combined my need for a nice meal out with my need to keep the few happy.
The Steakhouse at Camelot
The steakhouse has been part of Excalibur since its opening. Even as the resort has become one of Vegas’s value propositions, Camelot Steakhouse remains a point of some pride in its dining choices. It’s located up on the second floor, and the check-in booth suggests that this will be an experience a bit elevated from the more basic delights of the food court and the $5 tables. And sure enough, when the door closes behind you, it is a different world from what you left. The colours are earthy and soothing, the tone is muted, and the service is very attentive. There is an old-school feel right from the start; the service has that friendly-but-not familiar feel I associate with family-run Italian joints or the older delis in Montreal. There is protocol and order here, they seem to say, and your meal is in the hands of professionals. The open concept kitchen invites you to watch for yourself.
Martinis were quickly procured, and mine was dry and cold. There was a prix-fixe menu that told you this was a no-nonsense place – French onion soup, Caesar salad, steak and potato, and cheesecake for dessert. It was a menu that would have been indulgent in the 50s and, done right, would be timelessly so today.
Three different appetizers were chosen at our table. The Caesar salad was excellent – creamy house dressing and real bacon made it everything you would expect. French onion soup added one unusual touch – some fried onion straws on top of the melted cheese – but it worked. It was sharp gruyere cheese, a true slice of bread underneath, and a rich broth. It may not be trendy, but classics are classic for a reason. When execution is right, they work.
The seared ahi tuna hit the only sour note. It was cooked perfectly, as everything was here. The kitchen executes well. But someone had made an unfortunate choice to add a spice mix to the Asian-inspired dish, and had chosen a mix that had an ancho or chipotle flavour. It didn’t work, and frankly tasted like a mashup between soy sauce and an Old El Paso taco spice packet. We learned – trust these guys to be timeless, but not ahead of their time.
Steak and potatoes are happily timeless, and it went well from there. Everyone’s steak was medium rare and hit that balance perfectly. Know that their steak spice mix favours garlic. That is fine with us, but if you differ, be forewarned. Baked potatoes were big and cooked right. The macaroni and cheese had some sharpness to the sauce. And the meal was a hit. Only one person had room for dessert, and they report that the crème brûlée was simple and done right.
The price was right too – our family of four rang up a $280 bill with appetizers for all and cocktails for the adults. Thanks to a MyVEGAS reward, this was a fine two-hour meal at a price that was well below Vegas averages for the quality.
Camelot gave us classic food executed well at a good price. And that is enough to recommend it. It just isn’t up to what came next – our visit to …..
Bally’s BLT Steak
First off, a quick life hack. I had a TravelZoo offer here that offered us 4 cocktails 4 appetizers, 4 steaks, 4 sides and two desserts for $249 – pretty much 45% less than what that would normally cost. Even better, the waiter let us know right away that they wouldn’t make us order within categories – we could have whatever we wanted and they’d knock $420 off the bill. This was a great offer and if you can still get it, do so immediately.
Because even at the full price, this would be at the top of my Vegas “must list.” This has always been a personal favourite. I love the old school feel of the former Steakhouse at Bally’s, the friendliness of the staff and most of all, the food.
BLT Steak has some fine bourbon cocktails, including the eponymous BLT cocktail with ginger and orange bitters. It made a great start to the meal, and arrived with warm popovers. These gruyere cheese puffs come with butter and sea salt and are served to all diners. They drew raves from everyone at our table. You could easily eat more than one – but remember that the steaks here are big!
Appetizers included tuna tartare, a Caesar salad, and their double-cut, smoked, grilled bacon. Bacon may seem an odd appetizer. On further review, bacon is a wonderful appetizer. These are extra thick slabs of bacon grilled as a steak might be and served in a garlic and sherry reduction. This wasn’t your microwave bacon, but thick enough to melt gloriously in your mouth on impact. (Disclosure – I had just returned from three months working in Tunisia, a Muslim country moderate enough to offer beer but with no apparent market for bacon, so I may have been highly susceptible to the charms of this dish). It went quickly.
The tuna tartare was fantastic. High-quality tuna is almost decadent in its texture, and the diced avocado on top along with the soy-lime drizzle offered a subtle flavour that let the tuna carry the dish.
I could have left here happy at this point. If this wasn’t our trip’s night of excess, I probably should have. But the place is called BLT Steak, and that’s what we came for. BLT Steak serves theirs in skillets sliced. This shows off something they do so very well – they manage a charred crust while still delivering a medium rare steak.
(Author’s note – steak should be eaten medium rare. Medium if you must. If you like yours well-done and want a dining recommendation, save sixty bucks and go to McDonald’s. If you go to BLT Steak and order one of these wonderful steaks well-done with a side of ketchup, I hope they serve you chicken nuggets and give your steak, cooked medium rare, to a deserving passer-by. That is all.)
The bone-in strip is my go-to steak here because the flavour is really enhanced with this cut. The porterhouse for two is also good, if you have a friend. I haven’t tried the others, but I have brought many a friend here and heard no complaints. The house steak sauces are worth it as well. The chimichurri sauce was especially good, clearly made in-house with fresh herbs and lots of garlic.
The sides were all very competently done. None stood out, but the mac and cheese, green beans and brussels sprouts all were cooked with proficiency. The vegetables were especially nice, with the beans retaining their snap and the sprouts their nuttiness.
There isn’t a celebrity chef attached to BLT Steak, but this one is on my list of places to steer friends when they ask for my advice. The steak is done with a flair that greatly exceeds what you might manage at home, and the experience is run well from the moment they greet you. The Steakhouse at Camelot is a great value. BLT Steak is great at any price. Both will make you happy. Unless you’re a vegan, but I guess that’s just common sense.
[Cover image: Blonde4ever | Camelot Steak photos: Excalibur Las Vegas | BLT Steak Photos: Blonde4ever]