By SLICK TRACY
Hotel Detective & Food Sleuth -- Uncovering the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
I did not know about the wonderful bartender and his University of Oklahoma football helmet. I was just looking for a nice, fairly-upscale restaurant to have a decently priced meal – preferably a steak. I stumbled on the Smith & Wollensky location on the Las Vegas strip and was highly pleased.
Staying at the Paris Hotel Casino, I could have easily taken a cab or other transportation to reach a location, but after researching several restaurants, the Smith & Wollensky sounded good, and it was actually in easy walking distance. Although I was quite familiar with the name, it was my first visit to any of their famed locations.
The chain was actually founded by the same fellow, Alan Stillman, who started the TGI Fridays venture. The first location began in 1977 in New York City. According to the history, there was never any persons named Smith or Wollensky. Stillman says he simply opened a Manhattan phone book and randomly picked the name Smith, then did it again and picked the name Wollensky. The opening announcements in New York referenced a Charlie Smith and a Ralph Wollensky. Stillman said that Charlie and Ralph were the names of his two dogs.
In 2007, The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group was sold to a private group including Nick Valenti (CEO of Patina Restaurant Group) and his partner Joachim Splichal. Locations include New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Columbus, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas. Although the style is the same, the menus vary slightly, but not very much.
The Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky is a free-standing building that was built to look like the original in New York. It has three floors, the regular dining area, a private dining room, banquet area, cigar bar, and a grill. Supposedly, it can accommodate 650 guests. It is located across from the City Center area on the Strip, between Tropicana and Harmon streets, just north of the Hard Rock Cafe.
It was an early Sunday afternoon when I visited and I had anticipated experiencing the full dining array. They promote having a traditional steakhouse menu, award-winning wines, aged meats, and family-style side dishes. This particular Sunday, the regular dining room was closed until the early evening. However, the Grill, which opens onto the Strip, was open. When I walked in, there were two waiters, a bartender, and a mater-de. No patrons were present, although I must have set the stage. Within 15 minutes, four additional tables were seated and it continued to stay busy the rest of the afternoon.
I had heard about the special Brunch menu, so I requested that and ordered just what I had wanted, topped off with eggs. Although the waiter tried, he reported back that the cook had already closed out the brunch so I had to try again. I looked over the Lunch menu and after quite a bit of decision-making, chose a Gorgonzola Burger. After all, this was not a huge dinner meal celebrating with with family or friends. It sounded about what I wanted, which would include extras. I was not disappointed.
For starters, there were some pretzel bread sticks with mustard-seed butter, which were soft and very tasty. It was a challenge not to ask for more. The main coarse was a huge bun and ground steak burger, a large coating of white cheese melted on the meat (this was the Gorgonzola), a healthy supply of grilled sweet red onions, some lettuce & tomato, and a side supply of ketchup (which was not needed.) In addition, there was a side dish of cole slaw and a very large pickle slice. French fries came with the order, but I asked for onion rings. A large order of onion rings could have almost made a meal by themselves. Everything was just the way I had ordered and I was not disappointed at all.
Because this was not the regular dining room, but the Grill and bar area, there were a couple of large televisions displaying a baseball game and a football game, which constantly drew my attention. When I had walked in and scanned the room, my eye had caught an unusual sight. Perched on a shelf behind the bar was a plastic enclosed University of Oklahoma football helmet. It was signed by the coach and a number of the team players. I had not expected to see that at such an upscale steakhouse on the Las Vegas Strip. The bartender is an extremely likable fellow and comes from Limerick, Ireland. A few years ago, he was doing his 'bartender' thing and struck up a conversation with a patron and soon found out he was from Ireland also. They became friends and the patron visited the Grill and bar whenever he came to Las Vegas. Eventually, the bartender discovered that in Oklahoma, this guy was almost considered equivalent to a rock star. But the friendship had been established and the coach gave his Irish buddy the helmet as a token of that.
Regarding the food, service, and ambiance – remarks from others run the full gambit from “I loved it” to “It was no good.” Personally, I liked it all. It is not the best place, but probably should be near the top of your 'must-try' places in Las Vegas. Expect to pay high prices, as you would at any upscale restaurant, but not everything is always like that. On a Sunday afternoon in the Grill, I enjoyed a wonderful meal with impeccable service in a comfortable old-style setting for under $25. Okay, I did not have any wine or dessert, but there was more food than I could indulge in one sitting and had to ask for a take-out container. I found out that the take-out bags are very, very common here.
Here are a few comments I have found with some additions of my own:
“Old school service which rocks in Vegas and class touches.” “Old school white napkin establishment” (Definitely)
“The truffle mac and cheese is so yummy and rich, but I can only have a little because of that.” (Apparently this is one of their specialties which I must try on my next visit.)
“It's overrated and overpriced. Service was good. Interior dated and tired.” (I can understand why this might be said by some visitors.)
“Nice ambiance, one of the rare places in Vegas where you grab a relaxed drink in a Hemmingway kind of setting.” (Absolutely)
“From the service to the bread to the wine to the steak, this restaurant is first class. No matter where we go in Vegas, I usually order steak, and this steak is hands-down my favorite.” (There are probably much better steaks that can be enjoyed, but here it is part of the whole package.)
“They are known for their Cajun rub, but we did not enjoy that flavor at all.” (The Cajun rub was on my steak burger, and it was a little bit strong with pepper, but I thought it was in the acceptable range.)
“We were stuffed and even had leftovers to take home.” (Again, this appears to be quite commonplace.)
“The restaurant's regular menu is on the pricey side.” (Yes, it is.)
“The steaks were average for their higher end price. The steaks were good but not mind blowing. Our sides were decent. Service was excellent. Our waiter was very attentive and ensured our water glasses were never empty.” (The wait staff was terrific and very attentive.)
“We've experienced better steakhouses in Vegas that have been much more accommodating and notable for their service and food.” (I'm sure this could be said about those places also.)
And here is my favorite, which could be said about half the establishments in Las Vegas:
“It could easily dent your gambling bankroll.”
BOTTOM LINE: Slick Tracy suggests you visit this place when you come to Las Vegas. Stop in the Grill and meet the Irish bartender. Try out the Lunch menu if you are on a budget. Take in the evening dining if you are not concerned about the pricing. Obviously, alcohol will add significantly to the tab. The wait staff are all marvelous and accommodating.
Address: 3767 Las Vegas Strip, City Center, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Prices: $50 and up dinner, $30 and up lunch
Hours Typical: 12:00 – 11:00 pm
THE GOOD: atmosphere, wait staff, excellent good, upscale
THE BAD: steaks not always the best when restaurant is busy
THE UGLY: overpriced in most instances but expected for a high-end steakhouse