P.J. Clarke’s: Dining on Las Vegas Strip
- Article Author: Max Jacobson
P.J. Clarke’s: Dining on Las Vegas Strip
One thing you can always count on when you dine on the Strip is a distorted sense of history. The original P.J. Clarke’s, the legendary New York City watering hole, opened in 1864, and presidents, kings and writers like Hemingway have imbibed there. Now, there’s one in Vegas, a clubby, wide open space lined with photos of everyone from Lou Costello to Fiorello La Guardia. But you’re in Vegas, remember?
This isn’t a gastro pub like April Bloomfield’s The Breslin in the Apple, or Waterloo and City in Los Angeles. Vegas does not yet have a g-pub, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you are missing the point. What is happening at PJC is good food, conviviality, and fun.
The chef is Natalie Young, who has the Hard Rock and Eiffel Tower in her resume, but she has an ace in the hole. That’s Larry Forgione, who I call Larry Legend, the consulting chef here until early spring.
The fifty something New Yorker Forgione, also a convivial type, practically invented New American Cuisine at An American Place. His son Marc owns a Two Star Michelin restaurant, Marc Forgione, so this is a talented family. And when you eat a dish like tater tots or chicken pot pie here, they’re far better than need be. But there are no surprises here, just solid American comfort cooking.
If drinking is the focus in New York, it’s eating here. Despite the fact that there are good wines by the glass, like the Livio Felluga Esperto Pinot Grigio, and beers such as Anchor Steam on tap, this feels like a restaurant, not a bar. So don’t expect Dom DeLillo or Anthony Lane to walk in, plunk himself down at the bar, and start a conversation. If you are lucky, you might see Robin Leach or Penn Jillette. It’s Vegas, baby.
So what should we eat? How about starting with a thin, rich version of chili, called Patrick Joseph Clarke’s chili, fully loaded, with onions and cheese on top! Then, progress to one of the best burgers in town, fresh ground Meyer Ranch Red Angus beef on a chewy bun with a pickle and onion slice. Various cheeses such as Vermont cheddar and smoked Gouda are also lurking nearby, not to mention smoked bacon, and the good house chili as options to top the meat. The only puzzlement is a saucer sized plate they choose to serve the burger on. I think they are trying to be cute. Fellas, it’s not working.
Not all the food works, either. Everyone but me seems to be crazy about the house lobster roll. Not me. It’s gargantuan, I’ll give it that. Did I mention that I don’t like mayonnaise? It’s one of the five mother sauces, I learned that night, along with vinaigrette, Bechamel, veloute and sauce Espagnole, a brown sauce made from veal stock. (Actually, I was incorrectly informed that it was Hollandaise, made from mayo.)
And the bone-in rib eye, a 14 ouncer, weighs in at $38.85. Those are gourmet room prices, I think, and the steak just didn’t deliver enough oomph. Beyond those missteps, though, I was pretty high on what I’m about to describe.
Traditional shepherd’s pie is made with an intriguingly spiced mix of ground beef and lamb, and is delicious. The chicken pot pie has a big, buttery crust, which gives way to reveal a flavorful white sauce filled with mammoth hunks of tender, shredded chicken and chunky potato.
Baked macaroni and cheese comes as an entrée, not as a side dish, and that’s how it should be. It’s generously studded with bacon and peas, and no one could stop eating it, much to the consternation of the table’s only female, who ordered it, and had to watch helplessly as her six male companions finished it off.
Steamed Penn Cove mussels and fries, the only homage to French bar food, was tasty, if a tad on the dry side. Pan seared salmon with a soft corn pudding is another good idea, but you’d better ask for your fish to be cooked medium rare. Our fish was frazzled to a crisp.
The biggest shock here will be at dessert. I can’t think of anyplace in Vegas doing better American desserts than this place. The fresh apple cobbler has a wonderful crust, and the vintage chocolate pudding with whipped cream topping brought me back to my childhood.
Forgione sources California cheese, Bellwether Farm’s, to make his superior cheesecake, for which clabber cheese is used in PJ Clarke’s New York office. Then there is the bread pudding. Natalie Young told us it was “off the hook”, and she was being modest. Soft, yielding, and swathed in the best Bourbon sauce I’ve yet tasted, it’s pure sex, bread pudding for the ages, all the 145 years of P.J. Clarke’s history.
At the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.