Monday, January 10, 2005

LA, CA - Lawry's The Prime Rib

Some restaurants have been around for so long, their names are synonymous with 'tradition'. Lawry's The Prime Rib is one of those: a major cornerstone in the restaurant industry, with a long-lined heritage that's a rarity amongst the short-lived affairs of other restaurant's lifespans.

Old-world grandeur is inspired by the formal, royal-like atmosphere, staff uniforms of white chef coats complete with tall hats and brown dresses with lacy white aprons, plush decoration and upholstry, and dim lighting. However, it doesn't have a romantic atmosphere. Rather, it's intimidating trying to compete against numerous conversations intertwining and echoing through the large, high-ceiling rooms. Dominating the scene are huge domed stainless steel carts wheeled about by rotund carving staff members, making me wonder how frequently they partake of the contents of their carving stations and cream-heavy side dishes.

Meat, anyone? I've never seen 18" high slabs of cooked beef before. I was a bit shocked and awed by the carnivorous sights all around me at Lawry's; I couldn't quite get used to it. I've never been a heavy meat eater, and my travels to Asian countries calibrated my senses to conservative portions of meat. Therefore, the in-your-face wall of meat here left me wide-eyed, speechless, and a bit overwhelmed. We had just started our meal when paramedics rushed in and carted off an unmoving, middle-aged, heavy male on a stretcher. Then I felt a twinge of nausea about what I was going to eat. Heart attack on a plate...?

The menu couldn't be more straightforward: there are five cuts of meat to choose from, ranging from $26 to $40. The California cut is the smallest, the English cut is three thinly-cut slices, the Lawry cut is the traditional cut, the Diamond Jim Brady cut is thicker and includes the rib bone, and the Beef Bowl cut is a double-sized cut with the rib bone. The prime rib dinner includes salad, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, yorkshire pudding, and whipped cream horseradish.

Pictured above is the salad, your typical romain and iceberg lettuce presentation with baby spinach leaves, julienned beet, chopped eggs, and deep-fried, oil-saturated croutons, all tossed with Lawry's 'Vintage Dressing'. The salad was good, if a little heavy on the dressing for my tastes, but the real guilty pleasure was indulging in the buttery croutons. I could see popping these little guys like tater tots.

The proportions of this picture is deceiving on the small side; you're looking at a massive 2-3 inch thick slab o' meat above. As a child, I used to share meals with my mother, sometimes for a $2-5 dish splitting fee at the more expensive French or seafood restaurants. After encountering the meat and the dauntingly long list of courses on the menu, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do justice to the meat, so I asked a suited personnel member if dinner entrees could be shared.

I was tickled pink when he said replied affirmatively that they could, and that there was no sharing/splitting fee! I reported back to my eating companions, and each pair of us decided to order a Diamond Cut. Two pairs also decided to order a duo of lobster tails, each. Sharing turned out to be quite convenient. Each person got their own plate with a massive pile of mashed potatos and a lake of au jus, so splitting a dish is like getting a free side of mashed potatos, salad, and Yorkshire pudding. The meal was massive; we still had a significant amount of leftovers to bring home.

The fluffy lobster tails looked elegant, puffed out of their shells like popcorn. They were served simply, with the traditional side of drawn butter. The texture was a bit disappointing, however, dissolving into mushiness in my mouth instead of having a tender springiness and meaty crunch against my teeth. Lawry's, as you can guess, is not known for its seafood.

This was my first time eating Yorkshire pudding. My parents, having eaten here when they were in their 20's, had previously told me of their disappointment to find out that Yorkshire pudding was not a sweet custard, but rather, a hollow eggy bread of sorts. So I knew what to expect, both from them and from reading my cookbooks. It looks impressive, much like a Dutch baby pancake, whose dough expands dramatically up the sides of the pan when baked in the oven. The flavor is like an intensely eggy popover or overcooked choux pastry. I was a bit disenchanted with the dark brown bottom and undersides, and couldn't find a suitable accompaniment to the bread. After sopping up some of the delicious au jus with it, and scooping mashed potato onto it, I gave up and went back to focusing on the other dishes.

Creamed spinach has always been a favorite of mine, ever since I was a young baby. I couldn't be happier with chopped spinach mixed with a can of cream of mushroom soup. Here, then, is the grown-up sophisticated version of my childhood love. The spinach is mixed with a generous amount of heavy cream, mushrooms, bacon, and onions. Somehow though, it wasn't quite what I expected it to be. I think I would have added garlic salt, or maybe I should have enhanced it with the bottle of Lawry's Seasoning Salt that was perched on each table.

Pure bliss! We struck gold with these warm-hued and sweetly rich kernels. It's a simple combination of corn, butter, whipped cream, and sugar. And I could have been happy with an entire meal of just this. The juicy bits of corn popped in my mouth in little explosions of flavor, and it was sweet enough (almost too sweet, but it still worked) to be eaten as a dessert. I found the recipe online and posted it below.

Creamed Corn Recipe

1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups fresh, frozen or canned whole kernel corn

Melt butter in heavy saucepan; add flour and salt, stirring to blend. Slowly add whipping cream, stirring constantly until thickened. Add sugar and corn, heat. For Au Gratin, place corn in a 9 or 10 inch shallow casserole dish; sprinkle with ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and brown under broiler.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Blogger bike said...

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12:50 AM  
Blogger Rice said...

Great review!

Lawry's :)

As a Angelino, or whatever we're called.. I've enrolled in the Lawry's frequent eater club.. which worked out oddly during a period when I was hanging out with a vegetarian.

It's a club where you spend $20 to enroll, but you will soon find a $20 gift certificate in your mailbox soon. Also, I and all my (supposed) family members get $25 per birthday or anniversary.

It's a good deal.. but man, do you eat a ton of beef... I compensate by going to the Tam, but that's another story.

Lawry's is a good model.. the menu is limited, and basically, you're ordering side dishes and waiting for the cart to arrive and cut your Diamond Jim ... As much as I like the Yorkshire Pudding, best combined with a little bit of horseradish and au jus.. As an asian, I still yearn for rice. :)

I agree with you as it not being a romantic place.. full of Asians getting off tour busses and sadly in your case, being carted off by a paramedic.. but it's still a nice place where I'm sure a proposal or two is made.

The funniest part is the "spinning salad," a salad by any other name, yet, served and "tossed" in a salad bowl spinning in a larger bowl of ice.. with arms raised high to ... dispense dressing. It's comparable to flaming foods at other restaurants.. it's part of the show.. but it's what we expect at Lawry's

Things have changed there in the last years, since there was an ownership change from the family to the corporation, but we still like it, and appreciate getting a cut of prime rib, and we still patronize the place frequently, but sometimes, I'd rather take a drive down the street to Porterhouse Grill for a porterhouse dinner.

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've been dying to try lawry's =] you have to teach ray how to take pictures of food because he insists on using nasty ass flash that makes it look way unappetizing, and i insist on never using flash which usually yields a blurry photo.

. a .

3:40 PM  

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