Red Meat Economics: LP Steak Reviewed
The steakhouse is the dullest kind of restaurant.
There’s no surprise in a steakhouse. No shock, no awe. The best things you can hope to happen in a steakhouse are that someone grills your hunk of meat to the temperature you find most pleasing and doesn’t leave any shells on the shrimp in your cocktail. That’s success in the steakhouse world. The bar is low. With the proper motivation, a cat could work the line in the average steakhouse kitchen (imagine the hairnet!), and I say this having worked at a couple myself. The hardest thing about working a steakhouse job? Counting to 40, because that was how many steaks I could fit on the grill in front of me at any one time. And while, granted, this was at a time in my life when my successfully counting to 40 was by no means a guarantee, I still managed it. Because I knew Mittens the calico was out there gunning for my gig.
With all this in mind, I can also say that a great steakhouse is a rare and wonderful thing. Because of their simplicity, their elemental charms (meat, fire, paintings of horses) and their lack of anything whatsoever challenging to the appetites or worldviews of the majority of American eaters, steakhouses can be comforting. They can be the blank canvas onto which are written epic nights. (The martinis help.) Almost all of us have a steakhouse we love, tucked away somewhere in our past.
LP Steak is not mine.
LP Steak at the Valley Forge Casino Resort is in every possible way a steakhouse. The menu is full of delicious cow pieces, large and small, plus the expected assortment of fancy sea creatures. The space is dark and plush (in a suburban-casino-restaurant kind of way), with a circular bar and a dining room hung with paintings of cows. (Which is weird, right?) It’s from Luke Palladino, a casino restaurant veteran and a man who knows what he’s doing when it comes to pleasing large numbers of people without acting like he’s trying to please the maximum number of people.
I give the place credit for not trying to pretend it’s something else (a frequent tactic of modern steakhouses, which clutter their menus with things that aren’t steak or shellfish) and for going all-in on its location. The hotel is attached, the casino is downstairs, and there are concertgoers, conventioneers and pharma road warriors passing through. It’s a captive audience, so the steaks run the gamut from a $36 eight-ounce filet to $95 for a few ounces of Kobe that, unless they come garnished with a $50 bill folded like an origami swan, aren’t worth the money if GlaxoSmithKline or the International Brotherhood of Cash Register Repairmen isn’t picking up the tab.
On a Wednesday night, I shared the bar with elderly couples fresh from the slots downstairs, a solo woman eating up her per diem with crab Louie, and a businessman in a sharp suit who was chain-drinking brown liquor on the rocks like he was auditioning for a part in a Philip Marlowe movie. I had a book (my usual cover) and an expense account, and I ordered a prime New York strip, bloody, with a truffle béarnaise, a twice-baked potato, a gin and tonic (because martinis and me are just dangerous together), a second gin and tonic to keep the first one company, and a shrimp cocktail. By the time I was done with what I consider a very standard, middle-of-the-road steakhouse dinner, the bill clocked in north of a hundred bucks before tip.
True, I was admirably full of red meat, horseradish and gin. True, whatever appetite I’d had for beef and béarnaise had been sated. And there was that odd comfort that comes from eating in a place where just being able to pay feels like some kind of victory over rational economics and one’s blue-collar upbringing. But that all faded fast, and what I was left with was an enormous sense of meh. The steak had been fine—neither the best nor the worst I’ve ever had. I had truffle in my béarnaise sauce only because there was no option to have it any other way, and more truffle (in the cheese) defiling my potato for the same reason, but it wasn’t the kind of truffle that makes you feel special or rich. Rather, it was the kind of truffle that makes you suspect that Palladino fully understands that truffle equals fancy in this leatherette cosmos. Like the crab Oscar add-on to any steak (an extra $20) or the foie Rossini, it’s how high-rollers roll, the smelly proof of your good taste and fortune.
Odd, then, that my shrimp cocktail, a martini glass garlanded with suitably large crustaceans, came with just a dab of cocktail sauce. And that when my bread arrived, there was just one slice, looking all lonely in its large basket. True, the cocktail sauce was precisely enough to adequately dress the four shrimp I was allotted. And there were exactly the same number of bread slices as there was of me. But something about that just … bugged me. It felt needlessly chintzy. When I’m laying down a hundo (and then some) for dinner, I want more bread than I can possibly eat. I want to be able to use that bread basket as a pillow if I want to. And even if there are only four shrimp in my cocktail, I want the kitchen to show its largesse and appreciation of my lofty financial status by bringing me a goddamn bucket of cocktail sauce.
I went back and back again, jumping around the menu to see if LP Steak had any there there. One night, a filet mignon—medium-rare, as requested, but with a bit of a stew-beef aftertaste from too much char on the surface and an overpowering Worcestershire sauce. On another, New England clam chowder thin as water, with littlenecks and cockles in the shell, some soft potatoes and a scattering of bacon bits. The bowl was big enough for me to wear as a sun hat, but the shallow well in the center held just enough soup to tease my appetite without putting it to bed. The soup and a repeat shrimp cocktail (plus a couple beers)? Almost 50 bucks—which is fine when the money isn’t yours. Not so much when it is.
There are two winners on LP’s menu. The crabcakes (cracker-crusted, perfectly cooked, and topped with a smooth avocado puree and a beautifully—if counterintuitively—paired saffron tartar sauce) were excellent. Not just good-for-a-steakhouse, but some of the best I’ve had in a long while. And the kitchen also offers a plate of grilled smoked paprika bacon that isn’t really “bacon” so much as thick strips of sweet, tender pork belly with a thin rind of fat, grilled until the tips char just a little, then doused with a delicious maple-mustard glaze. It was pig candy. Addictively good. But is it worth a special trip all the way out to King of Prussia?
Nope. LP Steak is getting a very literal two stars, with the “Come if you’re in the neighborhood” descriptor limited exclusively to the neighborhood formed by the footprint of the casino-resort itself. If you’re already at the hotel, LP is a decent retreat. As far as hotel restaurants go, it’s solid—good enough to burn up a Tuesday night on the road, or if you’ve just taken the house for a couple hundred bucks at the tables and feel like celebrating.
But there’s just no compelling reason for anyone else to bother with LP. There are better steakhouses in the city. Better food to be found in the ’burbs. More generous cocktail-sauce-dispensing guidelines elsewhere. And with the exceptions of that plate of bacon and those crabcakes, there’s nothing here that you can’t find wherever you are.
And probably for cheaper, too.
Stars: 2 stars – Come if you’re in the neighborhood
LP Steak at Valley Forge Casino Resort [Foobooz]