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Fine Dining
by Adam Fine

Station’s Steaks – Casino

The opening of Hank’s at Green Valley Ranch takes Station Casinos to an entirely new level on the Vegas restaurant scene

Las Vegas has always been a carnivore’s paradise. Maybe it has something to do with the desert heat, but beef has always been consumed in greater quantities here than anywhere else in the country. In fact, the steakhouse remains one leg of gaming’s holy dining trinity: coffee shop, buffet, steakhouse. A casino without a steakhouse is like a slot club without bonus points—it just doesn’t work.

The steakhouse may have come of age alongside buffets and coffee shops, but that doesn’t mean the concept has stagnated. Today’s steakhouses may not differ much in the key aspects of their menus, but everything else has changed: theme, design, cooking methods, presentation, side dishes, and particularly the ambience, which has become quite a bit more sophisticated.

One gaming company that isn’t so much following the trend as it is setting it is Station Casinos, which has gone from its humble Broiler roots to develop some of the highest quality steakhouses in the city. I’ve always been a cheerleader for Austins Steakhouse at Texas Station, and recently have started recommending that people drive out to Santa Fe Station to check out the Charcoal Room, a somewhat more casual version of Austins with a lower price point but the same quality.

But now that Hank’s Fine Steaks & Martinis has opened at Green Valley Ranch, I may have to shift my loyalties.

In its earliest days, Station was known as a distinctly local gaming entity, filling a middle-market demand for gaming by the city’s new residents who didn’t want to go to the Strip. There were other companies also moving into the local arena—notably Boyd Gaming and Coast Resorts—but Station seemed to stay ahead of the curve in a way that few could keep pace.

The company marked a turning point toward the high-end with the opening of Sunset Station, with its swirling, under-the-sea Gaudi Bar, upper-end restaurants, and one-notch-up environment. Station opened their first attempt at a high-end steakhouse with Sunset’s Sonoma Cellar, a step in the right direction, but a far cry from what would become Austins Steakhouse.

Austins became a classic the moment it opened, replacing a garish, ranch-themed steakhouse whose name is best left forgotten. Austins introduced a level of class to both Station and steakhouse that had not been present before. Clearly, the company was on to something new. The design alone is noteworthy, a jewel box of swirled, multi-colored pendant lamps, deliciously high-backed banquettes, walls of colored glass and an open kitchen that sends tongues of fire high into the air, reflecting off the blown glass artwork and long-stemmed wine glasses.

And the food! Austins brought an entirely new level of quality and service to the steakhouse experience, one that hasn’t been duplicated with the same sense of comfort and low-key casualness that Station has mastered. Like its sister steakhouses, Austins offers classic steakhouse fare, from the shellfish appetizers to an array of salads (hearts of palm, Austins chopped steakhouse salad… all big enough to share), and the usual selection of classic cuts—a 20-ounce, bone-in New York Strip, filet mignon in regular and petite sizes, veal chops, several grilled fish, and a few oddballs, like Southern fried chicken and the now-famous Cowboy Rib eye. Likewise, side dishes are standard but excellent. The creamed spinach is a standout, potatoes are mashed with horseradish, fried several ways, drenched with cream and shredded cheese, or served whole in their jackets. Green beans always come almandine style, and asparagus is steamed and served with Hollandaise sauce.

With only a few exceptions, this is essentially the same menu you’ll find at the Charcoal Room, which is one of Vegas’s hidden gems. When the company bought the Santa Fe from the Lowden Group, they sunk considerable dollars into bringing the property up to Station’s new standard of quality. Some of the design changes harken to Green Valley Ranch, with exposed stone and earth tones throughout the casino. The Charcoal Room is really a find, particularly in this relatively unknown section of Northwest Las Vegas, which is something of a culinary wasteland.

The room is unusually designed. Gone is the funky art glass and open kitchen, replaced by a wall of stone and glass that literally splits the restaurant in half, providing a house for the massive wine cellar. The first room is home to the bar, a dimly lit, casual square of red leather with flat screen TVs above the bottles. Guests can eat at the bar or in one of the table surrounding the bar. With its stone walls, wood floors, deep red lighting and floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains, the whole area takes on an almost saloon-like feel, which is perfect for solo diners and those who’d sooner avoid the dining room. Not that the main dining area is significantly different. The wood, the stone walls and the red lighting are all present, but they take on an unusual appeal in this most casual of steakhouses.

There’s still no questioning the quality of the food. This menu ventures into some areas that Austins, with its sense of traditionalism, would sooner avoid. For example, Charcoal does a surprisingly savory Wild Turkey BBQ Shrimp appetizer that turns out peppery and smoky. There’s a burger made from 13 ounces of ground rib eye, and a delicious veal porterhouse that weighs in between 12-14 ounces, including the bone (perhaps best left for smaller appetites). We loved the creamed corn au gratin with its spicy bits of jalapeño, and the luscious hash brown potato cake, which we simply ate with our hands when no one was looking.

More significant perhaps is the price point of the Charcoal Room—this is clearly the least expensive of the three (note that I didn’t say cheap), a notch below Austins and certainly a jump down from Hank’s. I particularly like the wine list at Charcoal, which is not only extensive and well chosen, but very well priced. This is as user-friendly as wine lists get.

But nothing could prepare me for Hank’s—the place literally blew me away. It’s stunning. The entire bar is yellow onyx lit from within, with several crystal chandeliers hanging between shimmering curtains. Pendant spotlights are capped by giant diamond-shaped crystals, accenting the lustrous African Zebra wood walls, the marble floors and the opalescent artwork. Live music begins nightly at 6 with a nearly hidden piano player tucked discreetly in the back of the lounge area. A giant wall of wine separates the bar from the dining room, topped with 3 giant plasma screen TVs, just to remind you that you’re still in the bar. Behind the clear glass case is a suggestion of fire. An open kitchen? A hint of what’s to come?

We don’t have time to wonder because the martinis have arrived—and as the name of the place is fully Hank’s Fine Steaks & Martinis, we weren’t missing out on its namesake. A smart move—that bar is heaven to sit at while enjoying the piano. Is Hank’s a return to the high-end Vegas restaurant and lounge? It certainly feels that way.

Turns out that fire isn’t from an open kitchen, but is actually a magical wall of enclosed fire that divides the dining room into two large seating areas. Just to run down a few facts: The chandeliers are all Czech crystal and took five days to assemble (by the Czechs who flew in with the crystals); the cake-like chandeliers of crystals took 10 days. All of this has the magical effect of lighting the room by a combination of fire and crystal, which creates an otherworldly ambience. That same African Zebra wood veneer literally glows in the reflected light, with more artwork, curtains and Italian marble. The linens are Egyptian and the stemware is a line of Riedel being introduced to the States for the first time here at Hank’s. The incredibly comfortable banquettes are all pillow-tucked baby blue crushed velvet.

This is not a room that can be fairly compared to Austins or Charcoal. This is a steakhouse along the lines of what you’ll find at Wynn, Bellagio or Venetian.

And with such extraordinary decadence comes price. This is not the steakhouse for a cheap night out—which didn’t stop it from being packed solid on a Wednesday night in the middle of December, which, they said, is typical—they haven’t had a single table left unserved since opening night.

Even high-end Strip Food & Beverage executives have been seen making their way through Green Valley Ranch to check out the new competition, especially because it may be the model for what’s to come at Red Rock Station when it opens later this year.

The food maintains the classic steakhouse fare, but Hank’s has one-upped the others. The beef has all been wet and dry-aged for 45 days, resulting in tender, flavorful cuts that almost melt on the blade. The crab cakes are an absolute must for an appetizer, and the lobster chowder with corn and new potatoes is sublime, topped with chunks of lobster. Salads include an array of warm goat cheese and roasted beets on baby greens, as well as the Hank’s Steak House salad that comes directly from Austins (as does the buttermilk fried chicken).

That said, this place is all about the steak—right up to the tableside chateaubriand for two, carved tableside with all the trimmings, for a mere $90 (hey, the 20-ounce bone-in New York will set you back $46 alone… the 18-ounce bone-in filet is $2 more). But these are steaks like none other. It’s not exaggerating to say these may be the best in town, backed up by a Bordelaise, a Béarnaise, a velvety blue cheese sauce, even plain old Dijon mustard.

All sides arrive in their own cast iron kettles, from the heart-stoppingly rich, creamed spinach, to the marvelous cauliflower and horseradish. Fries are wrapped in newspaper and placed in an iron cone, allowing them to hold their heat. The sides are only $9 each, but if you have to ask, you shouldn’t be here. Just wait till you see the wine list—the Cabs outrank the Meritages in price, which is almost unheard of (apparently, the previous restaurant had a lot of expensive wine it never got around to serving). We had a Flowers Chardonnay, one of the most Burgundian of the California Chards, for a comparatively reasonable $75, and then threw caution to the wind with a $200 bottle of 2001 Quintessa. We didn’t regret a single sip.

We did regret the lack of a cheese cart, but were told that it’s coming, along with some changes to the wine list that will see more French wines and a greater variety in price. What we didn’t expect was a dessert cart, loaded with gelato and seven or eight different toppings, all prepared tableside. Now that’s innovative. A separate dessert menu with classics like crème brulee and apple brown betty is presented simultaneously, along with a list of dessert wines and a list of single malt Scotch that nearly brought me to tears.

Almost three hours later, floating from the Flowers and Quintessa, reveling in this fantastic new find, it occurred to me that I’d have a problem writing this column. The intent was simple—Station’s three steakhouses—the classic winner Austins, the hidden gem Charcoal Room, and fancy newcomer Hank’s. Looking back, this is really two columns in one. Austins and Charcoal are clearly siblings, one with polish and wit, the other with casual flair and earthy appeal.

But Hank’s is in a different class completely. Fancy newcomer, yes. But this is a restaurant for Zagat to swoon about, with some star chef presumably overseeing the kitchen. Yes, it’s pricey, and yes, it’s a bit out of the way. But Green Valley Ranch is a gem unto itself, and with Hank’s, finally has a steakhouse worthy of its national, high-end boutique hotel status.

We can’t wait to see what they’re planning for Red Rock.

Station’s Steaks – Casino.

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