They had me at “cocktail foam.”
That was just the first of the palate-tingling adventures at Gordon Ramsay Steak, the new restaurant inside Horseshoe Casino bearing the name of the multiple-Michelin star-earning celebrity chef known for pushing perfectionism and uttering expletives.
The menu delivers so much quality and surprise that it is almost possible to ignore the blah look of the place — not that I would expect the last word on restaurant decor inside a casino, but still.
The front counter exudes all the personality of a convention center booth. You get a rush passing through the inviting bar area — sleek counters lit from within, cozy seating areas — only to be brought down at the sight of a dining salon dominated by dark shades of brown and burgundy.
There’s something corporate and impersonal about the decor, which includes a giant Union Jack design on the ceiling, illuminated by unflattering LED strips. Big, shadowy photographic images of Ramsay at work don’t exactly boost the atmosphere. Same for an oversized, backlit illustration of kitchen knives.
Still, you can bemoan the interior design only so long when you’re in a restaurant launched by one of the most celebrated chefs on the planet.
On a recent weekend night, our little party nestled into a spacious booth and found ourselves under the care of a server who did the place proud, blending finely tuned professionalism with a disarming warmth. (It didn’t hurt that he responded well to all our brilliant witticisms and vintage movie references.)
This proficiency and amiability extended to the supporting servers, as well as to the blessedly attitude-free sommelier. You just can’t put a price on such welcoming, well-informed service. But you sure can put a price on the food at Gordon Ramsay Steak, and it’s steep.
For those on bottomless expense accounts, enticing options include coveted golden Osetra caviar for $240, Japanese Wagyu beef at $30 an ounce and the $95, 32-ounce “royal long-bone chop,” a Ramsay specialty about the size of a Volkswagen.
For the rest of us, it is possible to sup in style without taking out a second mortgage. And it’s very much worth the splurge.
The rewards started with the bread plate that materialized soon after we sat down. The enchanting varieties included lemon-thyme focaccia; mini walnut baguettes; and pinwheels filled with bacon, fig and blue cheese. A thin spread of English butter sprinkled with black Hawaiian sea salt provided the perfect finishing touch.
From the specialty cocktail list, I couldn’t resist the Hendricks gin-based “Bees Bollocks” because of the saucy name. Having just re-watched the 1958 film “Auntie Mame,” with its hilarious scene involving an undrinkable cocktail made with honey, I should have been more wary of this one, not to mention the addition of oleo saccharum, a syrupy citrus oil-sugar ingredient (misspelled “sacrum” on the menu).
If that cloying libation disappointed, the bar produced a solid old-fashioned and gimlet, so no hard feelings. Speaking of drinks, there’s a thoughtful selection of wines by the glass, several available under $15. And while many of the bottles carry three-figure price tags, there are also attractive choices in the $40-$50 range. A robust Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel hit the spot.
Among appetizers, that good old standby shrimp cocktail stood up tall, thanks to the impeccable texture and flavor of the seafood, as well as the heft of the Bloody Mary cocktail sauce and the refreshment of the accompanying gin-enhanced pico de gallo.
But, oh, the final flourish on the plate — dollops of cocktail foam created by shaking a red cocktail sauce and skimming off the resulting essence. It was light as a cloud (and the color of one), with a delayed hint of spiciness on the tongue. Magical.
A Baltimore staple, crab cake, was another winning appetizer. If there was any breading, it must have been microscopic, leaving only a meaty mound of blue crab, sensitively flavored and finished with Old Bay aioli and a vibrant Asian pear slaw.
At entree time, I couldn’t pass up the roasted beef Wellington, a longtime Ramsay signature dish. The meat could not have been more tender or more subtly textured. The encasing dough was expertly baked, the filling rich but not pushy. Handling their supporting roles in style were glazed root vegetables and a potato puree; the latter presented an elegant, decorative flourish.
Also impressive was the tangy, thick and lean beef short rib, accompanied by an elegant celery root puree, braised greens and wild mushroom jus.
Carnivores will find one Ramsay touch particularly winning — the presentation of meat items on a fancy trolley wheeled by your server, who will point out the grade and marbling of each cut.
Surely, you say, not everything could be fabulous. Right you are.
Fish and chips seemed like a fun, can’t-miss choice from a kitchen founded by a brilliant Brit. What materialized was a pair of cod fillets coated too heavily and fried too long. The fish maintained some flakiness but revealed little taste, making the hearty creme fraiche tartar sauce essential. Redemption came from crisp, light truffle fries. Still, a $38 deflator.
No letdowns with the a la carte sides we picked: The mac and cheese drew a scrumptious flavor from five cheeses, accented by English peas and truffle; the crunchy Brussels sprouts enjoyed a tingly tang from bacon, pomegranate and cider vinaigrette.
After all that, dessert seemed a bite too far, but the unapologetic Anglophile in me had to order the sticky toffee pudding, another Ramsay signature, to share. I would have dreaded a diabetes test the next day, but what a hypnotic assemblage of moist cake, brown sugar toffee and, for a crowning touch, brown butter ice cream adorably shaped — how else? — like a miniature stick of butter. It was devoured with glee and without guilt, the way we enjoyed the whole evening.
Gordon Ramsay Steak
Rating: 4 stars
Where: Horseshoe Casino, 1525 Russell St.
Contact: 443-931-4254, caesars.com/horseshoe-baltimore
Open: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; closed Monday and Tuesday.
Prices: Appetizers $12 to $26; entrees $32 to $95.
Food: Steak house
Noise/TVs: Nicely subdued; eight TVs in the separate bar area.
Service: Attentive care from an informative, never-stuffy staff.
Parking: Garage and valet
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]