We had a pretty convincing $52 bone-in rib-eye at Jack Binion's Steak, which is the name of the solid if not particularly compelling steakhouse at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
Our waiter steered us to the 20-ounce, well-marbled beauty, calling it a "cowboy steak," one of the names this steak-lover's steak goes by. It was a dandy, seasoned liberally and confidently with the steakhouse's "signature Jack Binion's seasoning" and cooked to a gorgeous ruby medium-rare. It was served, as all steaks are at Jack Binion's, with a marrowbone topped with caramelized onions, a memorable touch and just the kind of flourish you wish Jack Binion's offered more of.
Introductions are in order. If you were wondering who the deuce is Jack Binion, he's the son of Benny Binion, the founder of Las Vegas's old Horseshoe Casino. The Binion family sold their casino years ago, and the Horseshoe name now belongs to Caesars Entertainment, the lead investor of the consortium operating the Russell Street casino.
But the Binion name survives. Except for the one in Cleveland, all eight Horseshoe Casinos, from Baltimore to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Bossier City, La., have a Jack Binion's Steak. The name, I suppose, has a rugged ring to it.
The Jack Binion's in Baltimore is decent and competent but just a little short in the glamour department. It's absolutely worth a visit if you happen to be at the casino, but it feels mostly like the kind of inoffensive amenity you'd find in a hotel or any place where strangers congregate.
Having said that, I find myself kind of taking a shine to places like Jack Binion's, which don't insist too much on being loved and admired. Jack Binion's might not have any mystique, but it's comfortable in its own brown shoes, which is a kind of sexiness.
And it's not like Jack Binion's isn't trying. There is an appetizer called sizzling oyster that was actually brought to the table still sizzling. The oysters have been taken from their shells, sauteed in garlic and herbed butter, and put back in the shell before the whole shebang is given a jolt of very high heat. Don't touch the shells, the waiter warns you, repeatedly.
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It was an effective moment, and those oysters were plenty plump, juicy and buttery. But another appetizer, a Black Angus carpaccio, was disappointing. The meat itself was underseasoned, sliced too thick and overcooked, so that it comes across more like delicatessen roast beef than carpaccio. And the horseradish aioli drizzled over the meat lacked punch.
We loved a chopped salad. Formed into a cylinder, it was full of savory, sharp-flavored additions like bacon and olives, and just enough blue cheese and refreshing buttermilk dressing to help this pretty salad keep its shape on the plate.
We were much happier with that cowboy steak than an entree of macadamia-and-black pepper-crusted Chilean sea bass in lobster butter sauce, one of seven non-steak dishes on Jack Binion's menu.
We did like that buttery sauce, and the fish was moist. The problem was the crust. There wasn't enough pepper to offset the macadamia's cloying qualities. This made the whole dish overly sweet. A recommended side dish of mushrooms sauteed with onions and herbs had scant evidence of either. The mushrooms were bland.
On the other hand, desserts were striking. The chocolate diamond was an appealingly moist fandango involving a custard-filled almond cake, coconut-ancho chili mousse and toasted coconut. An apple tarte tatin, served warm in a skillet with vanilla bean ice cream, offered up rich caramel pleasure.