Beef Bonus! New Stratosphere steakhouse exceeds heightened expectations
Thu, Nov 15, 2012 (midnight)
- McCall’s Heartland Grill
- Stratosphere, 800-998-6937.
- Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
When I heard the Stratosphere was opening a new steakhouse—and one with a subtle cowboy theme, just in time for the late-year National Finals Rodeo rush—I knew it was going to be good. Perhaps the 16-year-old north Strip casino and hotel is better known for the amusement rides atop its 1,149-foot peak than any of its dining offerings, but I knew better. The recently renovated casino is quite comfortable and easy to navigate, and a visit to the Top of the World dining room last year was a delicious reminder of just how wonderful a “tourist trap” can be.
Just a few weeks ago, Strat quietly opened McCall’s Heartland Grill, a cozy steakhouse built into a space that formerly housed a small, dark casino bar. Now it’s warm and welcoming, a spacious dining room that curls behind a small, bright bar with big TVs for sports viewage. The menu boasts just-right prices, with appetizers, salads and soups in the $8-$12 range, and entrees between 20 and 30 bucks. The priciest steak on the menu, a beyond-tender pepper-crusted filet mignon with sauce au poivre and smoked cheddar cheese potato croquettes, is just $31. Once you get south of Circus Circus, you’re not going to find value like this at a Strip steakhouse. And McCall’s is open for lunch, too.
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But this place isn’t just about value, it’s about flavor. Stratosphere executive chef Rick Giffen is pushing the food to new heights (sorry, bad pun) all over the property, and here he’s taken a traditional chophouse menu and spiked it with bold yet approachable flair. Each steak is revitalized with interesting ingredients, such as a center cut New York strip rubbed with coffee and generously doused with rich blue cheese butter ($29). The preferred cut of the times, a boneless ribeye with a gentle-yet-savory outer char ($28), is paired with an earthy wild mushroom sauce that adds depth and color to an undeniably beefy bite. For fun, there’s a horseradish-crusted ground chuck steak ($19) served in a red wine reduction with grilled tomato and mushrooms. St. Louis-style ribs are roasted with chilis and served with crispy potato straws and cilantro pesto ($23).
There’s plenty of seafood, too, from a duo of petite lobster tails to blackened Hawaiian ono with roasted pineapple and mango salsa. The starchy sides ($5), always essential to any steakhouse, run the gamut from traditional (a jumbo Idaho spud with all the stuff you like) to twisted and fun (green apple potato gratin or lime-dusted sweet potato fries).
If you really want to get crazy, take a tour of the appetizers. It starts with a Jenga-like tower of giant grilled prawns wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and roasted jalapenos, somehow staying stacked above a pool of sweet guava barbecue sauce ($12). You’ll detect slight notes of watermelon in the Buffalo sauce drenching giant, juicy chicken wings, and the fried calamari—a much lighter, non-greasy version—comes with cilantro and chili tartar sauces. And then there’s the PBB&J crostini ($8), pure play-with-your-food fun and perhaps one of the most addictive bites I’ve sampled this year. Thin, crunchy toasted baguette slices receive lovely layers of peanut butter, sweet and spicy jalapeno jelly, bacon and blue cheese. Should you order another batch for dessert? It’s tempting.