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High Steaks

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Among four new strip joints on the Strip, just one clear winner. Muriel Stevens, diva of Vegas restaurant critics, proves her chops by joining our mad tour of four steakhouses in one night. All of us are impressed by the cushy men's-club posh, the gracious laissez-faire server, and the quality and flawless grilling of the eighteen-ounce New York bone-on strip steak ($28) at Charlie Palmer Steak (The Four Seasons). We beat a hasty exit to separate ourselves from super fries and a sublime double-baked potato with truffle cream I wish could be my dinner.

Our mildly bossy Smith & Wollensky waiter doesn't believe Muriel wants Caesar salad, I am having shrimp cocktail, and the Road Food Warrior wants the $35.50 New York cut "seriously rare." He delivers a very green Caesar split three ways. The shrimp aren't as cold as Charlie's, but they're equally tasteless. The steak is more tender but lacks a certain character. Score points for real creamed spinach.

I almost abandon hope after tasting the chef's offering at Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse (the Venetian) -- charred little bits of beet and mushroom with rusty stuff dabbed around it. ("What's this?" I ask. "Essence of Emeril," the waiter says proudly. I gasp. "Did he die?") Leaden green tomatoes, an errant version of creamed spinach, greasy truffle chips, and an off-tasting butter-slicked $32 New York strip do nothing for Emeril's reputation.

Sipping a modest Merlot at Jean-Georges's Prime (Bellagio), I am briefly distracted by the fountains doing a Martha Graham outside our window. Everything is brushed stainless steel, curving glass and mirror, with suede and linen in shades of chocolate brown and powder blue . . . odd, but astonishingly beautiful. Suddenly, I am actually hungry. Tuna tartare is too good to waste and four really fresh giant shrimp oozing butter off the grill is genius. The $37 six-peppercorn New York steak beats Palmer's, but just barely. Dipping chickpea fries into the béarnaise is heaven. Fatty braised short ribs with horseradish spaetzle are wonderful. I have brooded that Jean-Georges, lean as he is, may be spreading himself too thin, but with his designated second, Kerry Simon, tending the grill, I needn't have worried.


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