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AJ's Steakhouse at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

By R. H. Duke

This door is real leather!!

Several weeks ago I served as a judge for a best menu contest sponsored by the Nevada Restaurant Association. There were four of us on the panel. We were asked to sift through hundreds of menus and than rate them on categories such as "most creative" and "best overall." A couple of menus still stick out in my mind. One of them comes from AJ's Steakhouse at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. We all liked is simplicity and it's classic good looks. It smacks of "hipness," much like the hotel. We ended up giving it some sort of award, although I can't remember what.

After a recent and particularly grueling taping of our Taste of Vegas TV Restaurant Show at the Hard Rock's Nobu Japanese Restaurant, John Curtas and I walked over to AJ's to wind down. John had already been there and was impressed. I too was impressed as soon as I saw the door to AJ's entrance. It's unlike any I've ever seen in any eatery, and only the Hard Rock and it's stylish owner Peter Morton could pull it off. It's a thick, upholstered job of genuine leather. I took one look at it and exclaimed to Curtas "this door is real leather!"

We sat at the neat looking long bar near the front. A piano player occupies the corner of the lounge area. During the 2 hours were there, he did not stop playing once. And lots of customers showed there appreciation! The dining room is medium sized and done in lighter browns and light yellows. It reeks 60's retro. Several paintings of Las Vegas in days gone by adorn the walls. I'm told they were done from actual period post cards. The Sahara and Flamingo, among others scenes add a nice and nostalgic touch to the dimly lit room.

We were just settling into a long talk about women (hey we're divorced), when one of the waiters recognized us from a TV shoot we did at a wine class at the College of Southern Nevada. We chatted and he urged us to try AJ's filet mignon. We were already stuffed full of Nobu's wonderful sushi and sashimi. But he insisted, and the next thing we knew, he rolled out 2 small, but perfectly grilled steaks ($16.95), along with some mashed potatoes ($3.95).

I've always preferred the flavorful porterhouse steak to filets, which lack the bone, and I feel some of the flavor. But our pieces of Aged, Prime Midwestern beef can only be described as "sublime." I've heard the phrase "cuts like butter," but had never experienced it until that night at AJ's. The word "tender" doesn't even do it justice. I urge you to try AJ's filet mignon. And by the way, the thick, mashed potatoes were as good as any you'll
get in town.

My second visit to AJ's happened late on a Friday night. I entered the room and quickly scanned for my 2 dining companions. I couldn't help but notice that most of the tables were jammed with men, but with large numbers of women spread throughout. I later found out that a slew of Perfect 10 magazine girls were flown in for a large private party happening at the hotel the next night. We ordered 3 appetizers - the Sautéed Baby Portobella Mushrooms ($6.95); the Pan Seared Dayboat Scallops ($7.95); and crab cakes (which I later could not find on the menu). We all decided to split a 20 ounce Center Cut NY Strip Steak ($27.95) and the "Roasted Red Bliss Potatoes" ($3.95). The large melange of mushrooms consisted of several different types beside the portobella, which were meaty and had a nice texture. The small buttons of the wild chanterelle fungus were delightful, as were the slightly larger cremini variety.

I'm haunted by the crab cakes not being on the menu. Maybe they were a special? My notes were positive... "cooked lump meat, with some flaked meat... 2 golden brown cakes... fine and tasty." The scallops were barely seared (as they should be) and were excellent, with a sweet smell and a fresh taste. We asked for the steak to be cooked "medium rare," and despite it coming out "rare," we couldn't complain. It was tender, juicy and fine. The potatoes were roasted in olive oil and garlic. Plenty of the herb rosemary gave them a nice flavor.

We were brought a plate of several desserts. The banana cream pie is a real winner. The only disappointment was 2 large cookies filled with whipped cream and strawberries. We all felt they tasted bland and doughy.

Our server was attentive and friendly. Gina is actually the General Manager, but when faced with being short staffed, she decided to don AJ's traditional outfits and become a server. She was sharp and delightful. Overall, I rank AJ's within the top tier of Vegas steakhouses, along with Ruth's Chris, Bob Taylor's, Alan Albert's, Golden Steer, Prime at the Bellagio, and the Range at Harrah's. It's cool feel and look will satisfy your sense of nostalgia. The service friendly and well managed. The sights and sounds, as always at the Hard Rock are exceptional, and most important, the food is top-notch!

AJ'S Steakhouse
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

HOURS: Tues - Sat, 6pm until last reservation (usually late); closed Sun & Mon

ATMOSPHERE: Hip; retro; cool; you get the picture!

FOOD: A simple menu of Prime, aged steaks that are perfectly grilled, Appetizers and accompaniments are well prepared and tasty.

PRICES: Without booze, plan on spending about at least $38.00 per person

SERVICE: Friendly and well-trained.

WINE LIST: Expensive, with plenty of high-end aimed at "high rollers." Vintages are not listed, but hey, when you're a rock star, who cares!

R.H. Duke is a former restaurateur and a Las Vegas restaurant critic who says “Fine Dining is one of Life’s Greatest Pleasures!”


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