Dare Call It Prime

The fare is disappointing at this upper-end steak house

 G.F. Prime Steakhouse is excited about prime. A quick perusal of the menu confirms this. G.F. Prime has prime starters. G.F. Prime has prime salads. G.F. Prime has prime soups and sandwiches. G.F. Prime has prime entrées, prime "additions" and "The Prime Finish."

Are you primed yet?

G.F. Prime is the brain whelp of Tim Georgeff, owner of Les Rendezvous. He put his prime restaurant in the handsome space that was once Charolais. "We're trying to bring the ambience and service of an upper-end steak house...and do it at a price point that's a little more achievable for the casual diner," Georgeff says. To do that, he stripped the place, ripping out the woodwork, tearing up the carpet and taking the floor down to the dirt. He poured in a fresh concrete floor and stained it reddish tones, installed handsome steak house lumber, including a 900-bottle wine cabinet embedded in the wall, and finished the walls in a bluish-gold. Fastened to the walls is a rash of distinctive artwork, mostly flaunting amber tones, that is for sale. Ask for the discreet fine art catalog to browse through while you wait for the prime cobb salad.

Prime salads, yes. Prime beef, no. Come again?
Tom Jenkins
Prime salads, yes. Prime beef, no. Come again?

Details

Stuffed mushrooms $8.95
Fried zucchini $6.95
Cobb salad $11.95
Spinach casserole $4.95
Snapper $21.95
Petite fillet $18.95
Prime rib $15.95
Iced oranges $1.95
Closed Location

Prime is a meat grade that USDA inspectors don't generally stamp on lettuce heads. They don't stamp menus either, but that doesn't stop menu writers from deploying the adjective recklessly. Yet it wouldn't be vulgar to call this salad prime. It's a mound, a bump, a heap of foodstuff with well-structured slopes sodded with all manner of cobbish turf. One slope is seeded with moist diced chicken, while another is spread with chewy bacon bits. Diced tomato litters the slope on another side. There are chunks of avocado, and atop the lettuce heap is a frilly crown of alfalfa sprouts that stands out like a well-coiffed tuft on a shaved head--Deep Ellum-like. There's a meticulously sliced hard-boiled egg stationed at the base. It's all robust, fresh and hearty and if properly consumed, leaves absolutely no room for the beef, sides or any other entrée. This is an exquisitely prime thing.

"Wait a minute," you say in horror. "Why would you want to put the squeeze on USDA prime cuts of rich, dripping, bloody-red Atkins hipness?" Exquisite question. Even the worst piece of USDA prime is better than the best alfalfa sprout. But G.F. Prime Steakhouse doesn't serve USDA prime. Come again?

No prime, not even a prime soup bone. Which means G.F.'s is the steak house version of a Prada knockoff. "The name G.F. Prime comes from the fact that we focus on doing all of the flavored prime ribs," Georgeff says. "We're not serving prime beef." Thus, even the "prime rib" rubric is misleading. Most prime rib doesn't come from a carcass graded "prime." It's a generic term applied to a simple rib roast that more often than not is graded choice. So what we have here is a prime steak house that doesn't serve prime steak and takes its name from a prime rib roast whose moniker doesn't reference quality grades. Got that?

Yet while these may be fighting words along the Tollway's steak house alley, let's not quibble over semantics. How's the meat?

G.F.'s prime rib comes in a wide array of varieties and quantities. There's the classic with horseradish and jus; the Southwestern with a mango black bean relish; the Cajun with shrimp and Creole sauce; tropical with a rum and coconut sauce and a topping of pineapples; and Asian with a wasabi sweet-and-sour glaze. Prime rib can be had petite (8 ounces), regular (12 ounces), "prime cut" (16 ounces), as a sampler appetizer platter or "all you can eat" for $29.95.

Our prime rib, done up in classic form, was unusual. Ordered medium, it was nice and faintly pink, soaking in a little puddle of jus. But texturally it was just plain weird. The meat was dry, pasty--almost gummy--and the flavors faded into ghostly wisps, assuming they were there in the first place. Steak embraced some of these same traits. Not that it was dry or gummy--not at all. The rosy red petite center-cut fillet dribbled with fluid. In fact, it was a bit of a watery gusher with a sharp, gritty bitter flavor--the result of untended grill bars perhaps. The meat was hollow and void of richness.

According to Georgeff, the meat is certified Angus, which sloughs off some stellar cuts when handled with skill. Yet judging by the fare, this kitchen careens fearsomely.

Case in point: plate fringe. It wasn't the half-tomato with bread crumbs and oregano that gave pause. This was fine. It was the stuff at the other end of the plate. This fluffy mound of dark green looks like an emerald mink tatter. It appears enticing, like some sort of airy puff with delicate crunch crafted in a sauté pan. But the fluff is as deceptive as the restaurant signage. In the mouth the anticipated crunch quickly collapsed into a soggy mush of oily ash. It was fried parsley, I think, but it was hard to hang with it long enough to precisely tease out the flavors. With each bite, the fuzz leaked oil.

But while it was a struggle to hang with this parsley, it was torture to stay with the red snapper, a special on one visit. Steak houses usually serve respectable fish; great sprawls of fresh, flaky fillets; massive loops of shrimp, moist and tender; lobster tails lush and rippled with creamy brininess poised for a dunk in melted butter. But this beast was distressed. It looked fine, primped and supple, dressed in a creamy dill brandy sauce that tasted of neither. The tapered fillet was drenched in the stuff, which isn't so bad except the fish was little more than sticky mush; a gummy strip with acute flavor deprivation if you don't count the carpenter's-glue aftertaste that lingered with unfortunate tenacity.

Yet maybe these were just aberrations. This isn't something to discount, though the stuffed mushrooms strived mightily to do that. Huge black caps are stuffed with shrimp, lump crab and bread crumbs, with beads of butter cream squiggling across the dome surface. The stuffing is pasty; the brutish caps watery and insufficiently cooked, fraying our willingness to commit to the chew.

Fried zucchini was also watery. It flowed profusely when the limp strips, coated with a bronze coating, were bitten. And like the parsley, they were promiscuously greasy, leaving a sheen on the fingers and a film on the tongue. Oil and water don't mix well, yet both may have saved the bacon-crusted spinach casserole. Served in a boat, this "prime addition" was rambunctiously enticing with lots of bacon, cheese and a cool dollop of sour cream in the center. Tortilla chips are placed at each end of the boat. The chips were stale. The casserole was stiff and pasty. You need to be afflicted with some serious thrill issues to eat stuff like this.

It's rare that an upper-end restaurant so completely bungles execution that a wide swath of its fare is disappointing. It's almost unheard of when that swath slumps so badly it becomes inedible. Dare call it prime.

Yet not everything droops badly. Deep Ellum Philly was rich and robust, riddled with bell pepper slices and red onion slivers strapped to the meat shavings and bun, with gobs of melted white cheese. Those slices were fatty and gristly, but that just added to the charm. Plus you could eat it without invoking the forces of sheer will. Iced oranges were a relief. An orange, white with frost, was hollowed and stuffed with orange sherbet. The severed end was left on the plate as a decorative note, along with swirls of brandy and cream sauces. It was fantastic, this "prime finish."

5950 Royal Lane, 214-750-4520. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday & Saturday. $$$

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