(Las Vegas, NV) When we heard some friends would still be in Vegas on Friday night (the day I arrived and the day Juliet finished her trade show), we decided to pick some place different...some place uniquely "Sin City" that we'd never tried before, and one with a menu that would please a wide variety of tastes. Cathouse at Luxor seemed to fit the bill, with its steakhouse offerings and comfort food sides, plus a little caberet atmosphere. We weren't sure what to expect when we arrived a little early and ordered drinks at the lounge before our guests arrived...
Having been up since 4am EST, I was feeling a little woozy when we arrived at Cathouse. We took the staircase up winding steps past wood-paneled walls adorned with old-fashioned portraits of ladies in various states of undress and seductive poses. Much like rumjungle, Cathouse is one of those restaurants that turns into a nightclub/ultra-lounge after hours. Only, instead of a hot Brazilian dance venue, this place has been themed a 19th century European bordello. Crystal chandeliers hang overhead, casting dim lighting that contributes to the relaxing vibe. Soft music slips out of hidden speakers somewhere in the darkened corners.
At the top of the stairs is a medium-size bar where patrons are eating and drinking, clearly enjoying the tail-end of a good Happy Hour. Across from the bar is a series of low tables and winding booth seats where you can imagine long-ago gentleman sitting, drinking martinis and choosing one (or more) from a lineup of young ladies eager to please. As if from the mists of time, a tall dark-haired beauty greets us -- her trussed-up assets on full display -- and asks if we'd like a drink while we wait for the rest of our party. I'm a little wary because it might take just a single drink to push me into catatonia, so I decide to amp it up with that Vegas mainstay: Red Bull and vodka. Either the drink or the slightly-bared flesh does the trick and I manage to stay awake through the meal.
Joel, Craig and AJ (who have a red-eye flight in just a few hours) arrive and we are shown to our table. Our server is another bosom beauty and her corset cinched even tighter than the previous lady. Her face is painted and powdered a little too heavily; in the waning light I can see she is weary, clearly wanting to do other things, and perhaps expecting the worst from a potentially rowdy table. We are perfectly civil, however, and her defensive shell cracks a bit after I order a bottle of Gloria Ferrer brut to kick things off. Over the course of the evening, she becomes positively friendly.
Now, I should mention that, in addition to the lovely ladies tending our needs, only a few feet away from our table was a darkened plate-glass window. About once every half hour, a light would come on to reveal a young lady sitting at her boudier, dressed in lingerie, going through the motions of preparing for a long evening at the bordello: applying makeup, writing tell-alls in her journal and then, inevitably, pinning up a makeshift blanket screen and changing outfits behind it. This little play is titillating at the onset, but like most Vegas gimmicks, loses its charm and novelty after a few viewings. Back to the food.
We begin with a beer cheddar fondue and dippable foodstuffs: granny smith apples, pretzel bread, pigs-in-a-blanket, fried artichoke and crab poppers. They are all delicious and fun, as anything smothered in cheese will be. Joel ordered the french onion soup and declared it unremarkable, if a bit heavy on the onions.
For the main course, I got the 10 ounce filet medium-rare. What arrived at the table was the filet, medium-well and tending toward the well side. No blood, only grey meat. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I sent it back immediately. Our waitress apologized and I had a new filet, done perfectly, in less than 5 minutes. Alongside the steak were cippolini onions, slightly carmelized on the tops and bottoms. Joel and I were in agreement that the steaks were decent, but the onions almost made up for anything lacking in the meat department.
I had asked our server for a good wine recommendation to accompany beef and she knocked it out of the park by hooking us up with a bottle of John Tyler Zinfandel 2004 from the Russian River Valley. Amazing!
Finally, for dessert we order bubble gum cotton candy (playful, sugary clouds of Bazooka Joe) and warm little doughnuts filled with vanilla custard plus chocolate dipping sauce on the side (messy, yummy and comforting). I get a double espresso to cap things off.
At the end of the night, we all agree the experience at Cathouse could be classified as "uneven". The botch-up of my steak, the attitude of the waitstaff, and the odd environment clashes with their self-proclaimed "comfort food" offerings, fun but spotty preparations, and great wine offering. Nothing too horrible, nothing too revelatory.
When your husband says he wants to have dinner at The Cathouse, you know darn well it’s not for the food, the architecture, the menu or the location. Even when he offered up “It’s supposed to have really good comfort food,” I knew all along it was for the chicks and the cleavage. Oddly enough I was okay with that and after four nights of lengthy multi-course business dinners, I figured this would more interesting, maybe give us something to laugh about and I might even get some decent mashed potatoes out of it. (I am after all an admitted sucker for comfort food and was willing to suspend my feminist sensibilities for a good mac and cheese.)
The Cathouse is located in the Luxor and has 25 foot tall red leather doors at the entrance. We arrived early and the rest of our party hadn’t yet arrived, so we waited in the bar. Both the bar and the restaurant are on the second floor and the stairway is filled with “boudoir art” which is really just a classy name for old-timey nudie pix. In addition to the bar, the lounge featured lots of sofas, an abundance of old-fashioned chandeliers and wallpaper reminiscent of a Victorian bedroom. I guess we were supposed to feel as though we were in the waiting room of a cathouse.
The cocktail waitress was prompt and genuinely friendly; she seemed to really care that we were enjoying our drinks. We were seated immediately after the rest of our party arrived. The paper menus were held in place on a larger piece of leather-covered board by garter belt fasteners. Our table had a view of a window with a performance artist, a 20-something getting ready for her next “date” in front of a theatre-style make-up mirror. She would spray on perfume, write in her diary, brush her hair, and change her lingerie. That last bit was only done after she drew a partial curtain across the window, which I think keyed up the guys more than if she had just dropped her drawers right there. Once ready for her date, her room would go dark for 15 minutes before the show repeated.
Our server seemed a bit offish and it took her a while to warm up to our group. I don’t know what the issue was, but she was a rude and rushed at the start, though she relaxed once we ordered bottles of champagne and wine. (Is it part of the theme to assume a working girl attitude?) Now’s probably the time to mention that the servers are dressed like hookers: Big hair, stockings and garter belts with corsets cinched so tight that many of the girls had cleavage raised nearly to their chins. (Huge, unnatural–looking implant alert! At one point, our server started clapping and jumping up and down and I worried she might sustain an injury.)
I did not find much comfort food on the menu. A salad with grapefruit and yuzu sauce? I don’t remember grandma ever making that...
After several nights of eating far more red meat than any one person should, I settled on the mushroom ravioli, handmade in-house each morning. They were filled with perfectly minced mushrooms and garnished with lobster mushrooms in a thin mushroom broth. The dish was tasty, but I’ve found just as good in chain restaurants and can make better ravioli at home with a certain mixer attachment. Not to sound too Midwestern, but for $25 I would expect more than four standard-sized raviolis on the plate.
Not that anyone left hungry; we all indulged in some amazing desserts. I guess you might consider the dessert course the happy ending because everyone agreed it was fabulous. I ordered the s’mores and once they arrived I decided not to share, blaming it on the messiness of the dish, but knowing that I just damn well didn’t want to share. I toasted three homemade marshmallows over a little firepot they brought to the table and sandwiched them between two graham crackers and a slab of milk chocolate. Heaven!
The bathrooms were clean but hard to locate and even harder to find your way back. The décor fit the theme, but the theme can’t make up for uneven and lackluster food service. Cathouse brings to mind the phrase “all style and no substance” and while I am no prude, there is a bit of an ick factor with their style. The s’mores saved the meal for me. Maybe that’s what a Vegas cathouse is all about – overlooking a lot of ick for a happy ending?
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