Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hugo's Cellar, Four Queens, Las Vegas - Royal Flusher Restaurant Review

We ate at Hugo's Cellar at the Four Queens twice during the No Kickers Las Vegas trip so I thought I'd describe one visit and include details about the food from the others, all together into one review. I also visited Hugo's Cellar (and ate there too) during my summer trip with Kenny and LuLU, so I'll include some of that info.

As I left the Four Queen's casino floor with it's gaudy buzz and carnival atmosphere and descended about a floor down the gently curving steps into Hugo's Cellar. Boisterous shouts from the casino faded away and I felt myself relaxing. Hugo's ambiance coddles you as you make your way in, as if you were entering a velvety, muted chamber. It's comforting and elegant. Hugo's is almost out of place at the Four Queens, it's such a cut above. But it's well regarded, well established, traditional, classy without being pretentious, and there are many (like me) that hope that it never changes.

I pondered the name.Hugo's Cellar. Part of it was obvious, since someone who really likes faux red bricks would obviously be named Hugo. But why the cellar?

As I regarded the restaurant bar and it's two or three tables I realized that it would be an extremely civilized place to have a quick pre-dinner drink, a nice place to unwind away from the hubbub upstairs, where one could debrief the day's gambling events, and argue over whether pimento is a thing unto its own or a part of something else that gets pickled and called a pimento.

However, I'd made an early reservation and there were many tables open. Mrs. Flusher came down the stairs to join me, and we approached the podium, and were promptly seated.

A red rose accompanies each lady and is placed on the table, and at the end of the meal, presented to said lady to accompany her on her way. What said lady does with the rose in a casino, I have no idea, but its a nice touch, and part of what makes Hugo's Hugo's. In fact, there are roses incorporated into Hugo's Cellar logo.

Hugo's is traditional gourmet room service, with crisp linens, proper place settings and tableware, and a full team of gastronauts to launch your tastebuds into orbit - bus folks, waiter, sommelier, maitre'd, and so on.
One of Hugo's 'stealth' servers. Can you spot him?
The dress code is pretty much the same as it is all across Vegas - if I had to sum it up it would be something like 'Pants Required. No Nipples.'. Most restaurants in town now cater to the lowest common denominator in terms of dress in the sense that you have to be dressed, and that's about it. (A follow-up check on their website has this description: Located in the Four Queens Hotel-Casino in downtown Las Vegas, Hugo’s Cellar offers romantic and elegant dining with exquisite service in a casual setting. No Nipples.)

Madame Cliquot
We were given water and offered drinks, and perused the menu. Service at Hugo's is excellent. The staff is timely but unobtrusive, friendly, but not in your face. Things arrive at the table and unneeded things disappear from the table with elegant efficiency.

I ordered a bottle of Veuve Cliquot ($100), which was delivered by the sommelier along with a running patter of information, observations about the color of the label being yellow or is it really orange, and the fact that there is an interesting and not very flattering portrait of Madame Cliquot on the cap of the bottle - something which I hadn't known about since I ordered the same champagne in the summer, and was told the exact same things.

I didn't worry about this too much, because the restaurant business is theatre, someone said. I can only hope that I return to Hugo's often enough that I start to become familiar with the staff, thus forcing some new and fresh information about the Veuve Cliquot.

It was delicious, by the way, and our glasses were always refilled at the perfect moments.

The menu is pretty traditional for an old school gourmet room / steakhouse with the usual beef offerings and seafood dishes - prime rib ($50), rib eye ($55), New York ($49) and filet ($57) steaks, crab and lobster tail (market price), shrimp ($50), and the like - along with a number of specialty dishes, such as Duckling Anise Flambé ($40). In the brick corner, weighing in at $175 is The Cellars Champion, which is Chateaubriand and lobster tail for two.

The Hugo's Hot Rock Specialty for Two appetizer sounds interesting. You get medallions of filet, chicken, shrimp and ahi tuna along with (I'm guessing) a very hot rock on which to cook them. These are accompanied with various dipping sauces. ("You’re the chef at your table!").

Food service starts with the bread basket, a selection of rolls and a crunch cheese-dusted flatbread. This is my go-to bread because a) it carries a good portion of butter and b) it doesn't take up much room in your tummy. Note the rose motif has been carried forward onto the very (creamery fresh) butter itself.

Why isn't this place called Hugo's Rose?

Or Rose's Cellar?

One of the big attractions is Hugo's Mobile Emergency Salad Cart X1-B. When you are ready for salad (or whether you aren't), dispatch puts out the call.

"Salad emergency, table 42, salad emergency, table 42 - stat!"

The salad engineer then responds, "Green Goddess X1-B departing Rampart General for table 42, ETA... 4 seconds."

The idea behind all of this is that you get a custom-prepared salad with exactly your choice of ingredients, made before your very eyes by the Green Goddess Emergency Salad Team, just for you, thus quelling your chlorophyll shortage emergency in flamboyant Hugo's fashion.

There is a huge selection of ingredients and a good choice of dressings, including the house specialty which I think was suspiciously like Ranch.

It sounds wonderful and it is, but I can see some folks succumbing to peer pressure to have ingredients they might not really want, because the exchange goes like this.
Hugo's Mobile Emergency Salad Cart X-1B

"Fresh egg?"
"No, thank you. I'm allergic to eggs."
"Pine nuts?"
"No, thank you."
"God no! Wow, anchovies. No..."
"Yes, please."
"No, thank you."
"No, thanks."
"Blue cheese?"

And before you know it, you have degenerated into a salad short order cook, with yes, no, yes, no, civility be damned.

"Artichoke hearts?"
"Pickled kale?"
"Trail mix with only brown M&Ms?"

My salad turned out beautifully. It had lots of prizes in like shrimp and blue cheese and no brown M&Ms, just like I wanted it.

I ordered the Scampi Hugo, which featured jumbo shrimp with sundried tomatoes and herbs in a garlic wine sauce. It was quite good. The shrimp were cooked just right and the tomatoes gave an earthy zing to the dish that balanced the sauce and other spices nicely.
Scampi Hugo
Service continued with a homemade sorbet to cleanse the palate. I've had both lemon and raspberry, both were delightful. I don't know if the flavor changes according to what you've ordered or not, but I suppose it is possible.

The rib eye steak ($55) was perfectly cooked the way we'd ordered (medium rare) and was very generous, cut to the perfect thickness. It was not so thin it would overcook and get tough, or not be enough to satisfy, and not so thick it wouldn't cook right in the middle if you so wanted it that way, and also not Neanderthal thick.

Served on a reduction, the steaks were remarkably good - tender, flavorful, great seer on them, perfect color inside, juicy - absolutely delicious from start to finish. Along with the entrees came a roasted spice and parmesan tomato (okay but forgettable), a jumble of perfectly cooked vegetables, and garlic mashed potatoes. The taters were quite good but for cryin' out loud, I have a thing about anything but ice cream being served with an ice cream scoop. Specifically, it shouldn't be. I'd much rather have a portion of potato with a random top to it than something that looks like it came off an assembly line.

Perhaps I am off base here and a very fancy French pelle du potate is used to plate the macerated tubers.

Mrs. Flusher had the same rib eye along with a lobster tail added ($38). She asked that it be broiled plain and plainly it was broiled. It was okay, but a tad over-cooked, giving a little too much spring to the lobster meat.

After such a feast, it's hard to imagine having room for one of the desserts on offer such as Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee (each $16 for two), or something off the Hugo's Mobile Emergency Dessert Cart ($6).

Fortunately, Hugo's Cellar provides a little sweet tray, featuring chocolate dipped strawberries and apricots dipped in dark chocolate, and figs nestled on white chocolate. Along with this comes a bowl of whipped cream. It's delightful and all one needs.

On one occasion, I mentioned that the strawberries alone would be enough (because I knew that Mrs. Flusher wouldn't partake of the other items). So I thought two chocolate strawberries, and the cream, would be just right for ol' Flushypants.

The tray arrived with just strawberries, all right - six of 'em. And the whipped cream. I managed to glut down most of them. Okay, and the whipped cream too. It was a special occasion, all right?

This particular version of the Hugo's Cellar experience was excellent. On other occasions, we had very good luck with the rib eye steak again.

The Lobster Bisque ($14) was, well, horrendous. Adorned with a cutesy (but fail) rose drawn in cream on it's slightly skinned over surface, it was fishy, thick and heavy, and worst of all, bland. I had to season it myself with salt and pepper, and it perked up significantly.
Now, bear in mind that I never add salt to my food, having given up the sodium addiction years ago, so my palette has been cleansed of that need. No, the bisque was just not very good. There were chunks of lobster in it that were tough and kind of off-putting. I normally don't order these kinds of things, and I should have known better, but on the other hand, I thought Hugo's could pull it off. On this occasion, they didn't.

So the Lobster Bisque is not recommended by me.

A much better choice proved to be the Escargot en Croute ($17), piping hot, lots of butter, and a nice puffy pastry hat on each one, like they were ready to go out on the town, straight to mouthville. Delicious.

Alaskan King Crab (market) was pretty good, but not stellar, having an underlying fishy taste that said the crab legs might not be quite as fresh as they should be.

On our first visit this trip I had (yes) the rib eye with what was billed as a horseradish crust.
It ended up being more like a horseradish sauce with a little bit of crust on top. It was pretty damned good, and if they could find a way to really put a crust on it, it would be spectacular. Again, the steaks were perfect that night.

Sadly, on another occasion, they weren't. We both ordered Beef Wellington ($59). It was our first visit to Hugo's and our first time ever having this dish. We ordered it medium rare and it came well done. And tough. It didn't even seem like filet. At least the sauce was good. We should have sent it back, but we'd already had appetizers and huge Mobile Emergency Salads, and at that point, we were ready to get on with it. And never having had the dish before, we didn't know what it should be like. But we did know the meat shouldn't be shoe-leather dry and tough. So, unfortunately, that dish was not a winner.

We didn't go back to Hugo's for a long time because of that first experience, but every return visit has been very rewarding and in the last case, downright delightful. I'm guessing that it was a one-off mistake and had we brought it to the waiter's attention it would have been made right.

When Hugo's Cellar is good, it's very, very good. It's unfortunate that we've had a couple of mis-steps land on our table, and that's cost them a card or so in the Royal Flusher Restaurant Ranking, but we most certainly will return.

Other visits to Hugo's:
Here Goes Hugo's Cellar
If there's anything... anything you need

Royal Flusher Restaurant Rating - Hugo's Cellar at the Four Queens - three-and-a-half to a Royal.
Hugo's Cellar - three-and-a-half to a Royal
Hugo's Cellar
Four Queens Hotel and Casino
202 Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101, United States


1 comment:

  1. The most sweet part from visiting casino