Last week marked the 9th anniversary of my wife’s and my first date. While that is a milestone that probably declines a bit in significant after our 7+ years of marriage, it still provided a good excuse to get a babysitter and enjoy a dinner out together. Last Thursday, we had that dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills.
My first experience at a Lawry’s restaurant was actually at their location in downtown Chicago to celebrate my 16th birthday. It was almost 2 decades later before my next chance to eat at one of their restaurants, but it always stuck in my memory as one of my all-time favorite dining experiences. Since that first trip to the Beverly Hills location (which is the original one in this format) a few years ago, it has become pretty much my wife’s and my first choice for "date night" special occasion dinners.
As you can probably guess from the name of the restaurant, Lawry’s specializes in prime rib. In fact, when I made that first visit to the one in Chicago back in the mid-1980s, that was the only entree that they offered. Back then, the only menu that they gave you (other then a wine list) was a small flyer listing the prices of the different sized cuts of prime rib. If you wanted something other prime rib for dinner, then you needed to go somewhere else.
They are a bit more flexible now, with a few seafood entrees also available to accommodate anyone who ends up at the restaurant but doesn’t eat red meat. If you don’t want prime rib, though, it still seems to me that there is little reason to go there unless you are accompanying someone else that is there for the prime rib. They do now give you a full leather-bound menu that lists the various entree choices as well as giving full descriptions and prices for various side dishes. We didn’t really spend too much time perusing the menu, though, as we both wanted prime rib dinners and already knew our preferences for side dishes from previous visits.
Part of the fun of a visit to Lawry’s is that the overall dining experience includes a fair amount of showmanship in the presentation. The first course of the prime rib dinner is their "Famous Original Spinning Bowl Salad", which the server prepares right at the table. Mixed greens, croutons, shredded beets, and bits of egg are placed into a large metal bowl. The server then starts the bowl spinning as the salad dressing is mixed in. The house dressing is a seasoned sherry wine based dressing. I’m not sure of the exact ingredients, but I’m pretty sure that Lawry’s seasoned salt (invented for the restaurant and also widely available at supermarkets) is one of the key ones. During our visits to the restaurant, we’ve never been offered (or wanted) any alternative dressings, so I don’t know if others are available. My only minor complaint about the salad is that I tend to prefer a more straightforward iceberg lettuce salad to the mixed greens, but the dressing is so good and the presentation so much fun that I still really enjoy it.
After the salad course (which also comes with fresh baked sourdough bread), a carver wheels a large warming cart out which carries the prime rib and various side dishes. The server then asks each diner to select what sized cut they want (my wife and I both went with the traditional "Lawry’s cut") and how well-done they want the meat to be. The meat is then carved to order right there at the table. Our experiences at the restaurant has been that the carvers are definite experts at what they do and the meat has always been cooked to precisely the right level.
The side dishes included with the prime rib dinner are mashed potatoes and gravy, a choice of several different types of vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding. For an additional charge, you can substitute a baked potato, which is huge and available with a variety of different toppings (butter, sour cream, chives, bacon, cheese, etc.) In the past, my wife and I have typically split one of the baked potatoes. We actually ordered that again this time, but the server forgot about it when preparing our dinner plates and we decided to just let it go. The mashed potatoes were actually quite good, served with a very thick and tasty beef gravy. For our vegetables, we both got the creamed corn, which is very rich with lots of cream sauce. I commented at one point that it was impressive how they took something relatively healthy like corn and made it highly unhealthy and fattening…
Prime rib has long been pretty high on my list of favorite foods and I honestly can’t think of anywhere else that I have ever found that makes it better, or even as good as, Lawry’s. The meat is consistently very tender and flavorful and trimmed of most of the fat that is usually typical of prime rib. It is seasoned prior to roasting with just enough Lawry’s seasoned salt to add a little bit of flavor without overwhelming the meat. Of course, they obviously use a high quality cut of meat as well. The Lawry’s cut is fairly large and typically served with the bone. It is big enough that we almost always do have some leftovers to take home.
A number of different dessert options are available, but we opted to split a hot fudge sundae. They continue the showmanship with the sundae, which is yet another item that is prepared at the table. Their sundaes feature CC Brown’s Hot Fudge Sauce, originally created for a famous Hollywood Blvd. ice cream parlor. The server brings out a cart with a good-sized dish of vanilla ice cream and then adds hot fudge, whipped cream, and roasted almonds at the table. A small pitcher with additional fudge is provided as well, allowing more to be added as needed while eating the sundae. My wife doesn’t care for nuts (not allergic, just doesn’t like them) while almonds are one of my favorites, so the server was very accommodating about placing them on just one side of the sundae. We probably should have just had her leave them on the side of the dish, though, as my wife said she did end up getting a few.
The total cost for our dinner for 2 came to just over $100 (before tip) for two Lawry’s cut prime rib dinners, 2 non-alcoholic speciality drinks (virgin strawberry daiquiris), and a hot-fudge sundae. While that is fairly expensive, I don’t think the prices are unreasonable for a high-end steakhouse. Obviously, the cost of a meal would likely be somewhat higher for those that prefer to have alcoholic beverages with their meal.
The Beverly Hills location is located on N. La Cienega Blvd., about 1/2 block north of Wilshire Blvd. Parking is strictly valet and there really isn’t any opportunity for street parking in that area. The service charge for the valet parking is $4.50. I suspect the valets aren’t generally used to people tipping there (probably because of the service charge) as the one that retrieved our car seemed genuinely surprised when I handed him one.
The Lawry’s chain offers a VIP program that we have found to be a generally pretty good deal. There is a one-time $25 fee to enroll in the program, but they automatically send you a $25 gift certificate with the membership card. You then earn 1 point for every $1 spent and they send another $25 certificate every time you accumulate 250 points. They send out bonus certificates for birthdays and anniversaries that entitle you to extra points. When you use those bonus certificates, they also will send you a personalized season salt (for birthdays) or seasoned pepper (for anniversaries). Generally, the accumulation of points is rapid enough that we have pretty much always had a $25 certificate to use when dining at one of their restaurants.
In addition to the Beverly Hills location and the previously mentioned one in Chicago, they also have similar restaurants in Dallas, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Singapore, and Taipei. They also own two additional full-service restaurants in Southern California: Tam O’Shanter Inn in Glendale and Five Crowns in Corona del Mar, both of which offer the signature prime rib dinners, but also have a wider variety of entrees available as well. Finally, they also have "Lawry’s Carvery" sandwich shops at the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and at the Century City Mall.
I haven’t yet tried Five Crowns or either of the Carvery locations (we need to try them sometime…), but we have dined at Tam O’Shanter a number of times and it has also become something of a favorite. It is actually the first and oldest of their restaurants so it has a definite history. The "irish pub" setting of the restaurant is somewhat quieter and more intimate than the somewhat more raucous setting at Lawry’s.