Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lawry's The Prime Rib - restaurant review

For the husband's birthday dinner a couple of weeks ago, he chose Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills. Some friends have talked about the restaurant for some time, and of course, we've heard about the restaurant in all kinds of news stories and restaurant articles, and we've driven by it numerous times, but neither the husband nor I had ever been, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to pay a visit.

Lawry's is located on busy Restaurant Row on La Cienega Blvd. in Beverly Hills. The husband pulled up, and we left the car with the valet and went inside. The husband checked in with the hostess and told her that we had a reservation, and she asked us to wait in the lounge. The lounge area has a number of sofas, and there's beautiful wood paneling on the walls. They also had a station with some kind of hors d'oeuvres to munch on while you were waiting for your table. We didn't partake, but I think the husband said it was small meatballs and something else, based on what he saw someone else getting. Across the way, we saw the bar, which was also wood-paneled and elegant. Shortly thereafter, our table was ready, and we were led into the dining room.

After we sat down, the husband and I commented that it was odd coming into the dining room - it felt like we were going backwards. The dining room itself wasn't nearly as fancy or elegant as the waiting area. With lion heads on the stairs leading back to the waiting area, it felt like we were going the wrong direction, that we should now be in the more casual waiting area before heading through the lionhead-lined staircase to the more formal, wood-paneled, elegant dining room. I can't say exactly for what reason, but the dining room area actually reminded me a bit of the dining room for The Spaghetti Factory, which I happen to like, but I expected a bit more from a place like Lawry's.

The dining room had a number of booths, but they also had separate sections of tables with booth seating that were situated a bit oddly to me. This is a little hard to describe. We were at the end of one of the sections, and they pulled the table out to let the husband and me into our seats, and then they pushed the table back in front of us. For me to get out, the husband would have had to scoot out and I'd have to scoot over and out. The same would have been true for the couple who were later seated at the table at the other end of our section. But if they had sat anyone in the tables between us and the other couple, the only way for them to have gotten out was to pull their table entirely out, in the middle of the walkway, for them to get out. Or, I suppose they could have crawled under the table, but that would have been odd. In that section of seats, there was no seating on the aisle - everyone sat in booth space. The only aisle seating I saw was a young child in a high chair at a booth near us. We did notice regular tables in another section with regular single chairs.

After we'd been seated, our server came up and introduced herself. I don't remember her name, mostly because I was noticing other things about her: 1) Instead of "Mary" or "Jennifer" or "Christine", she introduced herself as "Miss [lastname]" and her nametag said the same thing. OK, that's different. I've never called a server that way before, and it might have made me think I was back in school except for the next thing I noticed. 2) Her uniform was very much and unmistakeably just like that of a nurse. The design and cut of the bodice, and then the little hat on top - it was definitely an old-style nurse look. OK, so our server was Nurse Ratched. And then later, we noticed that all the servers were women, in their little nurse uniforms, and all the bussers were men, dressed in what looked like orderly uniforms. OK, so when exactly did Lawry's turn into a hospital?

I looked at the menu to decide what to have for dinner. I knew that I'd have some kind of prime rib - I mean, why come to Lawry's and not have prime rib, unless you're a vegetarian or you don't eat red meat? The ordering process was a little weird, because if you ordered anything other than prime rib, then you ordered it with your server, who took the order to the kitchen, but if you wanted prime rib, you ordered that when the prime rib cart came around. And for certain sides, you had to order with the server because it came out of the kitchen, and other sides, they came with the prime rib cart. Both the husband and I ordered "The Lawry Cut - Our traditional and most popular cut" of prime rib and then we ordered a side of asparagus to share, which it turns out came from the kitchen.

Each prime rib meal came with certain accompaniments, including a starter salad, their "Famous Original Spinning Bowl Salad", which Nurse Ratched prepared at the table, and when she poured in the salad dressing, she held the container and raised it really high while pouring it. It just reminded me of old-time show, which I guess isn't my thing. Show is nice, as is presentation, but the food is really going to speak for itself. I thought the salad was ok, but I wasn't crazy about the dressing. It had similarities to Thousand Island dressing, which I would have loved back when I used to like Thousand Island dressing, but since I generally prefer Italian vinaigrette nowadays, the dressing was sweeter than I would have preferred.

From Lawry's website, you can see the server making the salad, and you can also see what her uniform looks like. This looks to be a really old picture, and the server's uniforms don't look exactly like that anymore. But the styling is similar. And no, I have no idea why they don't have newer pictures on the website.

The meal also came with Yorkshire Pudding - which I'll admit I didn't know what that was - turns out it was pretty much bread in a little pan. Also included with the meal was mashed potatoes, but I think you can substitute a baked potato for an additional charge. The husband and I both opted for the mashed potatoes. They also had regular horseradish and whipped cream horseradish for the prime rib.

There were a couple prime rib carts making the rounds of the restaurant, and when the closest one arrived at our table, Nurse Ratched came back. She introduced us to the chef with that particular cart, and then she asked me what cut of prime rib I wanted. I told her, and then she repeated it to the chef - who was standing right there and would have heard me, I would have presumed. He cut what I asked for, added the mashed potatoes and then I can't remember if he put the plate on the table in front of me or if she did. She then turned to the husband and did the same thing. I thought it was weird that we didn't really speak directly to the chef - it would have been just as easy to just tell him our order. I don't think the formality of having the server repeat our order to the chef was necessary - it just made it seem like he wasn't really there, or somehow, it wasn't proper for us to speak to him.

From Lawry's website, a picture of a chef with a meat cart. We couldn't figure out what the giant medallion was for that the chefs all had hanging around their necks.

When my plate was put down, I was a surprised at how big a cut it was. It was then that I realized that the menu listed different cuts of prime rib, but not how many ounces each cut was. The prime rib was more than I would have ordered had I known the size - on any future visit, if I was to order prime rib, I'd probably get either "The California Cut - A smaller cut for lighter appetites" or "The English Cut - Three thin slices deftly carved to heighten the rich beef flavor".

From the website, a picture of the prime rib plate, with what looks like creamed spinach added.

After we'd started to enjoy our prime rib, Nurse Ratched came back to check on us, and she noticed there wasn't much au jus on my plate, so she asked if I wanted more. I said yes, and she came back with a gravy boat of jus, so that was very nice. The prime rib was indeed very good, and I actually had it with the horseradish, which I've never done elsewhere before. The mashed potatoes were kind of plain, and I actually quite liked the Yorkshire Pudding, and the asparagus was very good.

I ended up having about half my prime rib, and I took the rest home and had it for lunch a couple of days later. I really liked the prime rib, but I can't say that it was amazingly better than other prime rib or cut of beef that I've had. Maybe I'm just not a prime rib afficionado, or I've been lucky enough that I have a number of places to go if I want a nice cut of beef, but I was just not wowed by the meal itself.

For some reason, they don't seem to have the dessert menu on the website, so I'm going off memory here. Because they knew that we were celebrating the husband's birthday, they brought him a bit of the English trifle, and they even sang him a song. But with just the female voices, sung in a way that made me think they were trying to be soothing rather than festive, it kept making me think that the nurses were singing him a nice birthday song at the hospital to cheer him up, but they didn't want to wake the other patients. The husband ended up not eating his birthday gift since it had raspberries in it, which he seriously dislikes, so I ended up having that for dessert while he ordered a slice of banana creme pie or something like that, which he enjoyed.

My choice of moniker aside, Nurse Ratched was actually quite pleasant. She was attentive without hovering, and she actually had a nice little conversation with the husband about the glass of wine he chose as well as about other wines she liked.

Side note: I mentioned the little girl in a high-chair at a nearby table. She was the cutest thing and friendly too, which just won the hearts of the servers, a couple of whom came by and visited with her several times. I think the husband made some comment about how the pediatric ward is always popular with the nurses.

All in all, we had a good experience, but I think for me, it just didn't live up to the expectations I had for it. The food was good, but not outstanding, the service was good, though the uniforms were distracting, and the decor wasn't nearly as elegant as I had expected. It may also be that the meal was literally meat and potatoes, and I'm not really a strict "meat and potatoes" kind of person - I'm used to a little more variety. Even at Northwoods Inn, which I absolutely love, it's very much "meat and potatoes" there, but the meal just seems more interesting there. I don't regret having gone to Lawry's, and I'm glad that I had the experience. I wouldn't object to going back if friends had a special occasion and wanted to go there (and at least next time, I'll know what to expect), but it's not a restaurant that I would choose to visit again.

Lawry's The Prime Rib
100 N. La Cienega Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 652-2827


Perky Mommy said...

I'm not going to flame you, really. ;) The reason the picture on the site looks "old" is the reason I love Lawry's - it's "old fashioned." The uniforms have been the same... forever. The waitresses are always "Miss." We always order baked potatoes. They are big and the waitresses dress them to order tableside. They come with a little poem stuck in them "I've been rubbed and scrubbed, no need to eat discretely, you can eat me completely!" (Yes, I know the poem!) Sorry about the cut confusion - I always always order the California Cut!! My eyes bulged out when I saw what cut you ordered actually, lol. And, that dressing? It's actually a "sherry" dressing. We LOVE it love it love it in our family! We were so sad when Lawry's stopped selling it in stores. When we go to LTPR, we bring bottles of it home with us.

For us, going to Lawry's isn't just about the food, it's a bit of a production and part of the process and the evening. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as we do, but I won't flame you.

Perky Mommy said...

Oh and my dad has a pet name for the carts... he calls them the Cow Coffins. ;)

Cindy said...

When I was looking through their website, I noticed they had an online store, and they sell the salad dressing there. Let's see if this link works (

JeffG said...

No flaming from here either. :) Everyone has different tastes in restaurants and, based on what I know about what you tend to like, it doesn't surprise me that your reaction to the restaurant was a bit mixed.

The overall atmosphere and personality of the restaurant is unquestionably quirky. We tend to get a kick out of most of it (although I'm not fond of the table layout at all), but I can see how it could be off-putting for some as well. As Perky Mommy mentioned, there is a kind of old-fashioned approach to the service, particularly the somewhat unusual formality to some of it.

For me, the biggest appeal of the restaurant is definitely the food, though. I most certainly >am< a pure meat and potatoes type and I really don't think that anyone does it better. There may be other places that have better prime rib, but I honestly can't think of any. I also absolutely love their salad dressing (obviously, the lack of choices there could be an issue if you don't care for it) and I get a big kick out of the "show" of the spinning salad bowl. Their creamed corn is another favorite of mine.

One thing to note about the menu is that Lawry's didn't used to have one. My first visit to a Lawry's was to the Chicago location for my 16th birthday. Back then, they simply wheeled the cart out and had each person select which cut of prime rib and their side dishes. If you wanted anything other than prime rib (or you were a vegetarian or didn't eat red meat), your only real choice was to go somewhere else for dinner. :) Some time in the last 20 years or so, they added the fish and vegetarian options as well as expanding the selection of side dishes a bit to include some that couldn't really be served from the cart. It does create a bit of an odd approach to ordering as they work to maintain tradition where they can.

Finally, even though it probably isn't all that relevant to your review :), I'll take this opportunity to note that the restaurant really is a surprisingly good choice for kids (or at least for mine). As you noted, the restaurant itself isn't really as elegant as you might have expected, which helps to make it a bit more kid-friendly. For the children's meals, they simply offer the same food served to the adults in a smaller portion, something which my son really loves. One cool touch on our last visit (which was last month) was that the carver actually cut our son's prime rib into bite-sized pieces for him before serving it!

Perky Mommy said...

I'm LOVING the idea of the carver cutting the kid's meat for them!!! I also remember when there was no real "menu" except that I was always given a "menu" - it listed the options we had, the different cuts of meat, the side-dishes offered, etc. The only "ordering" we did was when the waitress came around to find out if anyone wanted a baked potato.

The first time we went that there was a not-prime rib entree was about 1993-95ish, when my MIL got her master's degree. We went there for dinner with a relative who ate NO meat and we were all surprised when they offered her salmon.

Cindy said...

I figure my review would help regardless of whether or not someone agrees with me. I try to make it clear what I do and don't like about something, so if someone doesn't have an issue with the things I don't like, then they know they should go regardless of what I say. :)

And of course, it always helps to have others' opinions, so thanks for the alternative comments about the place for other people to read, though I think I might have already hit my quota for the people who actually read my blog! ;)