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Photograph by Katherine Bish
While not easily distracted from our quest for Baccarat Immortality, we nevertheless have to eat. And so, like you other high rollers, we find ourselves at Lumière Place, and there’s SLeeK, the casino’s trenderrific (though oddly orthographed) steakhouse. So we stop in for dinner.
The atmosphere in this most luxurious of eateries in St. Louis’ most luxurious casino is, well, sleek. Lighting is soft, romantic. Tables and booths share a spacious room that allows for privacy and encourages long, slow dining—most of the maddening ding!ding!ding! and other casino cacophony is filtered out. Composite wood in the tabletops reflects walls that look like stacked lumber. A towering, glass-enclosed wine cellar separates the dining area from a large, comfortable bar. Presentations are artistic, attractive without being extravagant; the mood is formal, without feeling stiff.
A short menu focuses on steaks and other meats, with enough other choices to please the less carnivorous. Steaks are top quality here and beautifully, expertly prepared. Cut into a steak at a lesser place, and juices often dribble onto the plate. Here, they are absorbed into the meat, which has been allowed time to rest, yet arrives still hot. A 10-ounce filet mignon was seared to a seductive caramelized brown, its meat tender. Rib-eyes are noteworthy at SLeeK—thick, moist, lusty. Arguably, this cut is the cow’s greatest contribution to the steakhouse, and at SLeeK, you’ll taste why. The porterhouse, with its big chunk of tenderloin, will satisfy those appetites whetted by a big blackjack win—we knew your “system” would eventually pay off. Supposing, on the other hand, those nickel slots were chillier than the air at Blago Appreciation Day in the Illinois Senate: A 14-ounce New York strip is a more affordable consolation.
If you haven’t tried a hanger steak, consider the superior preparation here. There is a suggestion of mineral taste in this cut, which comes, hanger-onners insist, because of the closeness of the meat to the cow’s kidney. SLeeK, regrettably, plays a tired card with the “Kobe beef” routine. These cuts are from a Japanese breed raised in the U.S. They’re as authentically “Kobe beef” as the wine you pressed in your basement from some grapes you took from a Bourgogne vineyard is “Burgundy.”
Consider roasted king salmon or perhaps a flour-dusted, pan-seared halibut: Fresh fish selections change regularly here; they are uniformly good. A raw bar features oysters from both coasts, and a cold platter is loaded with oysters, shrimp, and a half-lobster. SLeeK’s grill met Pacific swordfish one night when we dined, making a fine combination that needs little to enhance the relationship. A bramble of radish sprouts and slices of kalamata olives provide a contrast to stimulate the palate, but the flavor of the meaty, moist swordfish is always dominant.
Among starters, the onions in a French onion soup have spent a lot of time caramelizing; they are tender and sweet. The thyme-tinged broth is rich, silky. A scoop of grated Gruyère comes alongside; you can add as much or as little as you like. Escargot should be a legally required starter for a steak dinner. The earthy, plump, firmly textured snails—swimming in a smoky, herby butter—prepare your mouth for the meat that follows. The light, piquant dressing on a deftly tossed arugula salad could not be better. The tableside preparation of the Caesar, a beloved ritual of fine dining, is enjoyable; the results are respectable. (Incidentally, a down note on overall tableside presentation: Service at SLeeK, while friendly, is out of step with the execution in the kitchen. Servers consistently delivered the wrong plates and vanished for long stretches.)
As with most steak places, sides are mandatory at SLeeK; every one sampled was above average. (And unlike main-course offerings, which are unabashedly pricey, sides are a decided bargain.) Potatoes au gratin, too often a waxy, greasy mess, arrive bubbling hot here, the cheese creamy, potatoes just tender, all of it working deliciously. Mashed potatoes come fluffed with horseradish (ding!), flakes of lobster (ding!!), or crumbles of exquisite, dirt-black Perigord truffle (ding!!!). Gnocchi nubbins are rewardingly paired with smoky bacon. Do not pass on the fricassee of wild mushrooms-—for all SLeeK’s glitz, this plain dish demonstrates the skills of its chef. Mushrooms meet sauté pan with lots of butter, until just tender, then the pan’s deglazed with what tasted like a good vermouth, and the juices are poured back over the mushrooms. Few dishes glisten with so much promise of rich flavor and deliver so well.
Happily stuffed, our table was determined to pass on desserts—until the menu appeared, and we folded like a 7-2 off-suit at a Texas Hold ’em tournament. The pastry under a layer of sweet, sugary cooked apple Tarte Tatin is flaky and golden. Peaches infuse a spectacularly rich cheesecake. Cinnamon ice cream, basil sorbet: Finishers here are inventive and portions just right. Don’t pass on them.
A wine list is extensive, though more wow-worthy for the prices than for any grand vintages. Among the best bargains are those by the glass, but don’t cheat yourself of the burble of a decent wine issuing from the bottle, a sensory delight to a meal in a place like this. Try a bottle of the ’04 Jordan Creek Reserve, a supple cab-sav that lends much to the steaks. An ’06 La Crema chardonnay is buttery, but crisp and sharp enough to brighten the oysters and fish.
A dinner at SLeeK is worthwhile, even if you are not planning it as part of an evening of “gaming,” as the commercials used to call it. And if, like us, you do make a postprandial night of it at the baccarat table, just think of it as we do—and as we explained it to our editor—as a “business expense.” Really.
The Bottom Line: The swankiest dining in any St. Louis casino; an enjoyable, expensive steakhouse with above-average sides and a continually changing menu.
Lumière Place, 999 N. Second
Average Main Course: $36
Reservations: Bet on it
Chef Team: Hubert Keller, Laurent Pillard,
Dress: Nicely, but be aware it is at a casino