18 Steak’s menu packed with winners

Tucked in a corner of the giant new L’Auberge Casino and Hotel, 18 Steak has a casino vibe (the hostesses wear skin tight, very low cut dresses) with fine steakhouse service and fare that’s right on the money; which you’ll need a lot of because like any great steakhouse, it’s expensive.

We made reservations at 18 Steak (so named in honor of Louisiana being the 18th state admitted to the Union) and were seated promptly in a high-backed, curved, red leather booth that was very conducive to good conversation, and we settled in for a long and lovely dinner. It began with the bread service. Our waiter explained the chef strives to use local fresh ingredients which showed with the delicious small rounds of fried savory beignets drizzled with cane syrup served along with house-churned butter and house-made blackberry jam. The fried bread was very light and spread with the creamy butter and not-too-sweet jam, it signaled the start of a fantastic meal.

Our attentive waiter suggested two appetizers with a Louisiana flair: the large jumbo-lump crab cake ($15) came plated attractively, centered on a rectangular dish. The sweet crab meat had very little breading — just lots of crab meat with sautéed seasonings providing a little crunch. On one end of the plate were four marinated crab claws and on the other a sampling of the lump crab meat garnished with a tomato slice. The generous serving of wood grilled barbecued shrimp ($14) tasted smoky and spicy and the buttery brown sauce was so good we couldn’t resist sopping it up with the toasted focaccia bread. Among the nice-sized shrimp were small fried lobster dumplings, a nice sampling of the lobster meat. Both of these were good but if choosing only one, go with the shrimp.

Our soup and salad course brought more taste treats. We tried the organic salad ($8) and enjoyed the roasted beets and the greens topped with a fresh Meyer lemon vinaigrette and thought the combination hit the spot. The Caesar ($9) is a large salad with two hearts of romaine topped with a perfect tangy Caesar dressing and with really good asiago and parmesan cheeses and a large breaded fontina cheese crouton on the side. We also liked the buffalo mozzarella salad ($9). The sliced heirloom tomatoes topped with slices of the mild cheese were good, but the column of creamy avocado chutney in one corner of the plate was out of this world.

The salads were good, but our favorite of this course was the gumbo ($8). Our wonderful waiter called it de-constructed and he served a large bowl of rice, chicken, sausage, crab and shrimp and then a server poured in the hot rich broth. This gumbo had such a great depth of flavor, spicy with a touch of sweetness.

For her entrée one guest chose the fish and even though she was at a restaurant with steak in the name she was well pleased with her choice. The speckled trout “amandine” ($28) was a large serving of perfectly cooked fish topped with a large serving of sweet, lump crab meat with a dollop of delicious wilted spinach and the smallest fingerling potato we’ve ever seen. We also tried the 14-ounce New York steak ($39) which was tender, delicious and cooked perfectly to order. With this we ordered the best side of the night, macque choux ($7). Beautifully served in a green corn husk, the sweet corn, sausage, sautéed bell peppers and onion mixed with cream was absolutely delicious and another “must get.”

The 18-ounce steak flight ($43) was a steak-lover’s dream. The three different steak samplings included a filet mignon with fois gras butter, a ribeye served with compressed potatoes in a black-iron skillet and a flat iron steak with a horseradish sauce that paired perfectly with the meat. The waiter said this was an excellent choice and we could see why. While all were top-notch, tender and cooked perfectly the flat iron was picked as the favorite of this guest. Another ordered the seven-ounce filet ($31) and couldn’t think how anything could be better. The prime filet topped with a bleu cheese crust was the perfect taste combination. We also tried the flash fried mushrooms ($7) with fresh herbs, salt and oil and thought their woodsy freshness was good, and the gratin potatoes ($8), a large serving of thinly sliced potatoes with Gruyere cheese, fresh cream and garlic. While good, the thick serving of layered potatoes needed to be served at a warmer temperature.

For dessert we tried the vanilla gelato ($8) which included three small scoops of the frozen treat served in a martini glass, sprinkled with a sweet crumble and topped with chocolate drizzles. It was the perfect combination of sweet and tart and a good choice after a heavy meal.

We also gave the créme brûlée ($7) a try and enjoyed the fresh fruit over the crunchy topped just-sweet enough lemony custard. Another de-constructed item, the cheesecake ($8) was a different but delicious take on the traditional dessert. A cinnamon-sugar crust lined the bottom of another of their attractive serving pieces topped with a mound of their lighter than usual cheesecake with salted caramel sauce around the side and topped with a large piece of the light fried crust perched artfully on top. Our waiter and the service staff were engaging and helpful, the food was delicious and we enjoyed the creativity of the presentations down to the artful serving pieces themselves. The dining experience at 18 Steak was a real winner.