By Debra Cornwell
It is tempting to submit a one-word submission for this Featured Eats, but which one word? Phenomenal? Sublime? Awesome? Life-changing? That’s actually two words, but it certainly applies. When we tasted our Prime-1 steak at Final Cut Steakhouse, we wondered, “What have we been eating all of our lives?” The answer to that question could be the subject of an altogether different article. For this piece, we are concerned with the pleasantries of a superb meal.
“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Cornwell, your table is ready,” smiled Megan Espinosa, the hostess. It was nice to hear such an address, which makes all the difference between a personal welcome, and an anonymous courtesy. That personal greeting adds to the ambiance, too. You are expected. You are on the list. It is Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, after all.
The restaurant’s 100-seat ambiance is contemporary and elegant. Wide, high banquettes provide the perfect curve to see and be seen, and yet have a private conversation. Tables with a light, Movingue finish are positively burnished to a sheen. From the hefty, pewter-finished flatware to the oversized, old-fashioned glasses, everything is understated chic. The Hollywood modernity of the decor is in contrast to the Hollywood Art Deco of the Casino. The restaurant is noticeably quiet—no casino noise whatsoever—only murmured chatting and the low, clubby tunes of Dean, Frank, and Sammy wafting from a crystal-clear sound system high above the diners. The dress code is officially casual, but one’s finest attire for a glam night out would be quite at home.
Notably, the Hollywood memorabilia is no kitsch-on-the-wall; it is collector- worthy and displayed in museum-style glass cases. I instantly recognized Kim Basinger’s pale pink meringue of a gown and Angelica Huston’s 1985 Oscar gown—when she won Best Supporting Actress for Prizzi’s Honor.
Jeremy Shields, acting manager at the Final Cut, explains, “We look at every detail of the customer experience, from how you are greeted, to the ice cubes in the ice tea; we epitomize a fine dining experience. We have outstanding food and service.” One without the other is a miss. This is a hit. Shields notes that Final Cut opened on November 10, 2010, and has already developed a loyal following with repeat customers, including locals. “Our clientele is really spreading the word,” he says.
George Kezman, our engaging server, was well educated on the preparations and tastes of the menu. His pace was prompt but unhurried. Final Cut is not about turning tables quickly—it is a full dining experience. We took our time. We savored. It took about an hour-and-a-half.
An iPad at the table acts as a computer-automated sommelier, describing and pairing the 250 wine offerings with food, in addition to explaining signature cocktails, beer, and whisky. Some of the wine (sparkling/champagne) choices are offered in small and large format. The bottles are designated by the milliliter: 375 ml, 1,500 ml, and 3,000 ml, which translate to demi, magnum, and jeroboam, respectively. Ten of the wines at Final Cut can be found on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list. Ken Meehan developed the wine list, and there are good values at every price point.
We sipped on cocktails—a ginger tonic and a Washington Apple. With its julienned, crystallized ginger and ginger-lime syrup, the former would make an excellent post- dinner digestif. Don’t be fooled by the latter, which is served in a generous martini/ cosmopolitan glass. It is no frail spirit. Made with Crown Royal, sour apple liquor, cranberry juice, and drunken cranberries, this sweet tart of a drink packs a wallop. The restaurant also boasts an intimate, eighteen-seat lounge.
Final Cut serves contemporary American steakhouse cuisine. That means it is all a la carte—no Euro/Asian/Mex fusion—classic American tastes, freshened for the modern palette. Creamed spinach? Yes, but with gruyere. Mashed potatoes? Yes, but with six ounces of lobster meat. Filet of beef? Of course, but a fourteen-ounce bone-in filet is offered.
Some of the highlights of the dinner included two of the appetizers. Labor-intensive braised ox tails (one of the most flavorful cuts of beef) are long- braised so the meat falls off of the bone. Resting on a sweet bed of celery root puree, and topped with garlic chips and scallions with herbed toast points, the ox tails are coated in a dark, rich, beef stock reduction. The seared, sushi- grade Ahi tuna with cucumber, avocado, ginger, and lemon, with a soy dressing and wonton, is melt-in-your- mouth delicious.
Final Cut serves the most decadent mac and cheese with truffle oil, shaved truffles, and ditalini pasta in a béchamel sauce, with Vermont Grafton Cheddar Cheese. Preparations for the excellent creamed corn include steeping corncobs with fresh basil.
At a steakhouse, eat steak. We loved the fourteen- ounce bone-in filet. The bone imparts a more intense beef flavor. Chef de Cuisine Christian Evans says, “All steaks at the Final Cut are broiled to order in our top-of-the-line broiler that operates at 1,600 degrees F, ensuring that all of our steaks get a rich, hard-seared crust that accentuates the flavor of our prime beef.” Although six outstanding sauces are offered, the steak stands alone. The Chilean sea bass was a large, gorgeous portion of white, moist fish. The sea bass was served with Beech mushrooms, braised cipollini onions, pancetta, and peas, in a marsala sauce.
It should be noted that seafood is not neglected at this steakhouse— it is featured. Diners will find an outstanding chilled shellfish platter, day boat sea scallops, wild caught salmon, and hand-shucked oysters.
When it was time for dessert, we chose well—apple doughnuts and Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée. The first crème brûlée I ever experienced tasted like scrambled eggs, and it has been many years since I dared try the dessert again. I reasoned that if I was going to find a good crème brûlée, it would be at the Final Cut, so I took the plunge. Executive Pastry Chef Phillipe Soulat serves the rich, yet light and sweet, treat with an almond swirl brittle and a chocolate feuilletee on the side, plus a separate dish of sweet cream with mixed berries. The feuilletee resembles a gourmet Kit Kat. That, and my fave, the brittle, should be sold by the piece and by the dozen. The apple doughnuts were incredible. Imagine a large beignet, or funnel cake, covered with powdered sugar and split in half, with an apple slice between the pastry layers, then add apple cinnamon chutney, vanilla ice cream, and a rolled, sugared, cranberry crepe, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a dessert.
Chef Christian proudly proclaims, “Our food is not pretentious. We typically use simple preparations that showcase the quality of the food, which is from the finest ingredients. We aren’t just a restaurant in a casino; we are a destination unto ourselves. The local culinary team had a hand in everything. We started with fifteen pages of notes from everyone’s ideas. We set out to offer a dining experience unlike anything in the area— something that can compete with any first-class steakhouse anywhere.”
Dear Reader, I not only dine to inform you, I read things like the USDA’s “United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef.” So here’s a brief primer on Prime Steaks. Beef comes from steers, bullocks, bulls, heifers, and cows, but by law, cows are never graded as prime. There are two separate considerations for grading beef: quality grade and yield grade. Quality grade is Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. Yield grade is 1-5, with 1 being the highest degree of cut-ability or tenderness.
At the Final Cut, only Prime-1 beef is served, which is beef in the top 1% of all beef in the U. S., based on quality and yield. Final Cut’s beef is corn-fed and twenty-eight day wet-aged from the Mid-West, but they do not source by breed. Final Cut only sources by grade—that is, prime. Sourcing by breed can reduce the amount of prime a restaurant serves because prime of a specific breed may not always be available.
Some restaurants may say they offer “prime cut,” which really means the trimness of the beef, not the quality or yield. Final Cut serves only the very best in quality, cut-ability, marbling, color, texture, and most importantly, taste.
All of this quality and service comes at a price—the Final Cut Steakhouse is not a cheap-eats place. For two entrees, two sides, two cocktails and two desserts expect to pay about $150, plus tax and tip. Considering the experience and taste, the restaurant is worth the indulgence.
The name, Final Cut, is really meant to reflect the Hollywood theme, as in the film editor’s final cut before release. After eating at the Final Cut Steakhouse, there is no doubt that every cut of meat and every ingredient served there is the final word on quality unsurpassed. See www. hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com