I chose a seat at the bar at Whiskey Prime, not sure how many people were planning to eat steak early on a Thursday night and feeling a bit noticeable if I took up a whole table by myself in the not-exactly-cavernous restaurant.
Hotel Whiskey, its home, had been open only since Nov. 18, and I had been curious what to expect from a steak restaurant co-owned by Thomas Genin of Ajax Seafood and Blind Tiger fame as well as pre-Katrina Tigre’s. Travis March is his business partner.
For a total stranger, I got a warm welcome. The faux cowhide bar chairs were fun and comfortable, and I immediately felt at home. A table full of people were settling into their orders. A woman the staff knew came in, sat at the other end of the bar and knew exactly what she wanted. I took some time looking over the menu. While several appetizers looked fun and totally appropriate for a meal, I knew I wanted to try one of the steaks. I settled on an 8-ounce filet mignon ($42) medium rare, with creamed spinach ($7) as my side.
In case you’re wondering, the starters include Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with arugula, lemon olive oil and spicy remoulade ($12); Grilled Beef and Blue Cheese with a red wine reduction and cracked pepper ($11); Lamb Rack “Loli Pops” with rosemary olive oil and an aged balsamic reduction ($13); and Tomato & Arugula Salad ($11) with red onion, smoked bacon, blue cheese and fig balsamic and olive oil.
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A smaller appetite could order one of these and a drink, such as the refreshing Blackberry Margarita, and be satisfied.
Other entree items include a 16-ounce center-cut ribeye ($37), an 8-ounce bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($45), a 12-ounce bone-in veal chop ($39), an 8-ounce fresh fish of the night (market price) and a 10-ounce Atlantic salmon ($26). Add-ons include skewered Gulf shrimp ($6), jumbo lump crabmeat ($7) and burgundy mushrooms ($5).
If, unlike me, you’re not drawn to creamed spinach (and I forgive you), Whiskey Prime also offers grilled asparagus, cheddar mashed potatoes, white truffle garlic fries, sauteed vegetables or pasta of the day as side items.
My dinner was presented with a flourish and an admonition to watch out — the dishes were hot. The steak was served on a plate by itself and the creamed spinach in a smaller, square cast-iron pan. The steak was cooked perfectly, thick and juicy, and it was nicely pale red inside with just a little blush in the juice when I cut it. The texture was perfect, too. I call it buttery. The creamed spinach is quite generous, and it was rich and, yes, creamy. There was plenty to take home, along with half of my steak.
As I enjoyed the ambiance while savoring my steak, Genin himself came in. Checking out this and that, he made his way behind the bar to the kitchen, where he began examining individually packaged cuts of meat. A sudden buzz among the staff shook me out of my grill-watching reverie.
“Do you see that New York strip he has?” I heard one whisper to another as his co-worker reverentially sucked in his breath.
Genin had the cut in question on a board as almost everyone stood around, admiring it like an uncut diamond.
The moment passed, and Genin picked up a wrapped steak, turned it from side to side and asked for a Sharpie. He wrote a name on the thick plastic and the steak was stuck in the cooler. The steak, as I surmised and found out later, was put on reserve for a regular customer who Genin knew would especially appreciate its qualities.
“All of our steaks are USDA prime cut, every one of them,” he said.
Steaks, he noted, are overwhelmingly the biggest sellers, adding many restaurants on the west side of the Coast cater to the seafood gourmand but to find an upscale steak, one has to venture toward the center and east of the Coast.
Pass Christian residents and those farther west have been finding Whiskey Prime, Genin said, as a couple took a seat and began examining their menus.
“Here it is, the week after Thanksgiving, which is always the worst week in the business, and we’re busy,” he said. “A lot of the old Tigre’s customers are coming and saying they’re glad we’re back here, and there are a ton of New Orleans folks.”
About Whiskey Prime
Where: 115 Davis Ave., Pass Christian, inside Hotel Whiskey
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday