Austin’s Steakhouse (Texas Station): Culinary Crime Scene
About the only affirmative thing that can be said for Austin’s Steakhouse is — they’re consistent. From start to finish, every last detail about our most recent visit and meal was bad. Shockingly awful. I’ll address these numerous shortfalls of what’s considered the premier restaurant located inside the Texas Station Casino in this blistering review:
One of the perks of betting lots of sports is generating a large amount of free casino comp dollars.
Over the past eight months, Marieta and I have been afforded the unique opportunity to pretty much wolf our way through the entire menu of dining options at the various Stations-owned casinos, located around town. This includes a couple of dozen quite good restaurants scattered throughout the Las Vegas valley — inside Red Rock, Green Valley Ranch, Palace Station, Santa Fe, Fiesta Henderson, Fiesta Rancho, Sunset Station, and most recently, The Palms (which Stations recently acquired).
With most of these off-the-Strip casino steakhouses, you know exactly what to expect. If you’re like me and cringe at the notion of forking over $72 for a hockey-puck sized filet, then another $14 for each side dish while receiving snooty service at one of the more expensive casino-resorts, the comforts of close-by parking, more reasonable prices, and friendly and efficient service at these “locals-oriented properties” are far-more appealing.
Indeed, instead of paying to park, then walking a mile and a half through drunken crowds of tourists, and ultimately getting shafted up the ying-yang on The Strip for an overpriced meal doctored up by some celebrity chef where you leave hungry, we’ve come to the more pragmatic decision that we’d much rather enjoy a casual atmosphere where the food is consistently good, the service is efficient, and the manager/mai-tre d’ both know you by name because you’re a devoted regular. Just personal preference.
Accordingly, Austin’s Steakhouse at Texas Station would seem to perfectly fit all of our desires and expectations.
However, if life is never quite what we expect, then the disjointed Las Vegas dining scene can certainly be a gamble. On a recent Wednesday-night visit we were doomed from the start. Stations-operated steakhouses are often quite busy, even on weeknights, so an advance reservation was made for 6 pm. When we arrived at our scheduled time, the hostess had no record of our party of two. Not a problem. Fortunately, the restaurant turned out to be nearly empty, so the “lost” reservation wasn’t an issue. However, the initial impression of rows upon rows of empty tables on what should have been the prime time dining hour should have been the first warning sign that something was amiss. Repeat business here is apparently scarce.
We were seated and given menus. There was nothing particularly interesting about the menu choices, which was a minor disappointment given that several of the other other steakhouses we’ve tried within the Stations chain offer much greater variety, and even a few surprises. The restaurant had no specialty cocktails, another small disappointment.
That’s when the waiting game began.
We waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. About 15 minutes after being seated, we were finally approached and asked if we wanted to start with a drink. To be fair, our waiter, a nice man named Johnny did apologize for the lengthy delay. We’d come to hear apologies from him repeatedly throughout the rest of the evening. One presumes this is a stock response at being employed at Austin’s. “I’m sorry…..” If not, it should be Page One of the training manual.
It took another ten minutes to finally receive a glass of iced tea and a cocktail. Then, about 25 minutes after our initial arrival, we finally placed our order — the standard two courses.
Once again, the wait time seemed inexcusable. Out of a rough guesstimate of perhaps 40 tables, only 8 or 9 were occupied this evening, and those were mostly couples. It’s never a good sign when you start observing back of the house stuff at restaurants in order to amuse yourselves; we counted two waiters, one elusive busboy, a bored hostess, and four line cooks working what seemed to be furiously inside an open-air kitchen that could be viewed from the dining room. Given the sparse crowd, staffing seemed more than sufficient to handle the needs of a dining room filled to barely a quarter capacity.
Then, the first course came. My chopped salad was unspectacular. Lifeless. I’ve had far better just about everywhere else I’ve eaten. The bacon-wrapped shrimp appetizer was fine, one of the few items the restaurant would do right this evening. And despite asking for “dark bread only, please” our request was utterly ignored and we were served the customary assortment of baked pretzel-sticks and under-cooked rolls, which presumably ended up getting tossed out later because no one bothered to listen to our request.
Once the appetizers had been consumed, once again we were forced to wait it out for what seemed to be an excruciating amount of time. By then, I’d lost track of the
minutes hour. However, since it was impossible to get cell phone reception inside the restaurant, I momentarily left Marieta alone at the dinner table while furiously checking on a couple of college basketball, college football, and NBA scores. I marched over to the sportsbook inside the casino and watched at least enough of my betting action to lose about $400 worth of games (the Northern Illinois-Eastern Michigan game didn’t go OVER, even with overtime!). By the time I got back to our table and Marieta, I was certain our dinner would be served. Nope. All I saw was a white tablecloth littered with bread crumbs. Johnny did come by to apologize (again) for the food taking so long.
Determined not to let the disappointing final outcome of the Northern Illinois game ruin my evening or warp my view of the restaurant, all the failures up until this moment would gladly have been overlooked and even forgotten. But then, the main course came.
Oh. My. God.
I ordered herbal chicken (I’m cutting down substantially on beef in my diet). The half-bird was served with an unremarkable reduction, topped a sprig of rosemary. The food was served lukewarm. So too was the garlic mashed potatoes. I’m a stickler for hot food. I mean, I just can’t stand food served at the wrong temperature. It shows neglect. Or laziness. Or indifference. Or, all of the above. Lukewarm food wouldn’t be an issue so much in a more casual restaurant. But at an upscale steakhouse, the food absolutely, 100 percent has to come out piping hot, or it’s a total disaster. Marieta, who did her best to poke through a tepid pork cutlet joked, “Gee, the heat lamp must be burned out.”
But that’s not the half of it. Over the course of many thousands of restaurant meals consumed, I don’t recall ever experiencing anything like the grief-stricken chicken dish which was placed before me along with the presumption I would consume it.
The chicken was tough. That’s not a typo. I didn’t even know chicken could be tough. How does chicken meat get tough? Maybe that’s why our server Johnny knew in advance to bring over a sharp steak knife to go along with my chicken. I mean, have you ever heard of “tough chicken?” A hammer and chisel might have done the trick. By comparison — the juicy, perfectly seasoned Rotisserie chicken costs $4.99 over at the local Costco — and it’s absolutely delicious. Costco chicken has just the right texture. Here at Austin’s, I was served a lukewarm half chicken costing four times the price, and it was tough. Tough chicken!
By this time, my disappointment melded with anger had turned to uncontrollable laughter. It reminded of eating those lousy restaurant meals in Eastern Europe during the old Communist days. This was pretty much a toss in the white towel and get the hell out of there moment of culinary capitulation. Nothing could have salvaged this sad, sad evening, between the lengthy waiting time and the bland food at room temperature. Still, I hung on to a sliver of optimism. Aloud, I wondered if one final gesture might be forthcoming which might have left us with at least one positive memory of what was otherwise a disastrous dining experience. Perhaps the restaurant manager might come over and ask us how our dinner had been (this is standard practice at most nice steakhouses). Nope. Didn’t happen. Perhaps waiter Johnny would sense our annoyance with the long waiting game and genuine disappointment with the quality of food and might offer a complimentary dessert, at the very least. Nope. Didn’t happen.
Two hours after being seated, we finally rose to our feet and departed a mostly empty Austin’s Steakhouse, determined never again to return. As we were walking out, I mentioned to Marieta that I wouldn’t go back here even if the food was free. That’s pretty much the mark of a disastrous dining experience, from start to finish.
Given how remarkably reliable virtually all of the other Stations-casino steakhouses are in Las Vegas, Austin’s Steakhouse was an shocking outlier. Perhaps we simply came in on a bad night or experienced an unusually imperfect storm of unfortunate events. Maybe so. But it’s far more likely given the sparse turnout that this is a restaurant is in desperate need of a massive overhaul. Even though I used my comp points, I still felt as though we were ripped off.
Austin’s Steakhouse at Texas Station receives my lowest possible recommendation and should be avoided until some serious changes are made.