With the vast array of stellar competition, you have to put forth something really special to stand out from the pack when opening up a steakhouse in Atlantic City. But that’s exactly what Harrah’s Resort did when they opened Gordon Ramsay Steak in 2018.
The second Ramsay-affiliated restaurant to open in an Atlantic City – Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill opened over at Caesars Atlantic City back in 2015 – Gordon Ramsay Steak came bursting onto the dining scene in Atlantic City with plenty of hype, and delivered on just about all of it, with Executive Chef Larry Smith offering guests one of the top dining experiences in town.
That tradition has stayed firmly in place with highlights of the menu including a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye, a 40-ounce royal long-bone chop, and an incredible list of wagyu, including the indescribably delicious Japanese A5, which will run you 35 bucks an ounce — with a four ounce minimum (nobody ever said this place was cheap). Ramsay’s signature Beef Wellington is also offered, as is an impressive list of chops, salads and seafood, one of the best raw bars in the city and a sticky toffee pudding dessert that can truly only be described as orgasmic.
2020 marks their 2nd anniversary, and in that time they have managed to overcome challenge after challenge, including the ongoing one from the pandemic which led to a near total transformation of the restaurant this summer. We had a chance to chat with Christina Wilson, the executive chef who oversees all of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants internationally; here is what she had to say.
Atlantic City Weekly: It’s hard to use the word celebrate these days, but here we are at the 2nd anniversary for Gordon Ramsay Steak in A.C. It has had its challenges with a delayed opening and now COVID-19, but it still manages to check all of the boxes when it comes to quality and service. How difficult has it been to maintain those standards not just here, but at all of your locations?
Christina Wilson: Despite a challenging year with all the COVID restrictions, Gordon Ramsay Steak AC actually knocked it out of the park this summer! We were able to transform the steakhouse into an “under the stars” experience out on the Harrah’s pool deck. And that success partially answers your question. We have an amazing partner in Caesars and a resilient team down there – they were able to pivot quickly and adapt to the challenges and still deliver a very successful summer season. So much of that is on account of the leadership in place, both the property and within the steakhouse. Chef Larry Smith did a great job and continues to deliver to the Ramsay standard expectations. We have talent like that across all 10 US restaurants and Covid or not, we celebrate that every day!
ACW: Over the summer, I enjoyed a Gordon Ramsay Steak meal at the Pool deck with a remote kitchen. Despite that, it was one of the best meals I had all year. Can you talk about what goes into basically reinventing a whole restaurant for these crazy times?
CW: Innovation. Between Lou Dimino on the food and beverage side and Noel Stevenson on the PR side, we put our heads together and found a solution — a great one at that! We don’t lose momentum just because we’re faced with a challenge. Harrah’s Atlantic City is a great property, and the pool deck is only one of its many key features. Again, with a culinary staff as talented as we have there, cooking outdoors on a grill is nothing but a step change for them. And who wouldn’t what that view with a great steak dinner?!
ACW: I would imagine if Gordon Ramsay Steak can get through these two years, it could get through anything. Would we have seen the restaurant evolve differently if the coronavirus didn’t hit?
CW: Yes, of course. I think we would’ve been looking to further activate the raw bar, add some more tableside theater and more interactive events, especially utilizing that gorgeous wine room. But the great thing is, we now have some of that in our back pocket for once restrictions lift and we get a bit more normalcy back to the restaurants.
ACW: Gordon Ramsay Steak is probably the most expensive restaurant in the city. But anyone who goes says it’s worth it after the experience is over. When putting together the business plan for the restaurant, was the goal to be at that level price-wise or are the prices what they are because of the quality of product?
CW: Definitely because of the quality. We don’t purposefully gouge our guests and we certainly don’t make our budget expectations their responsibility. During pre-opening, we vet so many different suppliers and make sure the menu is catered to the region and demographic. Harrah’s is one of the premier properties in Atlantic City and our food offering and guest experience needs to match that. Yes, you can definitely go in there a drop some good coin, but in pre-COVID times, we also had a very reasonably priced Social Hour menu if you were wanting a more relaxing, less expensive experience.
ACW: How does Gordon Ramsay Steak differ from other American steakhouses, and when you were conceptualizing, were there niches you thought you could explore, voids you could fill?
CW: We lead with quality, innovation and top-tier service. Yes, you can argue that we can be one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, but I can confidently argue, food aside, you also get one of the best service experiences anywhere along the eastern shore board. The wait staff is extraordinary – and they have a following of their own. We absolutely LOVE that! Being so close to the ocean, we wanted to have a raw bar to feature some of that amazing product. And not just one that had a couple lonely cooked lobsters and few bottles of white wine on display. We work closely with our suppliers to bring in the best seasonal products we can.
ACW: Are you back to filming anything? How much did this disrupt your television projects?
CW: What didn’t Covid disrupt?! Yes, TV schedules are just as out of whack as everything in 2020. Luckily, we filmed Hell’s Kitchen 19 in Las Vegas last year well before the pandemic hit and Fox has announced a premiere date of January 7 (2021). I’m thrilled to be leading the red kitchen again as sous chef – such great talented women on this season and I look forward to you all seeing how well they handle the heat. Winner gets the head chef gig at Hell’s Kitchen Harveys/Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
We also had a bunch of really great guests in for dinner, including one from the bird gang – which was a tough one for this die hard New York Giants fan to swallow, but hey, a legend is a legend and even I was thrilled to cook for him! You’ll have to tune in to see who it was!
ACW: So many restaurants – some are saying 20 percent of all restaurants will never reopen – have been hurt by this pandemic. When it’s all over, will the industry bounce back quickly, will there be major opportunities for restaurateurs out there, or will it be a long way back?
CW: The pandemic hit differently all over the globe. For instance, my heart breaks for Philadelphia and some of the amazing independent restaurants up there that may not make it through all this without government funding. The industry as a whole will bounce back – look how fiercely we came out of the recession in 2008. People who work in this industry aren’t meek and they do it because there’s a fire in their belly – and COVID isn’t going to extinguish that.