Beef Aficionado reader Kevin L. recently wrote in recommending The Prime Rib, in Philadelphia as an excellent choice for prime rib. I had actually dined at the location in Washington DC about seven years ago and remember being most impressed with not only the prime rib at The Prime Rib but also everything else about the experience. I had not been to DC in a number of years and I thought that a return trip was in order. I don't want to say that The Prime Rib was the main attraction in returning to the nations capital lest I appear to a complete philistine, what with the Smithsonian and all the historic monuments to visit but it was certainly icing on the capital cake.
The Prime Rib originated in Baltimore in 1965, the Washington DC location opened eleven years later and soon became a ubiquitous part of DC dining. Its civilized decor, outstanding service and top notch steaks and seafood not to mention its K street location made it a natural for the politicking that goes on the nation's capital but it is also a prime location for birthdays and anniversaries.
The Prime Rib is one of my favorite restaurants, for while it offers what is a fairly standard steakhouse menu with a couple of stand out items the room ,the service and indeed the atmosphere are what truly set it apart. For starters there is a dress code which I think is something that is sorely lacking at many fine dining restaurants and yes, even steakhouses. I just don't think that it is aesthetically appropriate, let alone civilized to wear sports clothes and baseball hats to a restaurant, especially if you don't remove the latter. While jeans are permissible in a steakhouse I think that shorts and flip flops are absolutely beyond the pale. A restaurant with higher culinary aspiration and especially one that has invested in a tasteful and civilized decor has the right to ask its patrons to abide by certain standards. Speaking of decor The Prime Rib is one of the most lovely rooms I have had the pleasure of dining in. The onyx walls tastefully accented with gold trim, the leopard skin print rug, a central floral arrangements that has the majesty of a peacock; not to mention the plush leather seating and the jazz trio playing softly in the background, huddled around the grand piano that sits between the dining and bar room., all make for a salubrious dining experience I generally despise live music at dinner but the band were very good and played so gentile that it added an element so welcome that when they stopped the room felt somehow emptier. Further distinguishing The Prime Rib is the service which is among the most polite and effusive I have experienced, it fits the room perfectly. All this would be meaningless of course if the food did not deliver but it most certainly does.
Take the outstanding crab cocktail for example, you know you are close to Maryland when the crab tastes as fresh as it does at The Prime Rib. it was succulent and deeply flavorful making the accompanying cocktail sauce superfluous.
The potato skins that the Prime Rib claims to have originated back in the 1965 are not the cheese, sour cream and bacon laden monstrosities that are ubiquitous on bar menu's. Rather they are wonderfully crispy fried whole potato shells that come served with a tangy horseradish and the finest sour cream I have ever had. Actually both of the condiments that come with the skins are also great mixed and served with the prime rib. Do not pass up the skins here, they are outstanding.
If there was one minor disappointment it was the char on the boneless New York strip. Despite being ordered medium rare the exterior displayed some rather lackluster looking grill marks. The steak was cooked perfectly to temperature and was tender enough but lacked the over the top dry aged flavor that I get back in NYC from my favorites (Luger, Smith and Wollensky, Primehouse etc.) Not that the steak was not flavorful, it certainly was, but while it had a clean beef flavor it ultimately lacked the complexity and depth of flavor of offerings from the aforementioned steakhouses.
If the steak was a bit of a let down The Prime Ribs' signature dish more than met expectations. My favorite cut of beef is a generous slab of prime rib but the one on offer here is simply enormous, I finished it, of course but it left me no room for desert. It is easily a third bigger than the one I so enjoy at Smith and Wollesnky, being closer but still bigger than the ones on offer at The Palm and Keens. Compared to S&W the prime rib at the Prime Rib does not have the over the top musky moldy dry aged flavor but does share the deep, hearty and rich beef flavor that only Prime steer can truly impart. The beef is amazingly marbled and ethereally tender. It literally melts in the mouth. The lack of the over the top dry aged flavor I so prize is really an aesthetic consideration, I can not fault the Prime Rib for not exhibiting these traits, it covers all the bases required for great prime rib.
I didn't leave room for desert but I had some anyway. The peanut butter mousse was excellent, having just enough saltiness to balance the sweetness of the dish. It was the perfect conclusion to an outstanding meal. A wonderful room, service that borders on the obsequies and a traditional menu that is perfectly executed all combine to make dining at the Prime Rib a true delight. This is one of America's top steakhouses and while I am not in DC that often it will always be my destination of choice for dinner when I am.
The Prime Rib
2020 K St. NW
(bet. 20th & 21st Sts.)