Steakhouses are the dumb jocks of the restaurant world. Steakhouses try to sell a way of life rather than a way of eating. More concerned about style than substance, steakhouses try to make their customers feel like they, too, are excessively rich douche bags who dwell in dimly lit booths, enveloped by cigar smoke and leather while talking finance. It's this classic gangster aesthetic that has kept The Prime Rib on Calvert Street open for almost 50 years. Over the years, they have successfully opened other steakhouses in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. They are a benchmark for steakhouses in the way they treat their customers and the dining experience they give them. Is it pretentious? Yes. Is it anachronistic? Absolutely! Is it ridiculously overpriced? You're goddamn right it is, but that's also part of the experience. Dropping a week's paycheck for a meal that makes you feel, if only for a few hours, like you belong in that deluxe apartment in the sky is what a good steakhouse sells. When any part of that experience is missing, what you're left with is the food-and if that isn't as good as the money you spend, then it can make for a highly unsatisfactory meal.
The Prime Rib's latest offspring (7002 Arundel Mills Circle #7777,  842-7000), a franchise not directly owned by The Prime Rib, is housed in the Maryland Live! Casino at Arundel Mills in Hanover, Md. A handsomely slick and spacious restaurant, this Prime Rib sports an updated take on the original's black-and-gold color scheme along with high ceilings, huge leather booths, and a "private room" created from floor-to-ceiling wine cases that double as walls. And while the Prime Rib motif runs throughout the space, leopard-print carpet included, the old school steakhouse feel is nowhere to be found.
The restaurant is an oasis in a maddening onslaught of light and sound. Walking through the casino to get to there (if you come in on the opposite end) proves to be a sensory assault of the worst kind, but the beeps and boops melt away in the restaurant's interior, replaced by soothing jazz played on a baby grand piano.
Upon being seated in the spacious dining room, we ordered drinks and began to peruse the short but classic menu. I wanted a classic cocktail, but the bartender had never heard of the cocktail I ordered-a Last Word-and was unable to make it for me. Apparently no one was willing to use a bartender's guide or a phone to look it up.
After ordering our appetizers, mains, and sides (they come separately), we waited, and waited, for our drinks.
The smoked trout ($18) lived up to its name and then some: the overpowering smoky flavor threatened to ruin the generous portion of fish. Oysters Chesapeake ($24) were also liberally portioned. Giant pieces of lump crabmeat crowned hot, plump oysters, all splashed with a drip or two of juice from a charred lemon; but the crabmeat was too much for the subtle oysters. After relieving the shells of half of the crabmeat (a pleasant chore), the crab and oyster made a great team. Finally, as were neared the end of our apps, our drinks arrived-25 minutes after ordering.
The signature cut of prime rib ($38) and a side of Kennebec fries in duck fat ($10) came together, like a duo of disappointment. The steak, a giant slab of meat (we ordered their smaller cut of prime rib), was cooked under medium-rare (my request) and was tough, underseasoned, and overpriced. For anyone who hasn't experienced a correctly cooked serving of prime rib, this would be a hugely underwhelming meal. For those who do know, it is an infuriating exercise in monetary immolation. The duck fat fries had no discernable flavor to make them stand out from fast-food fries. A side of aioli was not seasoned with salt or an acid (vinegar or lemon juice), which left it tasting like garlicky grease.
The Chilean sea bass en papillote ($36) and roasted artichoke hearts ($12) were bright spots in the meal. The sea bass was tender and moist from being cooked in parchment paper. The flesh of the fish was sweet and reminiscent of vanilla in an intriguing way. The artichokes were slightly caramelized and tangy, making a better side than the usual steamed broccoli that you get at other steakhouses.
A dessert cheese sampler ($16) and a two-berry crisp ($12) ended the meal in a mixed way as well. The cheese sampler-which featured three soft cheeses, two charcuterie offerings, and other accoutrements to great effect-was the one thing we ordered all evening that was worth what it cost. The two-berry crisp featured crumble-topped blackberries and raspberries, and ice cream. The crumble was crisp and sweet, but the berries were weak and watery.
When a restaurant fails to deliver on the expected experience, it's a disappointment. When a customer pays $250 (after tip) and doesn't get a satisfactory experience, then it feels like robbery. The wait staff, cooks, and bartenders from The Prime Rib at the casino need to spend some time at the original to see how a real steakhouse is run.
The Prime Rib serves dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30-10:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 5:30-11:00 p.m.