— As at all steakhouses, your main dishes contain only a slab of protein. If you want something more, it's a separate order. We chose LG's' creamed spinach, which took some getting used to because the greens were mature and chewy, not the usual baby-leaf purée. Since the thick cream sauce is topped with melted Parmesan, the more we ate, the more we welcomed a firm texture that stood up to the dairy fats. Assorted mushrooms (cremini, oyster, shiitake) came thickly sliced and sautéed with garlic butter, but were somehow less rewarding than they sounded.

The wine list has won Wine Spectator awards, and part of its allure is the inclusion of mature French Bordeaux and California cabernets, some bottled as long as 20 years ago. These cost an arm and a leg, and on occasion all four limbs and a chunk of torso, but their prices are close to retail (compared to the usual 200-plus percent markup) -- probably because this long-established restaurant chain bought them young and affordable, and cellared them until ripe and exorbitant. But there are also decent buys and good quaffs in the $40--$60 range.

The dessert menu is a desert, with outsourced sweets so klutzy I didn't even average them into the restaurant's rating. A thick-crusted key lime tartlet was filled with a substance resembling lime-flavored toothpaste. The best part of the warm apple pie was the "à la mode" of McConnell's vanilla ice cream. The white chocolate macadamia cheesecake was okay, if exhaustingly sweet. But who needs dessert after huge helpings of Prime meat, anyway? Enough is enough!


The only grade of beef served at LG's Prime Steakhouses is Prime -- the top USDA grade. Prime has the most marbling: The meat is crisscrossed with tiny, barely-visible veins of fat, which melt into the flesh as it cooks, lending rich flavor and a tender texture. Your arteries don't want you to eat this every day, but it's a spectacular indulgence.

Each location of LG's has its own in-house butchers. The company buys whole rib-loin beef subprimals -- essentially, the best parts of the top half of a steer. Butchers cut them on the premises and age them for at least 15 days. Most of the cuts are wet-aged, but the Porterhouse sections are separated for dry-aging. The Porterhouses are available on the menu as a fat-rimmed 30-ounce "Gold Strike 49'er" cut ($54.49) and a 20-ounce "Jewel in the Crown" (market price, currently $43.95).

Any aging process tenderizes beef, but different processes change the flavor. Dry-aging consists of hanging the meat uncovered in a temperature-controlled meat locker. Contact with air makes the meat shrink, and its surface dries out until black. As the beef shrinks, its flavors grow concentrated, "beefy," and faintly nutty. Before the meat is cooked, the butcher has to trim off the ugly-looking crust. That, combined with the shrinkage, makes the meat more expensive per pound. Dry-aging also requires a lot of physical space, another reason few meat purveyors still do it. Such beef is now a luxury item, so hard to find that few Americans have ever tasted it.

In wet-aging, large cuts of meat are thoroughly sheathed in air-proof plastic. They, too, are hung in a climate-controlled locker, growing tender -- but without the air and the shrinkage, the flavor grows no richer.

A recent variant of wet-aging is Cryovac-aging, a process that's popular among the meat-cutting and mail-order giants of the Midwest. There, the rib-loins of freshly slaughtered cattle are cut into individual steaks and roasts, vacuum-packed in thick plastic shrink wrap, and frozen. The meat slowly ages inside the frozen pack, often growing remarkably tender but no more flavorful. (In fact, Cryo meats often taste insipid.) When aging is complete, the company ships the frozen meat to the purchasers (commercial meat purveyors, restaurant supply houses, and large restaurants.) The advantage is that Cryovac-aged meats are easier and less expensive to send across the country than beef aged by the other two methods. Happily, LG's doesn't use Cryovac beef, but ages its own meats the two old-fashioned ways.

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