House of Lords serves up nostalgia

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LAS VEGAS -- Entering the House of Lords is in many ways like a taking step back in time, and yet any number of welcome components connect it to the present.

In its elegant surroundings as well as its culinary approach, this long-honored steakhouse at the Sahara Hotel and Casino treats its guests to tradition with a twist.

The nostalgia aspect of the equation has been 40 years in the making. The restaurant was born as the House of Lords, but in the mid-1990s, in conjunction with a new hotel owner and major renovations, the name was changed to the Sahara Steakhouse.

As of this spring, it once again is the House of Lords, and helping preserve its treasured traditions is John Morocco, who helmed the dining room in the mid-1970s and has now come out of retirement to serve as the property's food and beverage director.

Morocco said the venue was well-known for its high-quality food, and today, "It's still the high-quality food -- the prime beef ... and the service is still there."

Morocco does find distinctions, though, between then and now. "People would get dressed up back then," he said.

"And we'd have Buddy Hackett, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Tony Bennett, Totie Fields, Shecky Greene. We had Rip Taylor, who was in the lounge. They wouldn't go to the casino bar, they'd come to the bar inside the House of Lords.

"Tony Curtis was here last week, and he was recalling nights in here with Dean Martin and a whole group. They would be hangin' and drinkin' and partying -- the electricity would just permeate the room."

Curtis and other old-time celebrities such as Charo, Ann-Margret and Rich Little continue to add a colorful extra dimension to this Moroccan-flavored tableau, where brightly hued wall decor is tamed by soft lighting and relaxing water accents.

The room was remodeled as part of the original renovation program, but the effect still is very much the best of old Vegas, right down to the plush booths that welcome guests to stay a while.

There they'll find that old and new also meet and merge in the menu, where executive chef Tim Emmert has overlaid culinary classics with the innovations that regularly emerge from the kitchen.

As a result, shrimp cocktail, porterhouse steaks and tableside cherries jubilee coexist with such updated dishes as roasted crab cakes, pesto-crusted seabass and Cajun-style prime rib.

"Cuts of meat that they used back then, like the bone-in ribeye, the New York, the 22-oz. bone-in prime rib, I've made a little more colorful, given them more eye appeal, added a lot of different sauces," Emmert said.

Those steaks also turn back the clock with their Flintstones proportions, even when the "smaller" size is ordered.

As another example, the steakhouse standby, spinach salad, has been contemporized with Cajun-seasoned walnuts and a bacon vinaigrette.

For many of these dishes, the chef said, people say, "Oh, I remember that, but it didn't look like this."

On a recent evening, as music filled the room, a look at the guests revealed a self-imposed dress code that's still a notch above average.

And although it may not be the kind of crowd that pushes closing time beyond the posted hour, as often happened way back when, there does seem to be a tacit respect for this class act, and maybe even more so now that it once again is the House of Lords.

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For more details on this article, see Cary Grant to Elvis: Sahara bets on storied history.

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