Something To Chew On 

Shane Battier's team at Prime Minister's is not quite ready for the pros.

Though naive to the fundamentals of basketball, even I know the talent Shane Battier displays on the court. But would that same level of professionalism be apparent at the restaurant bearing his name?

Shane Battier's Prime Minister's steakhouse is first challenged by its location. Seems to be some bad restaurant karma at 135 South Main. Ciao Baby, the Italian Fisherman, and Rialto, among others, are all now memories. And while we fretted about going on a Saturday night without a reservaton, there were not more than five or six tables occupied in a dining room large enough to seat about 100. But the hostess was very pleasant and the place was nice -- upscale in tone with white tablecloths, intimate lighting, soft music, and waiters in tuxedos. I thought to myself: This is the perfect way to start an evening.

For beginners, we tried the coriander- encrusted ahi tuna. The center-cut tuna filet had been quickly seared to maintain its medium-rare, rich flavor. A chunky pineapple and ginger fruit salsa spooned over the fish was absolutely beautiful. The Maryland crab cakes came next and were served atop mesclun greens drizzled with a light lemon-cream sauce. These golden-brown crab cakes were packed with pieces of white lump crabmeat, lightly seasoned with bread crumbs, herbs, and small chunks of onion. The cream sauce and the succulent crab melted in your mouth. Not to be outdone -- the marinated beefsteak tomatoes with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a basil-pesto vinaigrette surrounded by crisp grilled bread. On a warm summer day, this platter could not be beat.

The traditional house salad is a sampling of mixed baby greens, red cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, croutons, and your choice of dressing. My recommendation: Try the house vinaigrette, which is packed with herbs. The Caesar salad is not a bad choice, either: large romaine leaves, shaved Parmesan cheese, and big crunchy croutons tossed with a classic Caesar dressing. However, the big score was the New England clam chowder, which was rich and creamy with chunks of clams and potatoes.

The wait between appetizers and our soup and salads was typical for an upscale restaurant. What took place after is not. One of my companions ordered the lobster, and the waiter returned a few minutes later to request that he make another selection since the restaurant was out of lobster. The perplexing thing occurred when the waiter came back 30 minutes later and informed me that they were now out of veal. The menu does offer a variety of choices, so there were other items to tempt us. Unfortunately, our lovely evening went downhill from here.

After a two-hour wait, our entrÇes were served. The menu claimed the blackened scallops and shrimp came tossed in a sherry cream sauce with red onions, bell peppers, and sliced mushrooms served over angel hair pasta. This eye-catching dish, with its array of colors and sweet seafood, fell prey to a dash of cayenne pepper. The pepper overwhelmed the seafood, cut the sherry, and made it too spicy. Don't get me wrong. I love hot and spicy food but only when the dish is intended to be that way.

The New York strip steak, the 8- and 12-ounce filets all ordered medium-well, appeared burned and had to be sent back. It is difficult to justify keeping an overcooked steak when prices are from $27 to $35. The 12-ounce filet had been ordered accompanied by creamed spinach, but what appeared on the platter were very charred spears of asparagus. At this point, the manager offered to cook our steaks himself; a gracious effort but what returned to the table were rare to medium-rare cuts of meat. One of my companions could not enjoy his steak so rare, so we took it and the overly doused-in-butter garlic-smashed red potatoes to cook at home. The highlight of the entrÇes was the blackened tuna -- sushi-grade tuna topped with a roasted red pepper and fruit salsa served over wild rice and grilled asparagus. We devoured this selection, which is sad considering the best entrÇe we ordered at a steakhouse was fish.

After the three-hour ordeal, we attempted to order dessert. We ordered the baked Alaska for two and the fried cheesecake. Again, we waited, to the point we gave up and canceled the desserts. As we were leaving, the fried cheesecake was placed on our table and we all took one bite. The golden-brown and warm cheesecake had been rolled in crumbs and deep-fried. A little late, but I would recommend it highly.

Our experience at Prime Minister's Steakhouse could have been and should have been much better. After being open for eight months, the kitchen, wait staff, and management should be getting in their groove. All in all, the wait staff and the setting were grand, but the kitchen has got to get its act together. Burning entrÇes, running out of menu staples, excessive waits, and high prices are not going to cut it. To make it among the pros of the Memphis restaurant scene, Shane's team needs to re-group and get back to the fundamentals of quality cuisine, exceptional service, and timeliness, and then they can defend the prices they are demanding. n

Shane Battier's Prime Minister's steakhouse is open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Reservations are not required but may be made by calling 432-3675. Appetizers range from $7 to $12, soups and salads from $5 to $7, sides are $3 to $12, and entrÇes $18 to $36.

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