In tribal terms, the council oak was the tree around which Seminole elders would gather and discuss issues of importance. In terms of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, the Council Oak is the sanctuary in which you and your friends can gather and discuss matters important or frivolous or just smoke a cigar. The latter is a major attraction in Florida, a state that has generally banned smoking in public places -- it's OK on this reservation -- but it's not the only reason to sit down at Council Oak.
If you're choosing between a Hard Rock and a nice place, Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, as it's formally known, is the prettiest and most expensive restaurant in the sprawling casino property that opened last May. Not only can you find respite from the ding-ding-ding of the slot machines, you can also associate only with those whom you care to. To do this best, you'll want a circular, high-back booth underneath the chandeliers and what seems like a Southwestern motif on the ceiling. Then you'll want the menu, though if you were observant as you walked in, you might not need it. As you walk toward the door of the restaurant from the front of the hotel, you'll see the window that is full of aging prime rib and steaks. You might miss it if you approach from the poker tables. Just look left as you enter the restaurant. Once you're inside, you can see chefs working behind a larger window. They're cutting the steaks and the Chilean Sea Bass right in front of you. I'm telling you this so you know, as the restaurant desires, that the steaks are prime quality. Also, so that you don't have to look if you are of the "I-don't-want-to-see-my-food-before-it's-on-my-plate" school. Just look to the right as you go in.
The point is that the steaks are prime and priced that way. The other point is that you'd be making a big mistake if you didn't at least consider the menu's other offerings before allowing the inevitable to occur. Appetizers are traditional, with one innovative dish, the Key West Shrimp. It's a U-4 (very large) shrimp that is grilled and stood up on a plate of mango salsa, andouille sausage and long plaintain chips. This is not a great value at $15, but it's quite good and not excessive for one hungry diner about to have part of a cow. There are oysters and crab cakes, but you can have those almost anywhere. Salads, too. Get real.
The menu tells you that the prime steaks are "Dry Aged Stockyard Beef Seared at 1300" degrees. That's enough to give it the outer crust and keep it red inside. As always, if you need your steak done beyond medium, consider having the veal. At $38 for the 20-ounce Cowboy Ribeye, you don't want it cooked past medium-rare. The marbling was perfect and the flavor intense here. Just what you expect. My dining companion ordered the Chilean Sea Bass, only $28, and cooked beautifully. The filet was thick and golden on the outside, flaky white in the middle. The fish, more cod than sea bass and less commonly known by its original moniker of Patagonian Toothfish, is great when dry-cooked -- broiled, grilled or baked -- because of its high fat content. It's almost impossible for the fish not to be moist unless you incinerate it. This filet was served over ample amounts of garlic mashed potatoes. It's a good alternative to the beef, as is the shrimp scampi ($25), but the menu could benefit from another fish or two. We shared a side of asparagus ($7) that would have served eight people.
The wine list at Council Oak is large, varied, but not impressive. It's more a compilation of the usual suspects. There is a lot of room for improvement in the wines-by-the-glass category. Only one red Zinfandel and one Pinot Noir are listed. There is opportunity here. If you want a bottle, you can spend $1,750 on a 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild, or you can go with much younger vintages at reasonable rates.
Dessert is worth it, but share. There's a very complicated house special dessert and a simpler crème brûlée. In between, there's a chocolate cake that will leave you happy after one bite, ecstatic after three and in shock after you eat half the slice. Temper it with the house-made peanut butter ice cream and you're good to go. Go to the bar, that is, where you can finish the evening with a cigar and a libation.
The Council Oak's humidor is well-enough stocked with Montecristos and Partagas, among others. You can spend between $8 for a Partagas Series S and $75 for a Fuente Fuente OpusX torpedo. It's a nice bar and the music is not blaring, the way it seems to be everywhere else in the complex. I know. It's only rock 'n' roll.
Alejandro Benes once ate a salad for dinner.
Council Oak Steaks & Seafood
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
1 Seminole Way
Hollywood, Florida 33314
5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday
5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday