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Steakhouse chic comes at a price

KO Prime's decor includes black-and-white cowhide banquettes in the bar area. KO Prime's decor includes black-and-white cowhide banquettes in the bar area. (JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

To be fair, we had been forewarned. After waiting 45 minutes for a table at KO Prime, a sleek new steakhouse inside Nine Zero Hotel, we sat down to order and the server gave us a polite heads-up: "Just so you know, it takes 30 to 40 minutes to cook our steaks."

Even though we ordered just two of them: one medium, the other medium rare? Yep. But right on schedule, the food came out exactly 40 minutes later, and we learned the first rule of KO Prime: It is not an in-and-out kind of place (or, for that matter, an In-N-Out Burger joint).

With no music to distract us (this is a place begging for some Feist on the soundtrack), we turned our attention to the table of eight a few feet away. They were hard to miss -- a gaggle of tanned bodies with curly hair (for the ladies), silver thumb rings (for the gents), and with faces you might recognize from an Improper Bostonian fashion spread. On the way back from the restroom, one of us worked up the nerve to ask someone in the party if his companions were models. "Yeah, some of us are," he answered blithely before turning on his heel.

The clientele is representative of the whole experience here. Formerly Spire, KO Prime is easy on the eyes (if not on the rump -- black-and-white cowhide banquettes in the bar area are sleek but a little unsettling on bare legs). It has the trappings of a high-end steakhouse -- exhibit A: antler chandeliers -- but it feels like a lounge. Steakhouse chic comes to mind.

Even with our friendly server's help, we couldn't figure out the decor. The circular ceiling panels replicate Grant Wood's famous "American Gothic" painting (you know: the dour couple with the pitchfork). When asked about it, the server mumbled something about "postwar"; unsatisfied with her own answer, she disappeared and returned with an e-mail explanation from the design firm that created it. " 'American Gothic' has been interpreted many different ways," the e-mail read, "but we chose it because it really reflects (and helped to create) American identity in the postwar period."

That didn't help. But postwar or not, the food arrived and made us forget all about the decor. As designed by consulting chef Ken Oringer, the menu is heavy on meat, but there are also fish, duck, and lamb entrees; a raw bar; and a long list of sides (don't miss the pea risotto with mint, lemon, and bacon). Vegetarians have a few options with some of the salads under the "cold apps" menu, or make a meal out of the mushrooms listed in their own section.

For appetizers, the creamy lobster bisque was an early favorite, almost as much as the dainty beet salad with tender crimson bulbs that melted in our mouths.

The dessert selection taught us a lesson we should have learned long ago: You can't judge a place by a carrot cake on its menu. Seemingly pedestrian, our desserts were fantastic. The rich mint mousse was smooth and silky, even better when dipped into the center filling of liquid chocolate. And that carrot cake took on a whole new meaning simply from being toasted.

And now a word about the prices: You might want to check your bank balance before going too wild here. The steaks are served a la carte, and our server suggested we each order an appetizer, a side dish, and an entree. We did the math: At the cheapest, you could do that for about $41 a person (excluding dessert and drinks).

And we can only imagine how great the Japanese Wagyu beef New York strip tasted, but our budget didn't allow for it. At $30 an ounce, the entree requires a 3-ounce minimum order. (Again with the math: That's a $90 entree.) But then, it's not steakhouse chic for nothing.

KO Prime, 90 Tremont St., 617-772-0202. Raw bar: $3-$16. Appetizers: $11-$20. Sides: $6-$9. Meat: $24-$45. Fish: $33-$48.

James Reed can be reached at

KO Prime

90 Tremont Street

Raw bar: $3-$16
Appetizers: $11-$20
Sides: $6-$9
Meat: $24-$45
Fish: $33-$48