Ten Best Spring Menu Dishes: 2014

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us once again; flowers bloom, seeds sprout, and chefs on the strip change their menus.  With a cornucopia of fresh, seasonal ingredients from around the world become available to experiment with.  For the most dedicated of foodies and industry pros, this is the NFL Draft, the Oscars, and The Bachelor season premier all in one.  Through pain-staking research and much caloric-intake, brought before you here are the best of the best, displaying the great skill, creativity, and utilization of spring’s great green bounty.

Marinated Scallops, Carnevino

Anyone familiar with the cooking style of Executive Chef Nicole Brisson knows the near-Sisyphean lengths she takes to procure seasonal vegetables, even ones with such short windows of availability like pea greens and ramps.  She utilizes the half-dill/half-basil flavor of fresh, living pea tendrils in many of her dishes when she can, and crisp, flavorful watermelon raddish in her marinated scallops.  Light, sweet, very rare scallops are topped with a salad of root vegetable, herb, and English pea puree, a perfectly fresh and clean taste of the sea.

 

Uni Buttered Corn, Yonaka

There is never an unoriginal dish at Yonaka, and this dish shows the kind of outside-the-box thinking they are known for.  Creamy, savory uni butter and bits of salty uni “bottarga” top a simple split cob of fire roasted corn.  It’s a very interesting combination, but Chef Ramir can always be counted on to bring items from any cuisine together in great ways.

 

Les Cuisses de Grenouille, Le Cirque

With each menu changeover, Chef Paul Lee has ventured further and further into unique territory, further cementing Le Cirque as one of the most expressive, artful menus on the strip.  Dishes like this one exemplify that, taking sautéed Florida frog’s legs and creamy potato gnocchi, pairing it with spring ramps (a member of the leek family with a slightly garlic flavor), tomato confit, parsley coulis, and mimolette ‘crisps’.  The result is a wonderful palate, highlighting the quality of the ingredients and dazzling the palate with its savory, bright flavors.

 

DiverSeaScallops, RM Seafood

It is of course fitting that one of the premier seafood restaurants in Vegas would have a stellar scallop dish.  This one in particular takes soft, seared scallops and perches them on a shrimp carpaccio with octopus medallions.  These are in a lemon buerre blanc and bouillabaisse gel, with shaved fennel, micro carrots, and blistered tomatoes.  Owner Chef Rick Moonen and Executive Chef Johnny Church knock it out of the park with this one, with an old-world set of flavors presented in a perfectly unique, complex way.  The quality of the seafood is on amazing display in this dish.

 

Instant Bacon, StripSteak

It was big news a while ago when Chef Gerald Chin went from the Wicked Spoon buffet to head up Michael Mina’s steak house, and now with this spring menu changeover, we have his first original dishes on a set menu.  Among several real winners (a foie trio with a cured mousse macaroon is a notable one), perhaps the most exiting dish is the “Instant Bacon”.  It is a cube of pork belly, rubbed in Chinese five spice and roasted, with a tempura oyster, soy glaze, and perched on a jicama salad.  The “Instant” part that makes it bacon, it is placed under glass and inundated with hardwood smoke.  Calling it bacon doesn’t do the justice, because the final product is so complex and unique, it has shot past the realm of bacon into a whole new territory.

 

Loup de Mer, Comme Ca

Chef Daniel Ontiveros is the new Chef de Cuisine at the Vegas location of Comme Ca, taking the place of now Corporate Executive Chef Brian Howard, and among a great collection of new dishes is their Loup de Mer.  First coated in aromatic tumeric oil, the fish is pan roasted for a crispy exterior and served with charred lemon butter, green garlic sauce, and melted spring onion.  It is a great departure from less risky Loup de Mers too commonly seen, and the trio of strong flavors only compliments the fish, not overpowers it.  Fun tricks like tumeric oil (or the saffron aoli on their seared foie dish) are portentous of even more great things still to come from Comme Ca.

 

Warm Duck Salad,Marche Bacchus

This menu change represents the efforts of both consulting Chef Alex Stratta and new Chef de Cuisine Jose Aleman.  After a period of experimenting and training, nearly the whole menu has been revamped, including this extremely fun duck salad.  Moist, rich duck balanced against crisp julienne pink apple and sweet heritage grapes, it’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory, fat and acid.

 

Madrid Style Tripe and Tongue Stew, Fleur

Chef Jose Avila has been doing some really impressive things for the various beer or wine dinners the Mandalay Bay hosts, and using that outlet to build a great menu with the hits.  Using offal to great success, this spicy soup of tripe and tongue has a big spice flavor, but is addictively savory.  It’s rustic, but dishes like this (and the best octopus I’ve had in a LONG time) that will assert Fleur ahead of less adept small-plates.

 

Colorado Lamb Loin, Sage

I can honestly say I have never had a poorly executed dish at Sage.  Chef Richard Caramota is almost superhuman with hitting just the exact right notes with a dish, and the lamb loin is no exception.  The lean slices of loin were complimented by morels and a charred spring onion reduction, and plated on top of a spring pea/wheat berry salad (imagine if bulgur and lentils had a baby, and it was raised by flax).  Then, the real kicker, leaves from celery hearts.  The green, young bitter leaves add such a unique aromatic flavor, and from such a humble source.  Yet another great dish among many great dishes on that menu.

 

Wild Washington Halibut, Aquaknox

As I’ve said in the past, Chef Steve Aguglia has taken Aquaknox to new and exiting levels every menu change.  I wanted to put their incredible Chicken Tandoori on this list as well, but in the interest of round numbers, let us just imagine I did that one too.  The dish that tied with the chicken but I felt displayed more of their spirit was the Wild-Caught Washington Halibut.  Harvested on a Quinault Indian tribe and processed that day (Halibut is rarely ever day-boat), they poach it in butter, sear it, and plate it with a shrimp, corn, and edamame succotash with basil-butter.  The fish has a ton of meaty, buttery flavor, and goes well with the super fresh and unique succotash.  Aquaknox has been going way above and beyond with their sourcing (much of their produce, herbs, and microgreens comes from Pahrump and surrounding farms), and really taking the task of churning out exiting food every menu change.  Dishes like this are rising them to some real specific prominence.

In Defense of the Whiskey Pairing

Could you imagine being some old shepherd in the rolling moors of Scotland, in the times of antiquity?  You scrape out your livelihood, everything you own either generations old or slung together from the fauna around you, your whole world a tiny blip of stacked stones in an endless sea of nature.  But there is one thing in your life, seemingly pulled out of the ether with prestidigitation, that brightens your eyes, livens your disposition, and warms your heart.  It’s the ol’ water of life, that crystal clear brown liquid, whiskey.

It’s been a friend to all cultures for centuries, and how can we abandon a friend when dinner is served?  It’s an unpopular opinion to have, even greatly chided by the patriarch of this site, but I think it is the stunt-driving version of pairings.  It’s dangerous, it’s done wrong so often, but damn if it isn’t great when done correctly.  Max Solano, the man behind not only the impressive mixology program at Delmonico’s, but also their world-class whiskey collection.  There are bottles there that would even make a Rothschild’s blood pressure rise, and a palate of flavors spanning everything from briny iodine to buckwheat honey to grilled corn.  With just a few humble ingredients, comes so very many flavors; starch, yeast, water, wood, and time.

Take, for example, a simple seared piece of foie gras.  You could compliment it with honey and toffey notes from a well-aged Irish whiskey, or go with bright fruits in something like Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or Sauturnes Cask.  Max Solano actually had quite an interesting one, a high-rye mashbill but low proof 10-12 year old bourbon.  Sweet corn notes contrasted with pepper and spice, soft enough to linger and be mellowed by the buttery, rich, savory foie.  Does that not pique ones interest?

Or perhaps a curve ball, something light and devoid of any fattiness for the alcohol to cut, like lobster.  Look no further than the “love it or hate it” kind of category that is Islay scotch.  Something that can compliment a shellfish, like the Lagavulin 16, would be smooth, but smoky, peaty, and without a hint of sweetness.  There are distinct medicinal, salty iodine notes Islays get from their seaside distilleries, which a simple lobster would compliment well with.

I don’t think anyone will argue that wine almost certainly be the golden boy of pairing with a meal.  Beer even is coming up as a close second (or first, depending on which person will vehemently defend it).  Cocktails are finally finding a space in the finest of the fine dining, with our own Nectaly Mendoza (of Herb & Rye fame) will be gracing the James Beard House in New York along side Chef Brian Massie.   We just have to be thinking about it in the right way.

Having a whiskey list as long as Manute Bol’s arm gives you the best chance of finding the right match to a specific dish, but for the rest of us it’s better to pair a dish to a whiskey.  Be specific about it, consider what you want to contrast with what you want to compliment.  Surprise yourself.

your pal,

Mitchell Wilburn

The Goodwitch of the North

Damn man, damn.  I have been so consistently wowed by this place, that I’ve been going back about twice a week.  It does help that it is five  minutes away from my hip (and only slightly dangerous) digs in “The Downtown”, but I would drive from Summerlin consistently and even bear slumming it in Dino’s (and I REALLY don’t like Dino’s) to enjoy these seriously bad-ass sandwiches.

They are occupying the semi-fixed location that Viva Las Arepas once was (now moved down the street to an actual dining room), right out front of Dino’s, conveniently located near the Olympic Gardens gentleman’s club, the semi-defunct Luv-It-Custard and plenty of the garish kind of weekly-rate motels that make up that part of Vegas.  The Goodwich space is very hip, all 60′s Atomic Age stuff.  It is quite the contrast to the area, but there is a consistent group stopping in for a bite.  The menu is split into a few different pricing tiers: $3 for a quick little booze soaker-upper, $5 for a unique spin on a classic, $7 for a stick-to-your-ribs filling sandwich, and $9 for the ritzy crowd looking for the “Crème de la crème” premium stuff.  Lets take this apart, starting with the…

$3 STUFF:  You got your simple egg on toast and your grilled cheese.  Both of these satisfy the quick thing to stuff in your face either before or after a big night of drinking.  Simple, quick, but done really well.  The Fluff & Nutt however, is a perfect crowd-pleasing dessert.  Griddled white bread, Marshmallow Fluff, Nutella, and a secret crunchy, who’s nearest approximation I can find is some kind of honey-ish breakfast cereal.  Bring the kiddies too.

 

Fluff & Nutt

 

$5 STUFF:  There is a sandwich in this category I am seriously considering the best sandwich I’ve had in years.  My usual go-to for an amazing sandwich is on the semi-secret menu at the Carnevino bar, a dry-aged pastrami sandwich with grilled tomatoes and arugula.  That and one of Good Ol’ Coop’sperfect negronis is a great meal, even at something of a shocking price tag.  But for the Goodwich “Ham &” to surpass that at just a fiver?  You’ve got the salty, savory ham, and they pair that up with aged cheddar, and a house made mostarda (dried blueberries, cranberries, apple, etc. cooked with mustard vinegar, sugar, and wine).  Blew my mind, probably the best danged deal in town, and I mean that with honesty.  Get that one, now, today.  Go.

 

Ham &

 

$7 STUFF:  These are all big, meaty, generous sandwiches in a pretty classic style.  The only one that really deviates from the classic is a patty, which is more like a ground beef cheese steak.  They must cook this in the sauce or something, because it isn’t a patty with sauce on it, it is a spicy (might be too spicy for some), creamy sauce dressing loose ground beef.  These are filling as heck, and worth the $7 as a meal in itself.

 

Patty

 

$9 STUFF: Oh la la, a sandwich with foie gras mousse?  Could this be really good or really awful?  There has been a trend of really awful “dive-y” food with foie gras on it, so how does their “Foie &” faire?  The mousse is done quite well, preserved the overall rich flavor, the port-braised cabbage is a great sweet/bitter addition, the almonds elevate the flavor well and add texture.  And the crispy chicken skin (add to any sammy for $2!)?  Well that is what a wise man once called “Money”.  Get the Foie & not so you can say “lol foie gras sandwich! XD #selfie #foodporn #sorrynotsorry”, but because it is most definitely a good experience.  The “Span-ish” and “Le Pig” are both just as good as the foie, and definitely indicative of the immense level of passion and thought the two owners put into their sandwiches.

 

Foie &

 

A lucky star must hang over that little shack in front of Dino’s.  Lucky for the owners, who have and most certainly will be heading to do big things with their food, but even more lucky for the people who get to eat there.  The Goodwich is coming at a time when everyone is scrambling to open a Downtown restaurant, and so many (especially any of the hokey ones they just opened in the Grand or Plaza or whatever else) are not guiding things in the right direction.  If we had more places like The Goodwich, we would be sitting pretty, and downtown would really  be giving The Strip a run for its money!

Get down there, eat every damned sandwich on the menu, come back as often as you can.  There might be no place where the quality is so high and the price is so low anywhere else in Vegas, and you can take that to the bank.

THE GOODWICH

In front of Dino’s Lounge

1516 S. Las Vegas Blvd Suite A.,

Las Vegas , NV 89104

702.901.8681

the-goodwich.com

The British Invasion: CORNISH PASTY CO.

In the plaza that is host to Lotus of Siam, about a dozen other pan-asian restaurants, and even a few places where you might find local politicians andreligious leaders.  But the newest opening isn’t a Thai place, a swingers club, or an alternative lifestyle independent theater at all!  It is the first Las Vegas location and fourth overall location of Cornish Pasty Co.

Yes, once again the Brits have started colonizing, straying from their conquered home-turf of Arizona.

There is something extremely cool about the space, or rather a set of somethings.  They have a couple booths, which are re-purposed old church pews, with the hymn book shelf and everything.  Pew makers must be in dire straights these days, considering all the young folks going on reddit and instantly becoming satan-worshiping atheists.  Also, on the low-tops and bar has these big ol’ iron tractor seat chairs.  What is this, Hash House a Go-Go?  Am IGuy Fieri?  Is this “Money”?  I’ve seen these lumbar-destroying things at a couple places now, and it has gotten old before it was even new.  They more than make up for it by the fact they pump in all 80′s Brit rock.  Any place blasting Motörhead as I walk in gets a point.

The food might you ask?  It is mostly very British.  A pasty is a bunch of meat and stuff (potatoes are usually the stuff) wrapped in what is basically a big ass Hot Pocket brand stuffed sandwich.  In fact, some of these pasties are very much like a home made Hot Pocket brand stuffed sandwich.  The Italian (Pepperoni, salami, capocollo, ham, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and roasted tomatoes) and the Royale With Cheese (Hamburger, french fries, grilled onions, mushrooms, bacon, cheddar, Swiss) are exactly what I would picture if some pintrest lady got the idea of making a #foodie #foodporn #homemade #HotPocketBrandStuffedSandwich #MommyBlogger.

The list of pasties has just about everything you would want wrapped in dough, and a few things you wouldn’t.  With Classic Pasties, Premium Pasties, and Vegetarian Pasties, there are 37 items.  This doesn’t include soups, salads, sides, and ‘serts (desserts, that’s what I call desserts now).  The best of them are more stereotypically British than the Queen opening a crimbo-cracker on the river Thames while listening to the White Album.

 

The Oggie

 

Their most traditional and most British pasty, the Oggie, has steak, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, and a side of red wine gravy.  It, for lack of a better term, is hearty.  If I was some cockney in a tin mine, I’d dig it a ton.  As it is, it’s mainly saved by the gravy, but a bit bland on it’s own, and a few of them are rather dry as well.  I know what you’re saying, “That doesn’t sound like the British food I know!”  Well, they also have a more modern but still very British “Chicken Tika Masala”, served with a mint yogurt or tahini sauce.  Damn good!  Their fascination for Indian flavors and the subsequent interpretations are interesting at least.  A fact that certainly lends some credibility to the dish:  there are parts of London that has more Indian food than parts of India has Indian food.

 

The Chicken Tika Masala

 

For something a little more central European, there is the “Porkie”, with pork, sage, apples, and onion.  Could use a bit of fennel to go fully breach the Rhine into German territory, but otherwise quite the tasty pasty.  In the soup category, only one really is worth making the leap, their creamy walnut, mushroom, and spinach.  However, any of them are a good choice when they have house-made soda bread and Irish butter on the side.  Sides, salads, all pretty straight forward.  I mean, you’re there for the pasties, why divert?

 

Bread and Butter Pudding

 

There is one reason to divert.  THE ‘SERTS.  Holy mother of jeepers, these desserts.  Bread and Butter Pudding, a scalding hot little sweet and salty layered square of bread pudding, topped with dark chocolate brandy sauce, and a side of ice cream or creme anglaise.  Perfect balance, surprisingly complex, VERY decadent.  The “Shirley Temple’s Pudding” (R.I.P in Peace) is a sticky toffee pudding worthy of the lil’ darlin’.  It comes still bubbling in a little iron cauldron and is made with imported British treacle (basically golden molasses), with the aforementioned ice cream or creme anglaise.  Let me tell you, and I may need to do a side-by-side first, but I seriously think it may be the best sticky toffee pudding in town, even better than the one at famous Gordo Ramrod’s steakhouse.  It is a damned good sticky toffee pudding.

 

Shirley Temple’s Pudding

 

The place is fun, the food is pretty alright, hell they even have a good beer selection, and they are two-for-two on ‘serts.  If you’re hungry, eat there.  G’wan, git.

CORNISH PASTY CO.

953 E Sahara Ave

Las Vegas, NV 89104

702-862-4538

cornishpastyco.com

Rum Diaries

I awoke with a start at the crack of sundown, and I knew what I needed: RUM.

It was a craving resulting from whatever odd-humors cause a person to fall asleep in a tweed suit (shoes on, tie loosened) in the early evening, on a pink 60′s art-deco Swedish chair, and like the cultural barometer that is Swedish Life, it was something not to be ignored.  Perhaps an example of the mystery of human premonition, my body knew to prepare itself for a late night battling the little brown devil.

I plied some insider knowledge from the usual suspects and made myself an itinerary for a whirlwind one-night education on the subject.  Wrangled up what I needed: a couple cheap cigars for sharing, a few good ones for myself, pen and pad, Blood Alcohol meter, personal defense items (pocket flail and switchblade), and an emergency vial of ginger syrup, in case of extreme sickness. All that was left was to write “Hosea 8:7” on my left hand, “Psalm 104:15” on my right, to remind me of this night’s mission.  A Crusade, as it were…

Casa Fuente, a cozy respite from the marble and frescoes of the Forum Shops.  I put my back to the door and start the night off slow.  It’s a cigar bar first and foremost, the rum is there to compliment that, but it’s a selection you’d expect traveling cigar-lovers would want.  They’ve got some show- off bottles for the guys that care for it, but all I’d need is a simple trio of Appleton 12 year Jamaican rum to sip, a classic mojito to guzzle (not too sweet, almost just right), and a French press.   No time to dally and no reason to talk a disinterested young lady’s ear off.  The Mission was on and Stop One was checked off.

I tumble across the street, over the Bridge of Despair. Rhumbar in The Mirage. Dear God, what have I gotten myself into?  The exact opposite of Casa, this place is stark, shining, septic white on all surfaces.  It’s like the 1990′s idea of a futuristic hospital.  If not for the shingle out front and the back bar, I would have let my eye pass over this like any other Fat Tuesday pimpling the already blithe landscape.  For every semi-quality bottle, there is a pitcher of sangria, a hookah, a DJ, and kiddies running around with virgin slushie cocktails. Turned 360 degrees and moonwalked right the fiddle-fucking devil out of there. I am not in my element.

Usually a place where I cross myself if I walk past the entryway, I had to honor the curiosity for the Tommy Bahama restaurant at Town Square.  After swallowing my disdain for their criminal food (items like the “Fig and maple brine grilled pork loin with dried cherry merlot chutney” exemplifies my adage that mixing all the colors of the palate just gets brown, not a rainbow) to enter the “Rhum Locker”.

Without surprise, a great deal of the menu is the ever-changing carousel of Bacardi fruit flavors, with a few big name/ big price bottles masquerading as a “rum nerd” list.  However, I was resolute that part of their 200-plus strong rum list will have a couple gems.  When prodded for a suggestion, the overworked bartender recommended something with the word “Berry” in it.  Not for me sister.  A Flor De Cana that was new to me gave them a point, quickly taken by a sickly-sweet cocktail that destroyed a Zaya 12.  I shuffled my sorry self out around a couple of spherical, beet-red men in white silk shorts (in the middle of a brutal 70-degree winter, no less) and through the crowds of shifty mumbling teenagers.

No more fooling around.  Time to hit the main spot of the night, Frankie’s Tiki Room. There is one thing I can always count on at Frankie’s, and that’s for Mike the Bartender to light up with excitement when you ask for a rum suggestion. The sommelier turned bartender whipped up a flight: Babancourt 8 and Zicaya 21 to showcase terroir from the Haitian desert-climate side of the island and the Dominican tropical-climate side, El Dorado 15 to show a Demarara style (all-molasses), and a Pampero Aniversario for a nice little nutty, woody Venezuelan blend.

This is the place I stake my flag for the night.  It’s almost like being in a dream, or a Terry Gilliam movie.  Just cool, campy, cartoonish 60s tiki atmosphere and good rum.

I remained there for the night, pumping dollars into the jukebox (the Mystery Science Theater 3000 surf-rock cover was the night’s soundtrack), talking rum with the regulars, nervously eyeing the tatted-up and giant bearded freemasons rolling in after some auspicious black-and-white “Eyes Wide Shut” event, and saving off the ever approaching sunrise over the great wall of the I-15.

“Crush” – Dave Matthews Band: The Restaurant

Ah, the dulcet tones, the violin solo, the sweet as hell music video of some Utopian jazz club.  I was very excited to see the new joint in the MGM (taking over the Nob Hill spot) is named after my favorite song from one of my favorite bands, Dave Matthews Band (I call them DMB).  ”Crush” is a totally great song with good music in it, but will this tapas/wine bar be worth the square footage?

It’s a venture of Michael and Jenna Morton (of La Cave, La Comida, and the Morton Steakhouse Group [but only via familiar relation, not business]), but an interesting one.  The space itself is unusually cozy.  I was thinking it would be all bistro seats and techno music.  Yes friends, I am glad to tell you there is a semi-casual restaurant that isn’t pumping out Teen Disney or geriatric-core rock, but rather simple and soft jazz piano covers.

The interior here is cool, but cool in that way where you make a normal space and put a ton of vintage laboratory equipment in it to make it “hip”.  Like all darkened tapas/wine bars, it has already started to attract every lady over 30, probably by way of some kind of pheromone or emitting an extremely low frequency.

The menu, in a very uncharacteristic move for such concepts, is actually NOT a giant unfocused mess!  Twenty-three items are tapas (seven of which are pizzas, just thin enough to skirt the entree category), eight are “full-size” dishes.  More on the suspicious quotations around that term later in the article.

Some items, like the hamachi or the kale salad, are a bit phoned-in or could have benefited from some simple tweaks or additions.  These sour notes only punctuate an otherwise very unique menu.  The executive chef, William DeMarco, has taken the next logical step from his La Cave style with pizzas that leave his own flat breads in the dust.  The Thai coconut curry shrimp pizza, with asparagus and smoked bacon, is complexly spiced and surprisingly creative.

Or take for example, their scallop “Benny”.   A fat, buttery scallop, topped with a quail egg, perched atop a spicy dry chorizo and a potato cake.  It’s a solid, round palate of flavors, and the chipotle hollandaise is as good as one could expect outside of breakfast hours, but may have erred a bit too close to an aioli.

There may have been a bit of a theme in some of the dishes, which I would call overall acceptable, but some elements seem a bit forced.  There is an octopus ceviche, tangy with grapefruit and jalapeno, but cut FAR too chunky for super-thin taro chips.  We all know the embarrassment of going in for a scoop, breaking chip after chip, waitresses wordlessly bringing in steam trays full of new chips, wading hip deep in half-broken chips, boarding up windows to keep the chips in, until we hang ourselves in the bathroom with our underwear out of shame, Turkish prison style.  These are the dining problems Emily Post didn’t have the time or decency to address.

There were other nice dishes, and most very nice quality.  The short rib gnocchi and the shrimp tomato risotto were standouts.  The cocktail list and dessert menu were notably lacking the same spark that most of the menu had, which I expect shared a common cause: tacked on to please someone or some group.

The entrees you ask?  Are they just a scaled up tapas?  Well, yes and… mostly.  They’re still great, like most of the menu, but not huge.  There are a couple that boast their size (the steaks, naturally), but items like the lamb sirloin, are dinky.  At least the prices match, which are a good touch below the local par.  However, they can be mightily improved with some really thoughtful wine pairings from the in-house somme (I think he may have even been an MS).  Seriously, get a pairing, this guy is a wiz.

 

Thirty Nine dollars? Damn man.

 

Oh, and they leave you with this cute little note on your receipt.  But I’m beginning to think it has nothing to do with DMB at all!  Song references aside, it is certainly a big step up from 90% of tapas places, with a menu that is overall far more exciting and original than anything you’d find shoehorned into Tivoli Village or even the much lauded (for the drinks, not the food) Downtown eatery scene.  Check it out, try some stuff, and seriously, get a wine pairing.

 

CRUSH: EAT DRINK LIVE

In the MGM Hotel and Casino

3799 Las Vegas Blvd S

Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 891-3222

P.S. I’M BACK, BITCHES

3799 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, NV 89109

Rose. Rabbit. Lie.

You have probably seen the billboards, the blogger posts, the banner ads, the news spots, and maybe even the TV commercials (apparently people still watch TV?). Even a faux demonstration of grammarians protesting the gross misuse of punctuation in the name, Rose. Rabbit. Lie., joined the cavalcade of media presence.

There is a new… something in the Cosmopolitan, promising to be all things to all people. What is it exactly? If the aforementioned commercial is to be believed, it is a dark scary room where skinny women gesticulate in a horrifying manner.

Earliest whisperings of Rose. Rabbit. Lie. suggested the “rebirth of the supper club.” Impressive boast, no doubt, when the closest thing to a supper club we have is some goofy Italiano wedding dinner theater. More news came along, in the form of their beverage program gobbling up some of the better known names in our mixology scene. At this point, we know they have food, they have “entertainment,” and some serious bartending talent.

Now that they are actually open, they cannot be properly described in a list of accommodations. As hackneyed as it sounds, they are an experience more than the sum of its parts.

Down the long hallway towards the Wicked Spoon buffet, through massive doors and color-coordinated staffers, into a darkened anteroom, and into the unmarked door to the left, there is The Study. This is the mixology lounge, serving the already impressive and adventurous cocktail list (cognac and house-infused amaros make a big splash) supplemented with the “Study List” ($18 each) for the true cocktail nerds who need a turmeric and carrot influenced scotch drink.

The entire place has an immersive theater thing going on, so during drinks you might get tap dancing twins having an impromptu show along the bar top, or a dead-pan comedian doing magic tricks. A lucky few might even get an actor to take them away into a hidden sitting room for jokes, parlor tricks, and boozy punch.

The dining room, which between shows has a live polka/jazz band, serves food until 4 a.m. Such a span places their food against the few greasy spoons that stay open that long, easily crowned best of the late night spots. Their menu is, surprisingly, incredibly vibrant and exiting.

They are further bolstering the “vintage menu” trend we are experiencing by having dishes like lobster newburg ($26), with the twist of adding a bit of Vietnamese fish sauce to the traditional sherry cream sauce. Similarly, the rabbit fricassee ($16) – which I haven’t heard anyone eating since Bugs Bunny cartoons – has rose petals and red wine.

Everything from the bone marrow with sweet and sour braised beef ($16) to the Lobster Cocktail with lemongrass foam ($14) ranged from being delectable to mind blowing. Only rarely (a heavenly egg, $6, truly) was I let down.

The price, which I’m sure you’ve noticed, dear reader, is pretty friggin bonkers. Don’t go looking to get stuffed full American-style, unless you’re looking to drop a couple C-notes.

A particular dessert, the terrarium ($35), is so very worth the price tag simply for the terrific experience of experimentation. Chocolate “dirt”, chocolate truffle “rocks”, and several bouquets of herb flowers (fennel, basil, oregano, etc) meant to be eaten with the chocolate is such a sensory thrill.

The two different ticketed shows, split into “Cantos,” keeping in mind I am not a theater critic, were still very entertaining to my buffoon sensibilities. A good mix of bawdy comedy, sexy art, artsy sex, and plain old fun. With an appetite for a big night out, and a budget to match, this is the experience to beat.

Rose. Rabbit. Lie. is the new standard for the elusive Vegas experience. The Vegas experience, like the American dream, can’t be bought in a package deal, but damn if some people aren’t getting damned close… for a price.

ROSE. RABBIT. LIE. at the Cosmopolitan, 3708 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 877-667-0585.

Vegan Made Exiting: Panevino

It is not an uncommon sight on menus at some of the ritzier places to have a list of dishes accommodating some hip diets. Some time ago, plenty of places were touting some carbohydrate-free items. Now we have gluten-free for our celiac-afflicted friends.

I’m sure there are/were places that catered to “Paleo,” the diet that people bought into when they heard you could pretend vegetables were bad for you. Those places were probably attached to the similarly ridiculous CrossFit places, both of which are fads likely to land you in a hospital if followed with some measure of accuracy.

But vegans! Oh, but what of the vegan? They have some success when the destination is a Thai or Indian place, and can at least avoid products with one or two degrees of separation from animals in Japanese joints.

Outside of that, occidental cuisines have benefited from being in a culture with just too much success in the field of animal husbandry.

There are a couple of places that have the magic mix of being accommodating enough to create a vegan menu and hip enough to necessitate one to exist.

Astute readers may be saying, “Mitchell, my handsome fellow, did you not write an article hotly writing off vegan food? (CityLife, Nov. 7) You some kinda’ HIPPO-CRIT?”

Cool it, hot heads, and consider this: Panevino has quietly garnered a following for being a surprisingly stunning restaurant. Whatever change that happens in a person for them to choose a vegan diet happened in General Manager Vincenzo Granata, a classic Vegas consummate gentleman. So he and Executive Chef Mario Andreoni set to including some of his recipes into a fully animal-free menu called the “Healthful Plant Based Vegan” lunch and dinner menus.

Don’t worry, meat and seafood are still available. But think about it, how do you make a good vegan menu, if given the chance? Take someone who already is a great lover of food, and then you turn HIM vegan.

Wholly original dishes, like the hummus rolls ($13), can put thin grilled eggplant, house made garlic hummus, and red wine braised spiced cabbage together in a way that would entice any meat-eater.

Or take their brown rice, mushroom and pesto risotto ($28), substituting the creamy starch-broth created by slow cooking arborio with a puree of avocado, adding to that a spicy, fresh pesto. This is invention outside of necessity; it’s just inspired and creative.

Their ricotta and spinach gnocchi ($21) is a real special item. A creamy ball of some crazy mix of proteins and spinach, in what I think may be the best vodka crème sauce I’ve had. Lord knows how they made all that happen without a cow involved, but they pulled off some seriously satisfying dishes.

Perhaps my favorite, the artichokes and zucchini ($13), had so much fresh vegetable flavor to it. Corn meal dusted artichoke, grilled zucchini, thin and quickly cooked tomato, and a terrific extra-virgin olive oil made for a beautiful and complex dish.

Now here is the place in the article where you’d expect me to say “It was kind of bland and unappealing, but for what it is, it was pretty good.” I hear this term all the time, “For what it is,” and I don’t believe in using it. I think “for what it is” is the food version of “I’m not racist, but…”

Outside of the scope of vegan food, without the lens of whatever you consider vegans or what you THOUGHT you knew about vegan food, this menu at Panevino is definitely worth trying if you want an exiting and satisfying dining experience.

PANEVINO, 246 Via Antonio Ave., near corner of East Sunset Road and Gilespie Street. Phone 702-222-2400.