Let’s get a few things straight between us, shall we? NobHill “Tavern” is many things. It’s an attractive restaurant with stylish decor, good service, and an interesting wine list. It is also the domain of one Sven Mede, a German by birth who cut his teeth at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in Oxford, England; came of age at Bradley Ogden, and now struts his considerable talent in the service of keeping the Michael Mina brand intact and in good form throughout Mina’s MGM-Mirage restaurant empire.
What NobHill “Tavern” isn’t is a tavern. It doesn’t remotely resemble one (uber-designer Tony Chi took care of that), nor does its food pander to anything like the lowest-common-denominator denoted by those words. If Mina and his minions are trying to capture the culinary zeitgeist of the seminal Gramercy Tavern in New York City, we can forgive them that. But if they’re pulling this verbal sleight-of-hand as a way of seducing the slack-jawed hordes in the MGM to give the place a taste, they’re doing a disservice both to the know-nothings and to those who might appreciate Mede’s cosmopolitan food stylings. Because if you wander into this “tavern” expecting tavern-like food, you will be disappointed. If your expectations are much higher, you will be enthralled.
NobHill has been around for years now. As you can read or hear here, I went several times when it opened; loved it, then liked it, then kinda liked it, then wrote it off as just another under-performing, absentee chef, surrogate restaurant (as Steve Wynn refers to them). Now what Mina and Mede have done to the menu is to jolt it from its doldrums, and modernize it while staying true to its ‘Frisco roots.
One of the first ways it does this is by using superior fish and then letting those ingredients do the talking. Mina insists on doing his trios (yawn), but you won’t mind when the essence of the sea comes through in his tai (red snapper) crudo (where you can actually taste the black truffle in the creme fraiche), cava-cured salmon nicely accented by passion fruit and smoked trout roe, and a playful take on tuna “nicoise” — where the fish gets a nice little dollop of olive relish.
Even Mede’s tiny trio of salads get special care — a litmus test of kitchen conscientiousness that he passed with flying colors. Whether it’s Sausalito watercress with goat cheese and Mission figs, heirloom tomatoes with Iberico ham and burrata, or mixed “wild man” greens with grilled peaches, the whole always exceeds the sum of its parts. Each of them was so packed with flavor that ELV bemoaned the fact that each is relegated to a small portion on a three-part plate. But we suppose Mina’s corporation is so surfeited with dishware divided into three sections that this gimmick will be overdone until all the china is broken.
Among his mains: the impeccable duck with foie gras had us licking our plates, as did simple-but-elegant piece of crispy Tasmanian sea trout (nicely garnished with muscat grapes), and North Beach cioppino containing top quality seafood and a nicely spicy tomato broth to pay homage to MM’s roots. Meat eaters won’t be disappointed by the treatment of American wagyu beef either.
Desserts are less intricate that the starter courses, but scrumptious just the same. So many talented pastry chefs are working in Las Vegas these days; it’s been forever since we were disappointed in a dessert. But keep in mind, this place is right next door to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, so the bar is set pretty high on all levels. And with the sweets as with all menu catagories, NobHill holds its own.
Each course presentation (except the traditional cioppino) does the composed-but-kinda-messy-thing so in vogue with young chefs these days. These creations announce a type of sophisticated cuisine at odds with the new name of the place, and are guaranteed to throw more than a few customers off their eating game — especially those looking for a brat and a brew.
But we forgive Mina and Mede this deception (even if others might not), as long as they keep this cooking intact.
NobHill is open for dinner only. A three-course meal for two, without wine, will run around $150. Appetizers: $14-22; Mains: $22-58; Desserts: $12-16….hardly tavern-like prices, but worth it.
In the MGM Hotel and Casino
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109