On our list of genres of restaurants we loathe with every fiber of our body, hotel restaurants generally land in third place, right behind “family” restaurants and franchises.
Why do we hate them so? Because, by definition, they have to be all things to all people, and like Moliere says in The Misanthrope: “The friend of all mankind is no friend of mine.”
Admit it: Hotel eating in America sux. We’re not talking about “featured,” dinner-only restaurants in classy joints like the top Vegas hotels or the fancy dancy places in big cities. Those joints came into being partly because of the renaissance brought about by Bradley Ogden in the late ‘8os, when he made the dining room at Campton Place in San Francisco a go-to eatery on every foodie’s itinerary. No, we’re talking about every hotel coffee shop or cafe or bistro/coffee shop/cafe-coffee-i-teria in America that has the same fuccen menu as every other in-house mediocre (or worse) food service operation that is only there to provide fuel to the weary traveler — who neither knows, wants or demands anything but expense-account sustenance that won’t make them ill.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a greasy spoon attached to a Motel 6 or inside a Ritz-Carlton, your menu will have (in various degrees of quality):
A Caesar salad;
A steak or two (a filet and a strip);
Three fish dishes (always including salmon);
A turkey or other club-type sandwich;
A vegetarian “option,” and:
Some kind of roast chicken something or other.
It never fails, and menus are so standardized, you can walk into any (and we mean any) three meal a day hotel restaurant anywhere in America and order without ever looking at a menu. Just say: “I’ll have the club sandwich,” or “Gimme a steak with the pasta with tomato sauce,” and some incarnation of it will be in the kitchen, waiting for you (or one of thousands of saps) to order it. Try it sometime and save yourself the agony and insult of actually reading the bill of fare.
The menu at the Verandah Cafe inside the Four Seasons Hotel inside the Mandalay Bay (whew!) is no different, with two big differences: everything is upscaled and tweaked in such a way that you will forget you are looking a hotel dining room menu, and when taste time comes, you will be impressed.
We’re not going to go overboard with praise here. Blue crab “Louis” was way too cold and compacted — a clear indication of refrigerator-sitting, and the Land and Sea sliders (made with “Kobe” beef and more blue crab) were hardly the best versions we’ve had, but everything was a great deal better than you find in any three meal a day dining room in town — save for MOzen.
When you eat out as much as ELV does, the quality of ingredients is palpable from pretty much the first bite, and here you can just taste that Executive Chef Michael Goodman Chef de Cuisine Clarence Villanueva are getting top shelf groceries, and treating them with respect. You get that from the big chunks of good crab in each of the two versions above, and in the huge, properly cooked mahi mahi fish tacos finished with a nice mango pico de gallo.
This is cliche food, but it is cliche food made tolerable by good chefs who want to make the dishes as well as they can make them…which is all you can ask of hotel coffee shop.
Now, a note on cupcakes (because being served one at Verandah sent us into a tailspin on this loathesome dessert).
ELV and his staff hate cupcakes. We hate the very idea of cupcakes. We think cupcakes have become famous or popular or trendy or whatever they’ve become in the past five years because secretaries love to consume and swoon over them during time-wasting office birthday parties that no one really wants to be at but for the fact they can consume a pasty, overdecorated, over-sugared, childish, gimmicky little cake and pretend they’re ten years old again while they don’t work and swoon and go “goody-goody” over a peanut butter/oreo/licorice/fruit chews/cinnamon special.
Which is an insult to all ten year olds, since the last time we thought cupcakes were cool was when we were about six. And don’t tell ELV you like them ‘cuz they’re “fun.” They’re fun the way playing in a sandbox or eating cheap, Halloween candy is “fun.” You should’ve outgrown these things a long time ago, because they taste like over-sugared shite (all of them) and bring nothing to the party but memories of being six years old.
No serious or semi-serious foodie tolerates even the mention of a cupcake. Take a poll and you’ll find that underpaid office workers generally love them.
Zeus hath spoken.
In the Four Seasons Hotel
3960 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119