Those of us who have been reporting on Las Vegas restaurants since the 1990s….and that us would be ELV exclusively…fondly remember a restaurant called Sam’s American when it first opened in the Bellagio in October, 1998. Boasting a decor that was positively Flintstone-ian, along with a wacky, way-before-its-time menu of upgraded bar food and American classics, it was a forerunner of every gourmet sliders/upscale American food joint that succeeded it over the next ten years. We probably ate there a dozen times in its first six months and shed more than one tear when the powers that be decided that what Bellagio really need was another steakhouse (yawn) — and tried a concept or two before letting the Light Group deposit FIX in the space.
Sam DeMarco then returned to NYC for some years before being lured back to Vegas to open First Food & Bar in the Palazzo in 2008. While the decor can’t compete with a warren of rooms that looked like this, the food has that same old DeMarco flair from which more than a few local chefs should take notes.
The pictures above represent a recent lunch and dinner (one comped the other not), and coming on the heels of the bleak, going-through-motions fare at Society Cafe, restored our faith in earthy, tastily-tweaked American eats. And they did it with a Cuban sandwich.
Yes, a Cuban sandwich –that ethereal combination of pork on pork on pickles with melted Swiss cheese and good mustard. We’ve never had a better one — even in a Cuban restaurant — and any sandwich of such superiority signals a kitchen committed to doing a number of things well.
And it does. From a bacon-strewn pad Thai (called Spring Mountain on the menu in an homage to our Asiatown) to crispy oysters with seaweed salad to a lobster meatballs the size of tennis balls, this is 21st Century American food writ large…and made a ton of fun.
Those homarus americanus balls come with rich, eggy Spinosi pasta and, like everything on this menu is more than enough to feed two.
As are such standouts as Dorito-covered mac ‘n cheese (plenty cheesy without being oleaginous, stiff or soupy), warm sugar doughnuts that might not be in Nantucket’s Downyflake class, but come mighty darn close, and the big, doughy-crispy popovers that come to every table.
And then there is “The Diggler.” Named after the well-endowed, fictional porn star, it is one whopper of a salt-crusted prime rib packing 52 oz. on the bone and more than enough for four. Or the occasional man-hungry male who can stroll in a polish one off by himself. (Hard to believe, but Sammy swears it happens.) It’s hard to resist going back for slice after slice — dipping each bite into the creamy, kick-ass fresh horseradish sauce — but we begged off after eating less than a quarter of the beast.
From there it was straight to a silky, barely-held-together lemongrass crème brûlée that Le Cirque would be proud to serve — topped with crunchy kid’s cereal that it wouldn’t. ELV normally disdains such gimmickry, but it the hands of the patron saint of fun food, it works deliciously.
Move over meat emporiums, there’s a new python of prime rib on the block. Lawry’s may hold its in the giant slabs o’ beef department, but other restaurants doing pale imitations of this kind of food should come by for a bite and take a lesson from the master.
ELV’s lunch came to $84.05 ($64.05+$20 tip). The prime rib dinner was comped.
FIRST FOOD & BAR
In The Palazzo Hotel and Casino
3377 Las Vegas Boulevard South Suite 2500
Las Vegas, NV 89109