The last time I paid serious attention to an Emeril Lagasse restaurant, Congress was asking Monica Lewinsky to explain the stains on her dress. Polite company should not be forced to discuss such things, so I’ve tried to avoid both subjects since the turn of the century. It’s not that I don’t like Emeril—he’s a charming, generous and funny guy—but the mass appeal of his ingredient-heavy, caloric, fatty, often charmless food is lost on yours truly. When he opened Table 10 in the Palazzo in 2008, two meals there convinced me his food (as it appears outside of New Orleans) was headed straight to Applebee’s land. Then, a month ago, an email arrived from chef Sean Roe that intrigued me …
“We’re trying to give the restaurant an identity,” it said. “I’ve taken over the kitchen, and I think you’ll like what we’re doing with local purveyors, more variety and a general lightening up of the menu.” Roe, the former executive chef for both Delmonico in the Venetian and the original Fish House in the MGM, fed me many a delightful meal back in the day, so I was curious to learn how he would work in a realm not obsessed with “stuff-stuff with plenty”—Calvin Trillin shorthand for the groaning plates of proteins, starches and sauces with which Lagasse has coated America’s arteries.
- Table 10
- Inside the Palazzo
- Sun-Thu, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Fri-Sat, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“(Emeril) wants us to focus on an ingredient-driven menu and make sure every dish tells a story,” Roe explains to me with the excitement of a new religious convert. It only takes a glance at the menus to see he was serious, and a few bites to convince me this is not your father’s bam!
A daily chalkboard announces where the produce comes from: Roe gets his carrots from Gilcrease Orchard north of town, and the regular menu features tomatoes and cucumbers from Pahrump. None of this would mean anything alongside a steak, gravy and grits menu, but Emeril’s Table 10 2.0 has a thing for salads and other light fare that would have gotten him laughed out of New Orleans 15 years ago. In place of butter-roasted shrimp on mashed potatoes with cheese in a béchamel cream sauce, here you should start with house made grissini (bread sticks) wrapped with paper thin slices of La Quercia hog prosciutto. Then get the radishes. Spread them with butter and sea salt, take a bite, and discover an odd but delightful, bitter-rich match in your mouth. Those needing an artery-hardening fix will have no complaints with the roasted marrow bones, and little-fish fans will find themselves fawning over the Great Lakes fried smelts. The small snack assortment adds up to one of the tastiest and more interesting in town.
From there, head straight for the salads. Weiser Farms outside Bakersfield supplies the beets, and such a sweet-yet-savory strain of Beta vulgaris is a rarity indeed. These pink-red beauties come sprinkled with Wisconsin feta cheese, pickled onions and a subtle, herbal vinaigrette that knows when to step aside and let the star of the plate shine. Equally good: organic, Kentor Farms leaves of thick, raw spinach served with a nice cylinder of mild Drake Family goat cheese and sprinkled with crispy garlic chips, and a frisee of lettuce with an organic egg coming from chickens that lead, according to Roe, a better life than any chicken (and most humans) ever will.
Too many salads, you say? Perhaps, but this restaurant is staking a claim with its veggies, and let’s face it, who needs another steakhouse or pasta palace? Those consumed by carnivorous cravings should know Roe hasn’t forgotten his roots; he’s just trying to put the sins and excesses of his past into perspective. The man still cooks one of the meanest steaks in the business—here featuring Creekstone Farms’ organic aged ribeye—and his whole roasted suckling pig “porchetta” (turning slowly in the dining room’s glass-lined oven) tastes as good as it looks. This little piggy—deboned, seasoned and restuffed before being slow roasted and sliced—may just be the apotheosis of pork. Still feeling meaty, punk? Then pull the trigger on a double-barrel load of soft, melt-in-your-mouth, unbelievably rich, braised veal cheeks. And call your cardiologist in the morning.
For dessert? Pork, of course. In this case, long, thick, meaty strips of candied, North Country Farm bacon, served with a dipping “sauce” of artisanal maple syrup. It’s not technically a dessert, but it hits your sweet, salty and savory receptors so completely it could do double duty. I saved it for last because it’s one of the best things on a very interesting menu, and because, for once, I didn’t waddle out of an Emeril Lagasse restaurant.