What is a world renowned chef to do when the dining out public seems to be turning its collective back on the type of food experience he has spent his life perfecting?
And then he may tell himself: This is not my beautiful wife: this is not my beautiful house; how did I get here?
But get here, Rick Moonen did.
The “here” in this case being the land of hand-crafted, $17 cocktails:
…and shared plates of re-configured, gussied-up and tricked out comfort food:
From Ramsay to Ogden to Mina to Moonen, all of them (meaning them and the money men behind them) have decided that upscale restaurants are kaput, and the shell-shocked American public will only respond to price points well under thirty bucks, even if the final tariff leaves them almost as sticker shocked as they used to be.
Vegas hasn’t exactly led the way in this downward mobility, but we’ve closely followed the trend as it has swept from New York to California. And with our phalanx of celebrity chefs — who, it must be stressed, now exist solely to expand their brands — it is logical that wherever trends go, they quickly follow. (In its defense, we must also applaud Las Vegas for continuing to be – along with New York City – one of the last bastions of fine dining in America.)
But boy, is this current trend ever boring.
Think about it: ten years ago, the Bellagio was going great guns, Mandalay Bay and the Venetian were on the ascendency, and tourists were confronted with both Kellers (Hubert and Thomas), Mina, Puck, Ogden, Charlie Palmer, Lagasse et al, all at the top of their games. So successful were these full scale, full service, white tablecloth restaurants that Ducasse, Robuchon and Savoy and Gagnaire took notice, bringing a formal French revolution to our humble burg that would have been unthinkable in the 90s.
Now we get fucking gastropubs. All doing the exact same food in different disguises.
Watching Moonen, Mina and the rest doing upscale, homey bar food is like watching a thoroughbred pull a milk wagon.
The same milk wagon.
And hoping somebody notices.
Which is why they need more cowbell.
The cowbell in this case being supplied by the re-imagining of the old RM space upstairs at the Mandalay Bay Shoppes into a steampunk-y-themed bar-restaurant, designed to appeal to the sensibilities of those under 40.
And by that we mean it (the steampunk motif) is a testament to style over substance, and the Gen X, Y and Millennials are nothing if not concerned with style over substance — with alot of “handcrafted” this and “artisanal” that thrown in to make sure their ethics comport with their style.
This is not to say that people of a certain age can’t enjoy themselves here. It’s just that boomer seafood fans of Moonen (the ones that made him famous) will be mighty surprised to find that the only thing seafood-y thing about the “boiler room” is the video loop of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea playing on one of the monitors.
Instead, what you get is….wait for it…lots of familiar-sounding food that’s tricked out just enough to please the Yelpers, foodie-wannabes and the credulous Las Vegas food press — which will be more than happy to toss accolades Moonen’s way for his “bold interpretation” of classic dishes.
Want some examples: the smoked salmon is served under a glass dome filled with smoke; the grilled cheese sandwich is an inside-out version of French onion soup — the stewed onions being stuffed within the deep fried pockets; and the chicken pot pie nuggets do indeed taste like chicken pot pie, but the creamed chicken morsels come inside crunchy, deep fried little balls.
Oh, and the fish tacos (no self-respecting-yet-slumming-name -chef can resist putting his spin on a fucking fish tac0) are served in taco shells made of taro root.
None of these gimmicky eats made anywhere near the impression the chefs and waitrons wanted them to — in fact, it seems like the harder the kitchen was trying to impress, the less impressive the result (the smoked salmon presentation is just downright stupid). The two best things we had were the most traditional: a mighty fine shrimp and grits (the shrimp you get will probably be smaller than the ones ELV was served), and a rich, dense, soul-enriching braised lamb shank “osso buco .”
As much as we loathe the (now ubiquitous) computer-tablet cocktail and wine lists (when you think about it, they are a perfect example of false progress – an ultra-modern invention that actually makes it harder to perform the task at hand, i.e., the simple act of ordering a drink.), the libations listed on this one were extraordinary — vivid with the flavors of the main ingredients and in perfect balance. They may be pricey (pretty much a double sawbuck once tax and tip are figured in) but they are a serious imbiber’s dream come true.
Also a dream come true is the…er….uh….female talent on display at this place. Where Moonen waved his magic wand to conjure them up is anyone’s guess, but ELV can’t remember when he’s seen a better looking waitstaff.
Would that we could say the same for the food at Rx Boiler Room. All the cowbell in the world can’t mask the rudimentary, copycat nature of this enterprise. The fact that the dining out public no longer flocks to fancified, three course meals is no excuse for great chefs to throw in the towel and put forth the same dishes (burgers, chopped salad, fish and chips!) that every one else is doing.
We realize this is an aging boomer’s lament, and it must be said that chefs like Moonen and Mina execute these standards to a fare thee well. It’s not their fault that Americans have relentlessly pushed our dining habits into the lowest common denominator trough.
For the well-traveled gastronaut, though, seeing these soul-deadening menus is depressing indeed. (Imagine all superstar rock bands playing the same songs all the time and you’ll get our drift.)
Reading menus full of time-worn and trite tripe (no matter how “classic” the dish might be) is a sign to us that these great talents have given up.
Eating meal after meal of cliche after cliche tells us they are out of ideas….and inspiration.
Rx BOILER ROOM
In the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino
3930 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109