The name is made up, contrived by management and conceived by contest — a competition, we were told, among employees to come up with a unique-sounding name. The name is catchy alright, but it also tells you nothing about the establishment. Thus, is the concept, like its cognomen , more than a bit confusing.
What is also confounding is the copious number of restaurants that have opened in Tivoli Village in the past year. This “village” is loaded with so many white people (and so much white people food), it feels like a Wes Anderson movie is about to break out.
Each of the eateries is a “concept” restaurant — conceived through conceit and contrivance to connive itself through carefully controlled corporate construction. In other words, this place is a slick corporate enterprise, with all the heart and soul of an adding machine. Like Honey Salt and Poppy Den before it, its investors hope all this slickness will create a brand whose whole is much greater than the sum of a single store. Like those competitors, you can smell the money (and the fear of failure) as soon as you enter.
But fear not semi-intrepid white person, the schemes and details behind this place are carefully planned to put your upper middle class anxieties at ease. Signifiers of serious food and drink announce themselves throughout the two-story space to comfort those with serious food intentions (and those neophyte nabobs needing reassurance this place is a hipper choice than Fleming’s).
If you order the steak tartare, however, you will have made the wrong choice.
It’s that steak tartare that has given us pause (and nightmares) ever since it gagged us at the table.
We at ELV have thought long and hard about this dish over the past ten days. In fact, this single blob of beef is one reason we’ve taken over a week to post this review. The other has to do with the press/marketing materials. Taken together, their incongruity inhibited the intelligibility and enhanced the insipidity of our infirm experience.
If you will permit a small digression, we will explain what happens when a big money restaurant tries to take Vegas by storm. The first thing it does is to hire a public relations firm. That p.r. firm then spends a considerable amount of the investors’ money putting together a press packet that it distributes to whatever local (and even national) press they wish to get into the restaurant. By enticing the press with a free meal, they (the restaurant and its flacks) hope to generate “buzz” — “buzz” being shorthand for lots of free media exposure (articles, features and reviews) that the public will read or see, which will then start them talking about, and then coming to, the establishment.
In Vegas, this routine works like a charm, as our credulous press (and compliant editors) are only too happy to eat for free and then say nice things (many of which are lifted straight from those press packets) about the restaurant.
What most food writers don’t do — and p.r. people never do — is actually think about what all that p.r. fluff says, and compare it to the actual product.
In the case of E & R, comparing the puffery of the promoters to the plain truth on the plate has created a conundrum of confidence in this kitchen’s capabilities…and in the marketer’s marbles.
Some of hyperbolic hype is laughable, but all of it paints a picture of a chef, a concept, and a restaurant, which is nothing like the solid-but-hardly-innovative meal you’re going to get.
For example, from this barrage of bull we learn:
> That chef/owner Sam Marvin trained with Marc Meneau, Georges Blanc, and Joachim Splichal.
> That he is the “visionary” behind L.A. restaurants Modada and Bottega Louie, and has redefined the classic and traditional model of fine dining.
> That the world “has yet to see the true artistry and intrigue Chef Sam Marvin will bring to the food scene.”
> That Echo and Rig will be a “stunning homage to meat.”
That tartare sure was stunning alright. If making steer muscle look like regurgitated dog food is art, then Chef Sam is a regular Picasso.
The only thing worse than its appearance was its taste — under-seasoned, freezing cold and bland beyond belief.
This from a chef (who was on premises during our meals) who claims to have worked with several titans of gastronomy, and who, we presume, spent considerable time vetting this menu with his owners, staff, friends and fellow professionals.
Think about the clash of these components for a minute, because ELV has.
He has also cogitated considerably on the whole butcher shop-thing and the breathlessness behind a bespoke menu driven by “artistry, quality, and value.” None of it jibes; none of it fits; none of it seems acquainted with the notion of truth. The steaks are choice not prime, not dry-aged, and little more than bargain cuts from a butcher shop: tri-tip, flat iron, skirt, etc. On the plus side the New York strip in only $34, but you get what you pay for, and you’d be better off getting one at Whole Foods and cooking it yourself.
The lamb chops ($18) were as ugly as the tartare — buried as they were under some potato/dried apricot mess. Better by far were most of the small plates: roasted cauliflower, thin-sliced fennel and apples with lemon juniper, Brussels sprouts with pistachios, and fried oyster sliders are all superb. Ditto the bright and fresh burrata with English peas and mint and more-than-decent house-made charcuterie.
The burger maven pronounced the Butcher Blend Burger every bit the equal of the late Poshburger, and and yours truly liked the over-the-top, giant BLT made with house made bacon bread, although his table mates thought it was too much of a good thing and way too bread-y.
A final down-note was struck by the grotesque-looking jumble called Yucca potato fritters which, once again, were as blandly offensive to the palate as they were confusing to the eye.
The fried (mostly dark meat) chicken was tender, full of richness and cooked with real care, but the desserts were a disaster. The waitron called them sundaes, but what came to the table was a mediocre strawberry shortcake and two scoops of not-worth-the-calories ice cream. Like the steaks and the tartare — they left us with a (figurative) bad taste in our mouth.
Bottom line: If you stick to the small plates, you can eat well here, but as a steak house, this is strictly a chopped liver operation. That expensive butcher shop may look impressive, but amounts to a whole lot of sizzle and not much steak.
In other words, Echo & Rig is all hat and no cattle…and if Sam Marvin really did train with Messrs. Blanc, Splichal and Meneau, he didn’t learn a goddamn thing.
ELV note: Some of the high- and low-lights of ELV’s two meals at E & R are pictured below. His lunch for three was comped and dinner for four (the next night) came to $300, including tip and two bottles of wine.
ECHO & RIG
In Tivoli Village
440 South Rampart Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89145