When you’re a human cartoon, it’s tough to be taken seriously.
When your pedigree springs from the louche environs of UNLV and the middle-brow banality of Johnny Garlic’s (not to mention those dens of sophistication: Sacramento, Santa Rosa and San Jose, et al, (wherein this franchise fits like stretch pants on a soccer mom), serious gastronomes consider your cooking (if they consider it at all) unworthy of their time or calories.
And when you get as famous fast — for affecting a sanitized, biker bar, “bros and dudes” persona, the mainstream press is only too eager to call out your failings and foolishness — in lame attempts to reassert their authority of all things tasteful to an audience who isn’t listening to them in the first place.
You don’t help yourself, either, when you forget the price of your new-found fame and pick fights with hairdressers instead of sous chefs.
And then there’s all the shticks and gimmicks you bandy about… because the slicksters behind your image need you to speak in comic book captions so your fans will feel like they never left the assembly line.
Put it all together and you have a personality without persona, a showman without (culinary) substance, who asks you to enjoy his time in the limelight, but not demand any guarantees beyond big portions and lethal cholesterol counts.
So, with all this intellectual(?) baggage, one might think Guy Fieri’s just-opened restaurant here would suck as badly as the one in New York. But here’s a surprise: It doesn’t. In fact it’s pretty darn good by any upscale, bar food standard.
In fact, when it comes to delivering toothsome pub grub (with libations to match) we would put its menu right up there against P.U.B., Public House, and the Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill (to name a few). And we feel comfortingly safe in assuring the persnickety critics among you that you will not only eat well here, but have a good time doing so.
Before we get to that food, a word about the menu. Much has been made of its contrived breathlessness over “awesome pretzels” and “righteous” burgers and “head spinning” wings. (Tastemakers, language Nazis and fashion mavens love to point to such hyperbolic frippery as further proof of the gullibility of the unwashed masses, which (in turn) has hastened the demise of literacy, the fall of Western civilization in general, and humility in menu writing.)
For the record: We at ELV didn’t find the hyperbolic huckstering any worse than what you get at Applebee’s, and unlike T.G.I. Fridays, Chili’s, et al, the ingredients, cooking and presentation are worth the wordiness.
Before you get to the food, however, you will first notice two things about the restaurant: one, it’s packed; and, two, it has a open, people-watching-perfect, inside-outside vibe that will make you want to pass the afternoon tossing back cold ones from the good beer list, and engaging in ELV’s second favorite indoor sport: Ridiculing White People.
High-toned amusements notwithstanding, you will also find yourself trying (and failing) to resist Fieri’s faithful renditions of everything from chicken street tacos:
….that taste just like what they are: Mexican street food interpreted and upgraded by a professional chef. They tasted of grilled chicken, rather than white, shredded nothingness, and were as fresh and balanced as one of these little pockets can be.
Likewise, the Asian chicken wraps brought deeply-flavored minced chicken to the table, along with moist and peppery Thai skewers, and several sauces that made no apologies for being made by a bunch of white guys.
The only clinker in our first lunch was a Triple B burger so smothered and infused with blue cheese that the meat could’ve been armadillo for all you could taste it.
Burger woes aside, everything else we’ve tried in two visits has tasted of good groceries treated right, and made to be fun and share-able.
No self-respecting celebrity-exploitation restaurant would ever think of not bragging about its chicken wings, but these actually taste like Fieri learned a thing or two in cooking school (or from diving in to diners and dives all over America for the past few years). Lovers of the little flappers will love to hear that the four offerings here are stellar variations on a theme, with the Fireball Whiskey Wings:
not being quite as incendiary as the name would imply, but their brining and roasting comes through with every bite…and the blue cheese sauce (called blue-sabi on the menu) is a nice, authentic touch.
The fressers in your crowd will no doubt swoon over the Big Dipper — a behemoth of shaved, smoked prime rib, served with crispy onions on a huge garlic torpedo roll. It’s about a subtle as a Game of Thrones plot point, but no less excellent for it.
There’s even a nod to healthier eating among all these heart-stoppers, with four large salads, the Guy-Talian Deli version of which was plenty cheesy, meaty and tangy — with decent prosciutto and provolone being used to good effect.
Desserts are just what you would expect: large and in charge. Fried ice cream the size of a softball comes to your table:
…and seems perfect for the room, the clientele, and a palate slightly overwhelmed by an all-over-the-spice-map sensibility. None of these concoctions will win any awards, but they echo the homey, rib-sticking sensibilities of Fieri’s show. One would have to be the ultimate humbug to not enjoy them on their own level.
And pretty much, that’s what Fieri and his investors are asking of you: take our restaurant on its own terms, as an homage to all the diners and dives that made him famous, and we will show you good food and a good time.
That’s all this restaurant is supposed to be and that’s all it is. Maybe Pete Wells should give it a try.
ELV paid for one meal and had the other comped. Lunch or dinner for two should run around $70, exclusive of alcohol.
GUY FIERI’S VEGAS KITCHEN & BAR
In The Quad
3535 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109