Nothing puts me in a bad mood more than a mediocre meathouse meal. Especially at Wynn/Encore prices. But that’s what I got recently at the much ballyhooed SW Steakhouse – a place that packs them in and rolls them out with the efficiency of a stockyard leading its victims to slaughter.
And slaughtered is what you’ll feel like after a meal here.
The vaunted chili rubbed rib-eye (our reason for coming here) was heat free, and the way it’s served — hacked up and thrown into a pan with an oversized, under-cooked onion — was about as artful as corned beef hash. That humongous onion serves a purpose, though, it covers a lot of territory in that pan, distracting you from how little meat you’re getting for your $125. The crab cake was even worse: deep-fried, stringy and dry, like something you’d get at a third string steakhouse, not the flagship of a major hotel. The chefs sent out a complimentary slab of salt containing strips of A-5 wagyu (top left in photo) — a nice gesture if any of them had known how to cook it. It was overcooked to chewy, thereby becoming the world’s priciest beef jerky. (A steakhouse that can’t cook wagyu is like a concert pianist who can’t find middle C.)
Our beet dish was as bland and basic as any out there — cooked beets, undisguised, and unseasoned with anything but good intentions, then formed into a block with a little cheese on top. Other chefs try to hide or play off the dirty (tasting) essence of the root. Here, they expect you to be dazzled by the presentation and pay your $12 without complaint.
A shallow dish of prettified foie gras custard (top right) was nice, but it’s really saying something when the bread basket is the highlight of a meal.
Dessert was a melting chocolate ball, dissolved by a rich, bittersweet sauce, revealing a ball of ice cream in the middle. I’m sure it elicits ohs and ahs from the conventioneers and others paying with someone else’s money.
Service was top notch, as it always is in Wynn restaurants. They also upgraded the dining room a while back so it no longer looks like a bus station, so there’s that.
The wine list is a cruel joke, and best viewed with your accountant, a mortgage banker, and a defibrillator on hand.
Our meal for two, including two bottles of wine (both around $100 and two of the cheapest on the list) came to $560. That’s a buck eighty a person for food for those of you bad at math.
You have been warned.
Wynn Hotel and Casino
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
For a town swimming in great Asian food, Las Vegas has always been a dessert when it comes to dim sum. Sushi is everywhere, pho parlors seem to breed like rabbits, and Korean bbq is fast becoming the chop suey of this generation. But finding decent dim sum can be tougher than spotting a slot junkie with a savings account. Considering that just three hours down the road — in the San Gabriel Valley of California — you have some of the best dim sum joints this side of Hong Kong, it’s a little sad that we have a bare handful of (barely adequate) places to indulge in our passion for these little bites of steamed succulence.
And when we say “barely adequate,” we mean it. The few off-Strip places that offer these treats put forth limited offerings of standard issue dumplings served with all the passion of a stewardess flinging airplane peanuts. It’s gotten so bad over the past few years that the only places we can get excited about are Noodles in the Bellagio (only on weekends) and Wing Lei at the Wynn (serving for only a couple of weeks a year – around New Years and Chinese New Year).
Then, along came the Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino last month, and with it Pearl Ocean — the first dim sum I’ve had in Las Vegas that reminds me of what you find all over Alhambra. To begin with, there is the selection. Here you order off a menu (like you do in the tonier spots of SoCal, and Hong Kong) and what the helpful picture menu shows are dozens of off-beat offerings like “whole abalone minced chicken tart” to “spicy Szechuan dumplings” to “Five Guys Xiao Long Bao” — five different buns (spinach, squid ink, flour, beets, and turmeric) stuffed with everything from kale to crab roe:
Each highlight the delicate way the Chinese play starches, veggies and proteins off each other. Each will disappear fast, as will the superior cha siu bao (baked pork buns) and the pea shoots and shrimp dumplings.
Besides the selection, the easy-to-navigate menu, and the friendliness of the staff, the thing that distinguishes Pearl Ocean from the tired joints serving this type of food along Spring Mountain Road is the quality of the groceries. No gristle-y pork here, at least not on my three visits, and the shrimp in the har gow actually sparkles, instead of tasting flat and freezer-burned. Some of this food is more about texture than flavor — such as the bright red “fish chip red rice roll” in the montage above — but all of it is about one of the tastiest lunches in town.
Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino
300 West Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89102
2016 will go down as one of the most eventful years of my life. Getting married took the cake, of course, but publishing two editions of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (Huntington Press) was quite the undertaking as well. Factor in trips to Atlanta, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Napa Valley, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Washington D.C., Tokyo, Austin, Texas, and Rome (Italy, not Georgia) and you have one whale of a rotation around the sun. Through it all, I managed to eat over two hundred meals in local restaurants. Here are the best of the best that I tasted in the past twelve months:
Wine List of the Year – Aureole (see above). Not only is it the broadest and deepest list in town, it’s also back to being on the printed page, making it a joy to peruse. Would that all those damned, dastardly digital lists be consigned to the techie hell from whence they came. Digital wine lists tried to solve a problem that wasn’t there. And people ended up ordering less wine, because they’re so cumbersome to use. A pox, a pox I say, on all digital wine lists. End of rant.
Cocktail Bar of the Year – Libertine Social
Pasta of the Year – (tie) Carbone; Carnevino; Ferraro’s
Burger of the Year – Libertine Social; runner up – Gordon Ramsay Steak
Steak of the Year – (tie) porterhouse at CUT; aged rib eye at Bazaar Meat
Fish Dish of the Year – Scorpina (scorpion fish) at Estiatorio Milos
Sommelier of the Year – Chloe Helfand at Bazaar Meat
Pizza of the Year – Due Forni; runner-up – Evel Pie
Downtown Restaurant of the Year – Le Pho
Chinese Restaurant of the Year – Chengdu Taste
Thai Restaurant of the Year – Ocha Thai
Vietnamese Restaurant of the Year – Pho Annie
Korean Restaurant of the Year – Magal Korean BBQ
Japanese Restaurant of the Year – (tie) Yui Edomae Sushi, Hiroyoshi, Yuzu Japanese Kitchen
Fabulous Frenchies of the Year – Nothing can top the lip-smacking delights that Rosallie Le French Cafe, Delices Gourmands French Bakery and Eatt Healthy Food brought to the ‘burbs.
Dim Sum of the Year – No contest: Pearl Ocean at the brand new Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino.
Coffee Bar of the Year – The just-opened Vesta Coffee Roasters is giving the term “fresh roasted” a whole new meaning.
Appetizer of the Year – “Ham ‘n Eggs” at ‘e’ by José Andrés
Meals of the Year – Yuzu Japanese Kitchen; Yui Edomae Sushi; Twist by Pierre Gagnaire; Delmonico; L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon; Bazaar Meat; CUT; Sage; ‘e’ by José Andrés; B&B Ristorante; Yonaka; Strip Steak; Ferraro’s; Carbone; Chengdu Taste; Raku.
Chef of the Year – Steve Benjamin at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. No one does it better, or has for as long, as Stevie B.
Restaurant of the Year – Bazaar Meat. Fork–droppingly delicious is how I often describe a dish (or a meal) that knocks me out with its intensity and perfection. I dropped my fork a lot this year at Bazaar Meat.