Can CLEAVER Cut It?

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I like everything about Cleaver except the food.

This is a good omen.

Because über-bartender/award-winning cocktail maven Nectaly Mendoza owns it.

And the last Mendoza restaurant whose food I hated (Herbs & Rye), turned out to be a big hit.

I’m not going to go on and on about its menu miscues (in one of my 1000+ word articles with a bunch of pictures), but I will point out a few things. So here goes:

Cleaver has an ambitious name and a very ambitious location (directly across the street from a Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse), and it has a cool, comfortable decor with a long, capacious bar and comfortable booths bathed in a soft, flattering light that makes everyone look good and a noise level conducive to enjoying good drinks and conversation, not to mention tucking into steaks and sides straight from an old school steakhouse’s playbook, which seems like a really good idea until you realize this place has been death to several other steakhouses that all thought they could make a go of it with the same template and each failed miserably within a year, even though they didn’t have this joint’s pedigree or ambition, which might be enough to bring a big industry crowd in, but  which won’t be enough to keep this place afloat because it needs to chip off a bunch of conventioneers to make a go of it and to do that you need to have food and wine and drinks that compete with our top (and even 2nd tier) steakhouses (like Del Frisco’s), and from what I’ve tasted in two dinners here the steaks are worthy but the side dishes — from almost uncooked Brussels sprouts to grainy-bland cheese sauce to dusty-tasting calamari to an atrocious steak tartare — won’t do anything to turn anyone’s head from a more well-known venue, none of which bodes well for Cleaver’s chances if they can’t find a way to turn out at least B- side dishes to compliment their B+ to A- beef.

They also don’t know how to make a Bearnaise sauce to save their life, which is pretty much a cardinal sin in the steakhouse world. And the carpaccio won’t have anyone forgetting Harry’s Bar, either.

None of this comes cheap. The sort of neighborhood budget-steakhouse vibe that packs them in at Herbs & Rye won’t cut it a half a mile from the Strip — not in the $60 steak arena, and not with the stiff competition Cleaver is facing.

But like I said, the design is super-groovy (dominated by faux-military framed paintings of Chris Farley, Martha Stewart, Eddie Murphy and their ilk), and the service is great and the bartenders are skillful. I even love that they do a Kansas City strip here — a bone-in cut I thought had gone the way of tournedos Rossini — and they know how to season and sear it.

But if they don’t get their act together with the rest of the menu, this place is going to go the way of Mr. Farley.

There, I said it.

CLEAVER BUTCHERED MEATS, SEAFOOD & COCKTAILS

3900 Paradise Road Suite d-1

Las Vegas, NV 89169

702.538.9888

http://www.cleaverlasvegas.com/

 

 

JEAN GEORGES STEAKHOUSE

They had me at “wagyu brisket.” More on that in a minute. Actually, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has had me in his thrall since August 30, 1988, when I first tasted his then-groundbreaking Alsace-meets-Asia  take on French cuisine in New York City (at a birthday dinner for my then-spouse).

Back then, he was a wunderkind of French chefs, mixing and matching French technique with the mysterious scents and accents of Thailand. Today he has dozens of restaurants all over the world, and two of Vegas’s best steakhouses. The oldest one — Prime in the Bellagio — will always hold a special place in our heart. For nineteen years it has been Las Vegas’s prettiest steakhouse, and the food still sparkles as much as the room.

It’s seven year old sibling — the Jean Georges Steakhouse  —  has always had a more casual vibe.  The classic feel of Prime extends to its menu (which changes about as often as I go to a monster truck rally), while JGS is where Vongerichten lets his chefs play with their food. The lucky chef in this case is Sean Griffin, a baby-faced veteran who knows his way around steaks like his boss knows a khao niao from a kai yang.

Truth be told, we’ve eaten here several times in the past and always felt like menu was derivative, dumbed-down, and a pale imitation of what big brother was doing. With the new re-boot, JGV has finally found its sea legs (?), and Griffin’s cooking feels more confident and focused.

The operation hits all of the stations on the steakhouse cross (dry-aged, Japanese-raised, grass-grazed), along with the requisite Flintstonean tomahawk chop (42 oz.) and the  ungodly-priced A5 Kobe — for those who like to feel their arteries hardening while they eat. But what really distinguishes this place are the little touches Griffin brings to things like a Summer Fruits salad:

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….phenomenal eggs-on-egg oscetra caviar toast — a construction so simple and perfect (rich, just-cooked yolk sandwiched between two thin pieces of toast, topped with fish eggs) that I couldn’t believe I’ve never encountered it before:

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If those don’t inspire a tip of the fedora to the kitchen, then try this pepper-crusted foie gras (with strawberry-rhubarb compote) on for size:

…and a crunchy breast of chicken in a shallow pool of uncommonly good hot sauce. By-the-numbers cooking this is not —  whether you’re diving into a big lumpy crab cake, or a citrusy-glazed sea bass. The steaks are grilled over apricot wood (and finished with rendered beef fat) and take a back seat to no one’s, but it’s those apps and sides that will get your attention. Summer corn is brought to life by Manchego cheese, chili and lime, and if there’s a better potato dish in town than Griffin’s smashed Yukons with jalapenos, I haven’t found it.

It’s the aggressive-yet-balanced use of strong, tangy accents (peppers, citrus, soy, etc.) that distinguish this menu from so many others, including its big brother. These flavors announce JGS as a steakhouse with real kick, and one that will keep your palate awake throughout the meal.

Back to that brisket, it was black as coal and smoky as a Texas wildfire. It tiptoed between fork tender and slightly chewy and was all the beef-eaten a rootin’ tootin’ carnivore could ask for. It needed a little sauce, but the four they make in house — chili glaze, JG steak sauce, soy miso and Bearnaise — are all equal to the task. The desserts are superb, and par for the course for a chef who’s had my gastronomic attention for half of my life.

JEAN GEORGES STEAKHOUSE

Aria Resort and Casino

3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.590.8660

https://www.jean-georges.com/restaurants/united-states/las-vegas/jean-georges-steakhouse/

P.S. My sister and her grandnephews are probably still talking about the Brontosaurus (marrow) bone we were served:

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Like everything else coming out of this kitchen right now, it was overwhelming (in a good way) and just about flawless.

SW STEAKHOUSE Blues

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Nothing puts me in a bad mood more than a mediocre meathouse meal. Especially at Wynn/Encore prices. Especially in a town crawling with great steakhouses. 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 (including tip) for those of you bad at math.

You have been warned.

SW STEAKHOUSE

Wynn Hotel and Casino

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.770.3325

http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/Dining/FineDining/SWSteakhouse