By Andrea Bennett | January 20, 2017 | Food & Drink
Las Vegas’s beloved new American steakhouse gets a modern rethink. Our editor reveals her hits.
It was the end of the go-go ‘90s when Charlie Palmer opened the Vegas version of his famous Aureole in New York, complete with a 50-foot-high, 10,000-bottle glass wine tower that designer Adam Tihany laughingly called the “newest, biggest erection in Las Vegas” in an interview with Food Arts. It was all sexy wine angels in Mission Impossible-style rigging, and I remember visiting Vegas in those days with high-flying banker friends who bee-lined right to the most ostentatious blue cheese-crusted filet mignon they could get their paws on. There’s a small part of me that misses those more-is-more days (and a not-so-small part of me that misses the confit chicken leg). But Aureole has been a Strip stalwart for 18 years, and on a visit to the newly reimagined restaurant, Palmer reminded me why he’s been so popular for so long. “We all have to evolve,” he said. “People don’t necessarily want to spend hours at dinner anymore—they have other things they want to do.” In fact, he’ll even admit to steering an impatient friend away from one of the country’s most prestigious restaurant addresses because he knew the friend couldn’t take the time commitment (he was right). Say what you will about Americans’ shrinking attention spans: In the case of our dining habits, sharing a variety of plates versus spending an intimate evening gnawing the last bite off the bone of an 18 oz. ribeye is a whole lot healthier.
Aureole closed for its revamp right after Thanksgiving and reopened in the second week of January. “There’s not a thing left from the old menu,” Palmer told me. He and executive chef Johnny Church have designed an approachable new configuration around what they call food’s natural foundations: Surf, Root, and Ranch, organized in order from lighter to more robust dishes. And although just one paragraph ago I decried the old more-is-more food philosophy, I am not ashamed to tell you that I tried no fewer than 16 dishes from the new menu of 27. You know, for research.
My hits: From the Root section, a selection of multicolored raw vegetables in a pool of Raclette fondue—a lighter take on the tradition, which usually involves lots of scraping, charcuterie, and potatoes. This is a hint of pungent Alpine ski lodge fun with a slightly reduced funk factor. Nearly everything I tried from Surf was terrific: Electric pink Kona Kampachi crudo in a swirl of citrus cream with dots of beet cured, pickled cauliflower was super-bright; lionfish ceviche in coconut, ginger, and Aji Amarillo was subtle and beautifully balanced; and the Veta La Palma sea bass (which you might know as loup de mer), grilled and served whole on a plank and bathed in chimichurri is full-on, head-on delicious drama. I’m not a meatball kind of gal, but the turkey meatballs from the menu’s Ranch section, bathed in peppercorn sauce and stuffed with Gruyere and Ibérico ham are complex in a way you don’t often get to label a meatball. I’m also not a big sugar fan, which is why the cheese plate/dessert hybrid in the form of savory-sweet cheesecakes (blue, brie, and aged cheddar) kind of rocked my world. And a cold-pressed coffee panna cotta nestled in huckleberry, brown butter, and topped with lavender ice cream sounded complicated, but turned out to be a perfect blend of savory, tart, herbal, and buttery. Even the wine list requires less commitment: each of the dishes comes with two suggested wine pairings from a nearly 50 by-the-glass list.
Chef Palmer kindly waited until I was done stuffing my gullet to sit down and talk about the evolution of the menu—and to sign an old Aureole plate for me; a symbolic swap of old for new. The softer, warmer dining room—with upholstered wood panels that compartmentalize the big room; cognac leather seating; and a live olive tree—feel less formal, and more like you could just order as you go. Which, of course, is the point. But Palmer hasn’t entirely departed with tradition. The wine angels are still flying their missions of mercy for Vegas’s thirsty, now in sparkly silver outfits. Because a smart guy like Charlie Palmer knows where evolution ends and mutiny begins.
Aureole Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7401
How do you keep pace with a party-packed Vegas lifestyle without burning out? Vegas Editor-in-Chief Andrea Bennett seeks out the healthy indulgences, insider finds, and desert beauty tricks that help you balance Vegas’s unique climate, nightlife culture, and fabulous temptations. (Hint: It’s not all yoga and kombucha here.)
Got some local favorites you'd like us to know about? Write to [email protected], tweet us @vegasmagazine and @andreabennett1 and Instagram @AndreaBennettInk #TheVegasEdit, and see previous stories here.
April 27, 2017