What it Feels Like to Have a Meal at RX Boiler Room
By Al Mancini Photography by Sabin Orr| April 1, 2015 |
Food & Drink
The steampunk-themed upstairs at RM Seafood, Rx Boiler Room, is as playful as it is responsible.
Sustainably sourced True North salmon done paella-style, with mussels, littleneck clams, Pacific prawns, red quinoa, crispy chorizo, and lemon butter.
Sitting down with Rick Moonen in his Rx Boiler Room, I find it hard to believe it’s been 10 years since he and I first met in this space. The lush, funky room, decorated in Victorian sci-fi chic—a style known as steampunk—bears little resemblance to the formal, yacht-like dining space it was at the time. The menu today is packed with playfully creative shareable dishes, a far cry from the haute cuisine offered at what was then called RM Upstairs. And the corseted waitresses would have been scandalous to some of that restaurant’s stuffier patrons. While Moonen is known for his fine-dining chops and his steadfast dedication to preserving the world’s oceans, Rx Boiler Room shows off his sense of fun.
Moonen is the most visible face of the sustainable seafood movement. Both Rx Boiler Room and his downstairs flagship, RM Seafood, use only species harvested in eco-friendly ways. (Ask about the sustainable catch of the day, a program highlighting uncelebrated but plentiful fishes.) He began campaigning tirelessly for sustainability in the ’90s, when he spearheaded Give Swordfish a Break, an initiative that helped repopulate swordfish fisheries in the North Atlantic, and sustainability has remained close to his heart ever since.
The reception area.
“It’s been more than a two-decade quest to get people to realize the importance of their food selection and how it affects their environment,” Moonen says. “I think we’ve hit a point where we’re realizing the embrace that I desired.” Given that Mayor Carolyn Goodman has declared April 1st “Rick Moonen Day” in his honor, it appears he’s right.
Rx Boiler Room opened in 2013, and Moonen admits that the decision to abandon fine dining, even partially, was difficult at first. “But I’d watched too many chefs that I’d worked for in my career, French chefs, stick by their guns and go out of business. So I knew that I had to do something about it.” As he accepted the need for change, he resolved to do something new and exciting: “The idea was to not use the word ‘gastropub,’ because that’s been overused.”
So he took the gastropub ideal of comfort food and redefined it. The setting would be a fantasy version of industrialized Western civilization in the 19th century, inspired by the works of Jules Verne and decorated with clock gears, diving helmets, plush drapery, and bubbling test tubes. The menu, labeled a “Nourishment Chart,” would include playful dishes like bacon-wrapped bacon and quail egg, chicken pot pie nuggets, and a Tater Tot–based duck confit poutine. The result is one of Vegas’s most original dining experiences.
Rx Boiler Room’s initial menu took Moonen away from his signature seafood dishes because, he says, “comfort food doesn’t mean seafood in America.” But his fans weren’t buying it, and he recently added several seafood dishes to the lineup, including surf-and-turf sliders made with filet mignon and lobster tail, New Bedford jumbo scallops, and paella-style sustainable salmon.
The chef celebrated his 10th anniversary in Las Vegas in February by revisiting favorite menu items from the past decade, but Moonen is still looking forward. He recently took an ownership interest in a sustainable farm in Pahrump, and he’s considering taking a more active role in the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
“I’m not the kid anymore,” he concedes. “But I’m still as excited about food as I’ve ever been. In my head, I think I’m 24.” Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7200