Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Celebrity Chef Spot that Delivers...Heritage Steak at the Mirage Las Vegas

I am a big food television fan, and way too much of the TV I watch revolves around these shows. I am also a Celebrity Chef groupie – these culinary artists are my rock stars and sport stars at this point in my life. Given the choice of meeting Lady Gaga or Anthony Bourdain, I’d choose scarfing down a street taco in some sketchy parking lot with Bourdain every time.  As Chef fans, the wife and I have visited a few of the Celeb restaurants, mostly in Las Vegas. Our experiences to date have been, well… disappointing. I realize that visiting the Chef's original restaurants in Manhattan or Los Angeles or wherever would probably net a better result, but the Vegas branches have the big names on the Marquee, so should we expect something less just because we’re visiting in Sin City?  I’m not sure how much involvement the Chefs have in the development of new restaurants, but mostly I can’t imagine they would be satisfied to have their name associated with the restaurant in some cases.

The Celeb Chef restaurants we’ve tried in the past are:
  • Gordon Ramsey Pub and Grill at Caesars Palace. One of the most disappointing restaurant experiences in recent memory, Celebrity Chef or not.  Enough of a bummer that I wrote a Yelp review recommending that the place needed the Kitchen Nightmare treatment.  The food was actually very good, but the overall service was horrid.  Our server was killing himself and doing his best, but the hordes of others who provided no apparent value left us scratching our heads. I am interested in trying Ramsey’s Burger place and steak restaurant in Vegas, as I’ve read they are much better.
  • Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico at the Venetian. I had big expectations from the king of food television, but the experience was just…underwhelming. There was nothing that stood out as bad by any means, but nothing stood out either… and for a big name restaurant with a big price tag I would expect something more.
  • Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace.  I actually enjoyed Bobby’s place more than the other Las Vegas restaurants, mostly because I find his food very creative. It was a nice, casual restaurant and I did enjoy the meal. Wino4life wife was less enthused, and doesn’t include Mesa Grill on her list of spots to visit again.
  • Mario Batali's and Joe Bastianich's Carne Vino at the Palazzo. Our dinner here started off promising, which a fantastic mushroom ravioli starter. We splurged on a giant Porterhouse Steak for two. The steak looked great, was carved table side, but just didn't end up having much flavor. I'm guessing it just needed more basic salt and pepper seasoning - but what a disappointment!
  • Chris Cosentino’s Encanto in San Francisco. Our one experience outside Vegas for a Celebrity Chef was by far our best experience.  One notable difference, as we were seated we could see the kitchen and there was the Chef actually doing some prep work! Admittedly, Chef Cosentino isn’t as “celebrity” as the others on this list – but he has done Top Chef Masters and had a show with my man Aaron Sanchez on the Food Network.   When we visited Encanto we dined on the “Fifth Quarter” tasting menu (no longer offered) which was all the “other” parts of the animal – the offal. This meal was outstanding from start to finish, service, food, wine pairings… all really stellar.  
I guess the hand of the Chef actually touching the food, and being involved in day to day operations is the key to a good result.  Maybe the culinary expectations for a Vegas restaurant aren’t that high? People may just be satisfied with saying they dined at Emeril’s or Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant to impress their friends, without really needing to have a great dining experience?  Who knows, but one thing I do know is that our poor success record with Celebrity Chefs in Vegas changed this past weekend. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you Heritage Steak at the Mirage by Tom Colicchio (long time judge on Top Chef).

The Restaurant
Opened within the last year, Heritage Steak replaced some other unremarkable steak place at the Mirage.  From the Mirage website: "New York chef Tom Colicchio brings his passion for cooking with fire to the Las Vegas Strip with Tom Colicchio's Heritage Steak at The Mirage. The 220-seat restaurant will focus on meats prepared entirely over an open flame – from wood-burning ovens to charcoal grills. On the menu, Tom returns to the American cultural tradition of meat, focusing on antibiotic-free animals raised by purveyors committed to time-honored farming practices and heritage breeds".

Heritage Steak Entrance
Heritage Steak Kitchen as Seen from Dining Room
Arranging the Wine
When I think about great steak, I think about great Cabernet Sauvignon… usually from Napa, Sonoma, or Paso Robles (OK, maybe Washington State sometimes too!).  The problem I’ve always had with Cabernet in restaurants is you order it, and even if the restaurant decants it – the wine will only be aerated for a half hour or so, which just isn’t enough for the recent vintages on most wine lists.  A good wine list will have older vintages of some wines too, but paying a four digit price for a 750ml bottle of wine just isn’t in my budget.  At home, when I break out the Sous Vide machine to cook up a great steak, I will decant the wine at least a half a day, maybe longer… and sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough.  

What to do?  Spanish wines are a good option because they are released closer to being ready to drink than most wines, but although I love (love, love) Spanish wine, my steak and Cab is a combination I just can’t deny myself. Our solution?  We contacted the Sommelier at Heritage Steak about pre-selecting a wine.  The Sommelier, Kate, offered to send us the list after service on Thursday night (our dinner was Saturday night). A good sign to me, a dynamic wine list that changes often!  I picked out a couple of options, and we stopped by Heritage Steak on Friday night (before dinner service, so there was a chance Kate was available!) After chatting a bit, I ended up picking a unique wine, from California – but from somewhere I wouldn’t have guessed… Livermore.  We’ve stopped in Livermore before on our way to Napa – stayed in a Doubletree and had Subway for dinner… not realizing that we were actually in a potentially underappreciated wine region!  

The wine I selected was Steven Kent’s Lineage – chosen mostly because it was a wine that I may not be able to find otherwise.  I fully expected to pay for the wine, but Kate just said “see you tomorrow night.”  During our dinner, which I will describe more in this post, I asked Kate if pre-selecting a wine so it could be decanted was fairly common…nope!  We were the first – although she said big groups sometimes pre-select wine, but for a different set of reasons I would guess. After returning home, I did some research on pre-selecting wines like this… and found nothing. Hmmmm…. Well, was it worth it to trouble a hard working Somm with a request like this… read on to find out!

Cocktail
Recently I have become more and more intrigued with the world of cocktails. The resurgence of old school cocktails like the Manhattan and the Negroni may be the reason… but not because I’ve ever had many of them before (I’m not that old!).  Our dinners typically start off with a palate cleansing sparkling wine, or a white wine to go with some light starters, but we decided to shift over to cocktails.

My Choice: 19th on Fab - Tequila, Passion Fruit, Fresh Lime, Jalapeño. This cocktail was recommended if you like spice… and since one of my most memorable cocktails was some concoction with Sriracha that I had at Graham Elliot’s in Chicago, I was all in.  Nowhere near Sriracha spicy (which is absolutely OK!), but with just a hint of spice that added a nice complexity to the drink.
19th on Fab
Wino4life Wife’s Choice: Tom's Collins Hendrick's Gin, Fever Tree Bitter Lemon, Cucumber.  My wife is a fan of Gin (me not so much…too junipery), but she has struggled finding a good gin cocktail. This one may be it… the Fever Tree Bitter Lemon is a huge upgrade over regular soda/lemon juice/simple syrup mix and had us adding Fever Tree products to our shopping list for some future homemade cocktails.
I was too enthralled with my 19th on Fab and forgot to take a picture… here is an artist’s rendering (OK, not exactly right...Sorry!)
Starters (with a potential future Olympic event)
Most of the starters looked very intriguing, but I ended up selecting a favorite that I don’t see too often – Ash Roasted Bone Marrow with Lobster, Apple Slaw, and Lovage. My wife opted for the Charred Octopus with Leeks, Potato, Roasted Pepper, and Almonds.  Typically I’ve seen bone marrow just served simply with some pieces of bread, but his version had a nice salad with enough acidity to cut through the richness of the marrow.  Off to an excellent start!  As we usually do, the wife and I shared the starters, so I also got to try the octopus. Unbelievably tender, with a fantastic bitterness from the char (love that the flame cooking!).   Both of these dishes were great “Chef” dishes – great ingredients, great flavors, balance of bitter, acid, sweet – dishes that would win you a car or a thousand dollar knife set on Top Chef.  The home of my all-time favorite steak is Gibson’s Steakhouse in Chicago.  World class steak, but the starters and sides are clearly after-thoughts, and just not that good.


We polished off our starters, and I was very pleased with both the quality of the food, and that our cocktails paired very nicely with both dishes.  We thought the starter portion of the meal was done… but we were wrong, wrong, wrong!  Kate, our wonderful Somm returned to our table and told us we looked like we were fun and adventurous (we are, but I didn’t know it showed that much!), and asked if we liked bourbon.  A hearty yes from me, and a less hearty no from the wife – but Kate still offered us something extra to go along with the bone marrow starter… a bone “luge.”  I wasn’t exactly sure what was to come, but being a trusting soul at heart I said we definitely need to do that!  I asked Kate to pick us a bourbon, as I know very little about them – and returned shortly with a hearty shot of bourbon.

What happened next should, IMHO, become a new Olympic event… the bourbon is poured down the marrow bone (the “luge”) into my eager, but slightly frightened mouth. I had taken a sip of the bourbon before the luge, and it was delicious, but a little harsh for the alcohol level.  The luge process collected remnants of rich goodness from the marrow bone, mellowed the harsh flavor of the bourbon, and left a creamy, complex finish that lasted a pleasantly long time.  


Intrigued, the wife even gave it a try and seemed to really enjoy it… in fact it may be the only way I can get her to drink bourbon!  What a great experience!  I looked for a “I Had my First Bone Luge in Vegas” T-shirt, but luckily didn’t find one, as it may have been confusing to those who’d never heard of this process.

Dinner
Alright… enough fun and games… let’s get down to dinner.  Our wine, decanting for about the last 5 hours arrived and I was so glad we asked to have it opened early.  Super aromatic, with notes of herbs and smoke – and a good amount of tannins that when first opened would probably have been too harsh.  I’m not sure if we’ll run into Sommeliers as accommodating as Kate from the Mirage, but I will try to pre-select wine for decanting in the future…most definitely!


For Dinner, we both chose the bone-in Rib-Eye steak – prepared over open flame. For sides we chose the Foie Gras with Rhubarb and Beets, and the Roasted Mushrooms.


The Foie Gras was one of the most interesting preparations I’ve ever had, the tartness of the rhubarb and the earthiness of the beets were a great offset to the rich Foie Gras.  This starter was another dish that clearly had some excellent attention from a thoughtful and talented Chef.  The mushrooms were a surprise medley of excellent quality mushrooms – including Hen of the Woods, and were surprisingly, and pleasantly al dente and not cooked to a mushy consistency.  The earthiness was an excellent pairing to wine, and to that other part of our meal…what was it?... Oh yeah, the steak!


The steak was beautiful, and cooked so perfectly. I have only seen Sous Vide steak be this perfectly cooked - mid rare from top to bottom. Finished with butter and rosemary (they were heavy handed with the rosemary on my wife's steak, but mine was perfect) - absolutely delicious. The rosemary picked up herbal notes in the wine for a great pairing... yeah Livermore!

Dessert
In my old age, my sweet tooth has been dissipating in favor of more savory dishes.  But after a dinner as delish as this one, I didn't want to miss out on the desserts - hoping they were made with the same amount of skill as the rest of our meal.

There were many good choices, but my wife ended up with the Mascarpone Panna Cotta with Lemon Creme, Vanilla Wafer, and Huckleberry Ale Sorbet.  Opting for a healthy dessert - I chose the Carrot Cake Fritters with Pineapple Jam, Crispy Carrot Strings, and Ginger Cream Cheese Ice Cream... hey it has carrots SO IT IS HEALTHY!!! My wife loved her dessert (she offered by I was too full to even try a taste), and the Carrot Cake donut hole things were unbelievably good. I asked what time they opened for Breakfast so I could have some in the a.m., but sadly they only open for dinner.


The Verdict.
So, how did Heritage Steak stack up to other spots in our dining experience?:
  • Best Celebrity Restaurant in Vegas? – Absolutely, BY FAR!
  • Best Celebrity Restaurant Anywhere? The overall experience edged out the only competition, which was from Chris Cosentino’s Encanto.  We loved Encanto, but overall Heritage comes out just a bit ahead with the outstanding service.
  • Best Steakhouse? Best overall meal we've had at a steakhouse… again, a winner BY FAR!
  • Best Steak? Alas, Heritage came close to a perfect game, but the Steak from Gibson’s is still my all-time favorite.  But make no mis-steak (clever…right?), Heritage puts out excellent steaks and the overall meal is by far the best.  We will definitely return often.
  • Best Bone Luge. So far… but we’ll see what the future holds! I will need to train for the Bone Luge Olympics!
Overall – I would recommend dining here above anywhere else we've tried in Vegas… give it a try!

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