The most wonderful time of the year is upon us once again; flowers bloom, seeds sprout, and chefs on the strip change their menus. With a cornucopia of fresh, seasonal ingredients from around the world become available to experiment with.
For the most dedicated of foodies and industry pros, this is the NFL Draft, the Oscars, and The Bachelor season premier all in one. Through pain-staking research and much caloric-intake, brought before you here are the best of the best, displaying the great skill, creativity, and utilization of spring’s great green bounty.
Anyone familiar with the cooking style of Executive Chef Nicole Brisson knows the near-Sisyphean lengths she takes to procure seasonal vegetables, even ones with such short windows of availability like pea greens and ramps. She utilizes the half-dill/half-basil flavor of fresh, living pea tendrils in many of her dishes when she can, and crisp, flavorful watermelon raddish in her marinated scallops. Light, sweet, very rare scallops are topped with a salad of root vegetable, herb, and English pea puree, a perfectly fresh and clean taste of the sea.
There is never an unoriginal dish at Yonaka, and this dish shows the kind of outside-the-box thinking they are known for. Creamy, savory uni butter and bits of salty uni “bottarga” top a simple split cob of fire roasted corn. It’s a very interesting combination, but Chef Ramir can always be counted on to bring items from any cuisine together in great ways.
With each menu changeover, Chef Paul Lee has ventured further and further into unique territory, further cementing Le Cirque as one of the most expressive, artful menus on the strip. Dishes like this one exemplify that, taking sautéed Florida frog’s legs and creamy potato gnocchi, pairing it with spring ramps (a member of the leek family with a slightly garlic flavor), tomato confit, parsley coulis, and mimolette ‘crisps’. The result is a wonderful palate, highlighting the quality of the ingredients and dazzling the palate with its savory, bright flavors.
It is of course fitting that one of the premier seafood restaurants in Vegas would have a stellar scallop dish. This one in particular takes soft, seared scallops and perches them on a shrimp carpaccio with octopus medallions. These are in a lemon buerre blanc and bouillabaisse gel, with shaved fennel, micro carrots, and blistered tomatoes. Owner Chef Rick Moonen and Executive Chef Johnny Church knock it out of the park with this one, with an old-world set of flavors presented in a perfectly unique, complex way. The quality of the seafood is on amazing display in this dish.
It was big news a while ago when Chef Gerald Chin went from the Wicked Spoon buffet to head up Michael Mina’s steak house, and now with this spring menu changeover, we have his first original dishes on a set menu. Among several real winners (a foie trio with a cured mousse macaroon is a notable one), perhaps the most exiting dish is the “Instant Bacon”. It is a cube of pork belly, rubbed in Chinese five spice and roasted, with a tempura oyster, soy glaze, and perched on a jicama salad. The “Instant” part that makes it bacon, it is placed under glass and inundated with hardwood smoke. Calling it bacon doesn’t do the justice, because the final product is so complex and unique, it has shot past the realm of bacon into a whole new territory.
Chef Daniel Ontiveros is the new Chef de Cuisine at the Vegas location of Comme Ca, taking the place of now Corporate Executive Chef Brian Howard, and among a great collection of new dishes is their Loup de Mere. First coated in aromatic tumeric oil, the fish is pan roasted for a crispy exterior and served with charred lemon butter, green garlic sauce, and melted spring onion. It is a great departure from less risky Loup de Meres too commonly seen, and the trio of strong flavors only compliments the fish, not overpowers it. Fun tricks like tumeric oil (or the saffron aoli on their seared foie dish) are portentous of even more great things still to come from Comme Ca.
Loup de Mere
This menu change represents the efforts of both consulting Chef Alex Stratta and new Chef de Cuisine Jose Aleman. After a period of experimenting and training, nearly the whole menu has been revamped, including this extremely fun duck salad.
Moist, rich duck balanced against crisp julienne pink apple and sweet heritage grapes, it’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory, fat and acid.
Chef Jose Avila has been doing some really impressive things for the various beer or wine dinners the Mandalay Bay hosts, and using that outlet to build a great menu with the hits. Using offal to great success, this spicy soup of tripe and tongue has a big spice flavor, but is addictively savory. It’s rustic, but dishes like this (and the best octopus I’ve had in a LONG time) that will assert Fleur ahead of less adept small-plates.
I can honestly say I have never had a poorly executed dish at Sage. Chef Richard Caramota is almost superhuman with hitting just the exact right notes with a dish, and the lamb loin is no exception. The lean slices of loin were complimented by morels and a charred spring onion reduction, and plated on top of a spring pea/wheat berry salad (imagine if bulgur and lentils had a baby, and it was raised by flax).
Then, the real kicker, leaves from celery hearts. The green, young bitter leaves add such a unique aromatic flavor, and from such a humble source. Yet another great dish among many great dishes on that menu.
As I’ve said in the past, Chef Steve Aguglia has taken Aquaknox to new and exciting levels every menu change. I wanted to put their incredible Chicken Tandoori on this list as well, but in the interest of round numbers, let us just imagine I did that one too. The dish that tied with the chicken but I felt displayed more of their spirit was the Wild-Caught Washington Halibut.
Harvested on a Quinault Indian tribe and processed that day (Halibut is rarely ever day-boat), they poach it in butter, sear it, and plate it with a shrimp, corn, and edamame succotash with basil-butter. The fish has a ton of meaty, buttery flavor, and goes well with the super fresh and unique succotash.
Aquaknox has been going way above and beyond with their sourcing (much of their produce, herbs, and microgreens comes from Pahrump and surrounding farms), and really taking the task of churning out exiting food every menu change. Dishes like this are rising them to some real specific prominence.