A while back I sought advice on where to eat in Las Vegas during my visit there. All of you responded with pensive and thoughtful comments.
Unfortunately, my trip to Vegas went entirely unplanned. Because a family reunion brought me to Las Vegas in the first place, and didn’t know where I would be staying, what we would be doing and what familial obligations I’d have. For this reason, I didn’t bother to book any reservations in advance, and as a result, there were limited places where I could go.
A slew of disappointing phone calls and one last-minute reservation later, we found ourselves at the Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s Southwestern standby. It was the only place where we were able to secure a reservation on Christmas Eve.
After beginning our night with a tequila sunrise at the bar (pictured above), we began our meal with a warm bread basket filled with sweet jalapeno cornbread and soft butter. Our waiter recommended an appetizer for us: the tiger shrimp and roasted corn tamale, one of the original restaurant’s menu items. I felt the presentation was a little messy, however: While the tamale itself looked like a plentiful cornucopia of shrimp, it sat in a messy pool of with cilantro oil running off the sides. I’m pretty sure that was not the intention.
Tiger Shrimp & Roasted Garlic Corn Tamale
The salmon, albeit flavorful and tender, wasn’t particularly exciting. I could have easily recreated this dish at home, with the exception of the multitude of different sauces drizzled underneath. I enjoyed the colorful assembly of the dish, although I can’t help but wonder: What’s with the asymmetrical sauce presentations?
Ancho Chile Honey Glazed Salmon, Spicy Black Bean Sauce and Jalapeno Crema
I was positively drooling when my New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin (below) arrived. I loved the trio of tenderloins and thought they looked delicious, although this is probably just because I can always appreciate a nice hunk of meat. The tenderloin is one of the kitchen’s most requested dishes, and was the favorite amongst those that we ordered this night. The rub was truly spicy, in a multitude of ways — the cumin to make it smoky, the chile to give the pork actual heat — and the precisely medium preparation was consistent throughout the cut, making every bite a memorably tender one. The bourbon ancho chile sauce added sweetness, balancing the flavors. The perfect foil to the heat? A sweet potato tamale, topped with rapidly melting pecan butter.
Overall, the meal was enjoyable and met my (not particularly high) expectations. Our server was knowledgeable and accommodating, our food consistent and flavorful. Even our neighbors’ dishes looked appetizing — one of them had cornmeal crusted oysters that looked divine.
Was it mind-blowing? Not by any means. The tamales and salmon were good, and the pork tenderloin great, but nothing was phenomenal. With the exception of a “Southwestern-style Cioppino” that I spotted on the menu, there were no innovative dishes by today’s standards. It then occurred to me that when the restaurant opened in New York’s Union Square neighborhood in 1991, the incorporation of Southwest flavors must have been groundbreaking.
As this thought flashed through my mind, I relished all of the culinary advancements that have been made in the fifteen years since then.
Mesa Grill, Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, Nev. 702.731.7731