Party of 65, please.
That would be a challenge for a lot of restaurants, and most would close to accommodate it. So when we entered Bon Chef Cafe after a call to confirm it would be open and saw table after table of people wearing name tags, it definitely gave us pause. But then a man with a managerial air quickly walked up, showed us to one of the few remaining tables and handed us a list of specials for the day, the menu and a wine list. It appeared that the regular servers were taking care of the mega party, and he would be taking care of us.
Well OK, then.
And you know what? Party of 65 or not, this was one of the smoother dining experiences we’ve had lately. And one of the most delicious.
Bon Chef has an obvious Middle Eastern emphasis, which seems to be a reflection of its management team, but its menu is international in nature — French onion soup with a pastry dome, crepes, pasta primavera. That could in some cases reflect a lack of focus (as could the fact that it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner), but that’s clearly not the case here, where the focus on the food and service is razor-sharp. Bon chef, bon fare.
A caprese salad ($8.99) had an east-of-the-Mediterranean touch that suitably increased our enjoyment of it. The ripe tomato slices had been carefully stacked with halved balls of fresh mozzarella, some basil and a balsamic reduction; the bonus was the slices of grilled eggplant tucked between the layers, which added a bit of earthiness to all of that springlike flavor. On the side was a pile of varied mixed lettuces, lightly dressed.
As we tucked into our starter our server brought us a lagniappe, cups of a smoked-tomato basil soup. It may well have been a leftover from the mega party but that didn’t negate the fact that this was a nice touch, not to mention a tasty one. The smoky flavor was appropriately mild and the soup had been poured over cubes of sturdy bread which, because it was sturdy, didn’t turn to mush but contributed a bit of texture. The soup wasn’t as hot as it should have been, but that’s not something that bothers us much in the case of a lagniappe.
Macaroni al forno ($12.99) was listed as a signature dish and the picture on the menu certainly tempted us. So here’s the shocker: Reality matched the photo, and the flavor was even better. Nicely al dente pasta (bigger than ziti but smaller than rigatoni) had been layered with a tomato-meat sauce and topped with lightly browned Parmesan. So far, so good, but what really elevated this dish was the bechamel sauce (in a touch somewhat reminiscent of moussaka) that surrounded it and added a very satisfying degree of richness. With a slice of truly garlicky (that’s a good thing) toasted bread that had been lightly brushed with basil oil, this was a successful entree.
Although no less successful than a card-carrying Middle Eastern dish, the Mixed Grill Kebab ($16.99). This one involved chicken, beef and a choice of pork chop or lamb, of which we chose the latter. And here was the best thing about it: All of the meats had been carefully marinated — for not only impressive depth of flavor but also impressive moistness, even in the white-meat chicken. This one was accompanied by a decent rice pilaf and pickled vegetables.
The mega party had cleared out by this time so we decided to enjoy dessert amid the near-silence and the soft ’60s soundtrack, and a piece of carrot cake ($5.99) was quite good.
As was our entire experience at Bon Chef Cafe. As I said earlier, a lot of restaurants would close for a party this size, which is fraught with peril because it can alienate regulars and those who happen to drop by. Then again, having to serve so many people can have a negative effect on everyone else, as expressed by a woman who came in and said, “But we’ll never get served!”
She did, and so did we. And Bon Chef Cafe pulled it off adroitly.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 383-0474.