Why in the world would you want to go to a restaurant in Pahrump when we have a surfeit of good ones in Las Vegas?
The No. 1 reason, of course, would be if you lived in Pahrump, as more than 36,000 souls do. Yes, more than 36,000; the tiny town isn’t so tiny anymore.
But other reasons would include the fact that such a sojourn is a de facto opportunity to get away, at least for an evening. Then there’s the fact that Symphony’s, which is at the Pahrump Valley Winery, is a good restaurant, and that the prices are reasonable enough to almost cover the cost of the gasoline.
Gaze around the cozy octagonal dining room and you’ll get an idea of what to expect from the menu. There’s not a lot of diversity among the clientele, and that’s reflected in the dishes offered — not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if Symphony’s menu skews toward the traditional, it offers plenty of interesting aspects in terms of what is done with those classic choices.
The Winery Shrimp Scampi ($19.95) is an example. The dish traditionally involves shrimp in a bath of butter and/or olive oil, wine and lots of garlic. In this case, though, the sauce, which had the classic flavors and included the winery’s own Symphony wine, was slightly creamy, and the pile of eggy, fresh-tasting fettucine was tossed not only with the sauce and shrimp but also diced tomatoes and sliced scallions. The half-dozen or so plump shrimp were fresh and sweet and I was gratified that they were served without tails, since removing the tails of shrimp in a sauce can be a very messy proposition.
Dinner at Symphony’s also includes a choice of a house salad or one of three soups. The cup of Incredible Lobster Bisque was hot and creamy, the flavor of sherry just clear enough. And while there weren’t any big chunks of lobster in my cup, there were plenty of little ones.
Who says you can’t get good seafood in the desert? I guess I was on somewhat of a seafood kick that evening because we started with the crab cakes ($11.95). Again, no huge chunks, but what was there was sweet and plentiful. And here was the interesting touch with this one: the two largish pan-seared cakes had been topped with what the menu called a “bruschetta mix,” which turned out to be tomatoes and basil and a bit of garlic. And the creamy sauce on which the cakes rested, which was very subtly laced with mustard, was drizzled with a balsamic reduction, which provided a welcome tang and further reinforced the bruschetta image.
Steaks are among Symphony’s specialties (see paragraph 4) and so it would be a 10-ounce flat-iron ($22.95). It had been drizzled with a red-wine reduction and topped with crumbles of blue cheese but what really stood out about the steak — served medium-rare as ordered — was the nice slightly smoky grilled flavor. With this one we had the house salad, which was fresh and well varied, the blue-cheese vinaigrette (there are other options) balanced but a little vinegar-forward (that’s a good thing). Steaks also include two sides, which in our case were grilled asparagus, lightly seasoned and nicely crisp-tender, and creamed corn, with lots of roasted red pepper for an offbeat touch.
Service throughout was good, although we had to flag down our waiter toward the end, when things had wound down considerably and he had an extended conversation at another table. The atmosphere was very pleasant, with comfortable chairs and refined linens, and there’s a patio for alfresco dining on these temperate evenings.
The one clinker was the plate of bread that was brought with our soup and salad. Effort had been made with the butter, which was a slightly sweetened blend, but the bread itself was about as ... well, white-bread as it gets, a sort of Italian, I guess, but with a soft crust and small crumb, neither of which were in its favor.
And I’m guessing you wonder if we had wine? Of course, while the Symphony’s list is reasonably deep we were dying to try the 2009 Nevada Ridge Zinfandel ($30). It was, as our waiter had warned, a little thin for a zinfandel, but we still enjoyed it in all of its complexity.
And enjoyed even more that the grapes had been grown just beyond the windows.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.