When Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen &Bar opened in Times Square a couple of years ago, The New York Times ran a review that became famous for its snark.
Yeah, we’re not going to do that.
Make no mistake; that’s not a demurral but a refusal. It’s not out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to a sort-of local boy (Fieri went to UNLV and frequently expresses a fondness for Las Vegas). It’s not because I’m a soft touch (I’m not), because I take free meals (I don’t) or because the newspaper wouldn’t let me write anything nasty about a local casino property (they would). But I evaluate each restaurant I review in a vacuum, on its own terms and in accordance with its stated or implied mission, and Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen &Bar is exactly what it should be, exactly where it should be.
I don’t know what else would be expected from a guy whose TV series has glorified diners, drive-ins and dives, or what else would be expected from a guy who uses skulls as a restaurant design element. I hate to be sexist, and I know for a fact that real men do eat quiche, but on an intuitive level this is man-cave food, football-watching food, just a few steps removed from a stadium. It’s Guy’s food for guys, and that’s pretty much what we saw flocking into his restaurant at the soon-to-be-Linqed Quad.
Which is not to say the food shouldn’t be well conceived, carefully prepared and served with efficiency and good humor. But if you’re expecting much in the way of nuance or finesse, bear in mind that this ain’t much of a nuance-and-finesse crowd.
So I’ll start with our starter, which is appropriate for reasons that extend beyond chronology. Those would be Guy-talian Fondue Dippers ($14), which were pepperoni-wrapped grissini-style breadsticks with a provolone-and-sausage fondue. The breadsticks themselves were pretty basic (not much nuance or finesse there), the cheese a warm (on many levels) bowl with lots of layers of flavor that was oversold just a bit in that the promised “tomato bruschetta” really was just diced tomato with maybe some basil mixed in. At any rate, let’s take the tally: pepperoni, cheese and sausage; this dish not only had enough oil to tame Donald Trump’s hair but so much sodium that I was gulping water well into the night. But you know what else? It was positively addictive, the crunch of the breadsticks playing off the chewiness of the meat and the ooey-gooey cheese, the spice of the pepperoni, neutral breadsticks and earthy cheese all cavorting together in a circus for the senses.
And so, yes, there was a certain degree of excess there that maybe edged dangerously close to wretched, which was also the case with the Mac-n-Cheese Bacon Burger ($20). I chose this one in favor of a presumably much more nuanced truffle burger that was a special that night, in large part because I figured a mac-and-cheese burger (not to mention with bacon) had to be much too much to be much good, and also because the menu said it won a burger competition in, of all places, New York City. While the brioche bun was not equal to its task, the burger otherwise was pretty much as I’d imagined, a beef patty layered with bacon and cheese and the usual onion, lettuce and tomato; some restraint had been used on the mac-and-cheese layer so that it was much more subtle than it could have been, the al-dente pasta adding textural contrast, the cheese just a little flavor spark without an oversupply of richness.
Which, OK, is not something I can say about the S’mores Monte Cristo ($14). Yes, yes, what would I expect from something called a S’mores Monte Cristo, which connotes not only marshmallow and chocolate and graham cracker but also a battered-and-fried delivery? It was well executed, I’ll give them that, and the raspberry and dark-chocolate dipping sauces actually did a bit to alleviate the sweetness and take the edge off my teeth, but this was so excessively rich that I could manage not much more than a forkful; I’d recommend that this one be ordered by large parties willing to share.
And at the other end of the spectrum were the Drunken Fish Tacos ($18), which, because of the “drunken” designation and the menu description I’d expected to be kicked up a little, but they weren’t. There were four double-layered soft corn tortillas, filled with grilled tilapia that didn’t resonate with either the tequila or citrus that were promised, with a light sauce, fresh cilantro, avocado and sliced radishes. They were just kind of bland, even with a squirt of one of the numerous lime wedges served on the side.
Side dishes with both entrees were quite nice, a bowl of fried potatoes that was interesting in that it was a mix of crinkle-cut, waffle-cut and skin-on spuds with our burger, a nicely varied corn relish with the tacos.
Service throughout was very good. Take one look at the uniforms of the hostesses and female servers and the way they fit them and you’ll catch on immediately to the idea that Guy’s place is a guys’ kind of place even before you spot the skulls, metal elements, rough-sawn wood and goldfish-bowl cocktails, but any hint of a locker-room mentality doesn’t extend past the food.
Which is just as it should be — as, for the most part, is Guy’s. It’s what it should be, where it should be, and when it should be.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.