That tide of humans flowing past Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill earlier this month may have been hunters, but they were overlooking the culinary equivalent of a 12-point buck, in the form of executive chef Timon Balloo’s world cuisine.
Enough conventioneers attending the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show at the Sands Expo Center jumped out of the stream and into Sugarcane’s bar that it took about 10 minutes longer than it should have for our first contact with a server, but once they were gone, things evened out. And the food coming out of the kitchen more than justified the 20 to 30 minutes of hassle.
Kinilaw kampachi ($17) was a fine way to start. “Kampachi” is yellowtail and “kinilaw” is the Filipino equivalent of ceviche, which meant this dish of very mild fish, “cooked” with coconut-cane vinegar, started out just a bit sweeter than most ceviches. That was nicely balanced, however, by some citrus segments, and the “puffed rice” sprinkled on — worlds away from the cereal of the same name — added lots of crunch.
It was the za’tar yogurt that rang the bells for the dish of harissa beets ($13) because this foodie-darling Middle Eastern spice mix has been rarely seen in Las Vegas. In this dish, both it and the harissa, a spicy chili paste, were subtle to the max, lending slight vegetal undertones to a dish dominated by the earthy, assertive flavor of both the beets and a generous sprinkling of crushed hazelnuts, both of them tempered by the neutral yogurt.
Both of those dishes were characterized by the global flavors in which Balloo specializes, but Sugarcane’s Miami origins made a smoked-fish dip ($12) a natural. These dips often are overwhelming because very strong fish is used, but Balloo let the smoky elements take control, and the house-made potato chips served with it provided not only textural contrast but a nice salty element to play off the smoky.
“Bastilla” is a reference to a Moroccan dish, but the foie gras bastilla ($26) followed the global/tropical flavors with some that were almost old-school “Continental,” with slow-cooked duck leg layered with its rich liver for a dish that was more than a little indulgent, not that complaints would be expected. The golden raisin puree added just a little sweetness.
As, of course, did the torrejas ($12), another nod to Miami. Caramelized apples and maple butter reinforced the French-toast aspect of the Cuban favorite and a scoop of cinnamon ice cream, so redolent it was almost a celebration of the flavor, sealed its fate as a dessert.
Sugarcane’s decor is far more understated than most of its flavors, but it was comfortable, with expansive windows providing a wide-open view of the people hurrying along The Venetian’s restaurant row between the expo center and casino. Stop and smell the roses? Maybe not, but they’d be smart to stop for a mini-tour of Sugarcane’s global flavors, because Balloo delivers exactly what he promises.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.