Arriving at Boca Park on a weeknight, we immediately saw that parking was going to be a problem.
In a place with so many parking spaces? Yes, because they all were filled - at least in the northern end of the center, where several restaurants are clustered. So we repaired to the underground garage and resigned ourselves to a long wait at Embers.
Walking to the door, we passed through a clutch of people on the outside patio, made our way to the podium and asked how soon we could be seated - only to be told immediately.
It was a definite disconnect, so much so that I found myself turning toward the open door, surveying the landscape and wondering if we were walking into a really bad situation. True, the other restaurants in the center are primarily chains - and we all know how much Americans love the security of their chains - but was this restaurant really that bad, to be half-empty when there were crowds milling around outside the others?
As we would soon find out, no. Embers' main fault - and I think that also was the main fault of a spot in the same center that's been a restaurant serial killer - seems to be that it's not part of a chain. And that's just a shame.
Why? Because of things like a starter of spicy ahi tuna ($14). What was served were perfect cylinders of tuna, lightly spiced and perched atop little cakes of crisp rice. With a sprinkle of masago (roe) on top, a few leaves of microgreens and surrounding squiggles of a soy-based reduction, they were a shining example of the appeal of deftly rendered contrasts of flavors and textures.
It seems like half of the restaurants in town are doing bacon-wrapped dates ($7) these days, but that makes them a good basis for comparison, and besides, we find them hard to resist. And these were some of the best we've had, the bacon cooked perfectly, the dates sweet and yielding to the melty blue cheese and toasted almond within.
The menu said the miso salmon ($24) would come with jasmine rice, edamame and red peppers, but the reality was way better than what we'd imagined. The rice actually had been formed into a large, flat cake, with the perfectly glazed (and perfectly fresh and sweet) salmon, the edamame and the pepper strips on top. Again, a triumph of contrasts.
A grilled steak salad ($16) was notable mostly for the tenderness and high level of flavor in the steak, but we also found the mix of crisp greens, the crispy shallots and the mellow roasted-garlic vinaigrette to be quite successful.
As was the slow-roasted tri-tip ($18), tender and flavorful and a complete plate with the accompanying sauteed spinach and tender glazed sweet potatoes.
The only quibble - and it was indeed a quibble, a minor point - was that what our server called chocolate lava cake ($9) and what the receipt called chocolate cake didn't have anything in the way of lava, but whether the fault lay in the description or the execution, I'm not certain. And besides, it was still a rich, fudgy indulgence, set off nicely by the vanilla ice cream on the side.
The service was a little on the inconsistent side, our starters coming right away, our entrees coming too late, our server not as polished as he could've been. But he didn't commit any of the cardinal server sins.
We liked the interior, which is dark and sleek, and we certainly liked the food.
All of those people lined up outside the chain links had no idea what they were missing.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.