Maybe it's my Alpine roots, but I'm a big fan of raclette cheese, which melts beautifully and has a pungent flavor that's perfectly offset by cornichons and is lovely on a chilly winter evening with a few boiled potatoes -- so much so that sometimes my family says, "Raclette? Again?"
It's not something you see on many menus outside Switzerland, though, so despite a decided lack of chill in the air, I was pleased when I saw it at La Cave Wine and Food Hideaway at Wynn Las Vegas. It was billed as a classic preparation -- "melted raclette cheese, potatoes, cornichons" ($11) -- and seemed a great way to start our meal.
La Cave calls itself a small-plates restaurant, which means it's in the tapas mold, where dishes come out of the kitchen as they're prepared (as opposed to in a specific order of courses) and are shared by the table. The raclette was one of the first dishes to come out, and I was eager to dig in. Too bad, then, that I was somewhat disappointed.
The cheese, served in a little iron skillet, was melted nicely, the potatoes velvety, the cornichons perky. But this was either a very mild version of raclette or it was considerably neutralized by an abundance of the other two elements, because there was a decided lack of pungency and the dish ended up seeming dumbed down, more's the pity.
We heard another server tell a neighboring party that the bacon-wrapped dates ($12) were one of the most popular dishes served at La Cave, but nobody would have to convince us because this is one of our favorite dishes in just about any tapas restaurant. This one was a little bit different and in some ways better; the dates were unstuffed, simply wrapped in bacon and cooked until the bacon was crisp. The piece de resistance was the blue-cheese fondue that occupied the center well in the three-compartment dish, the earthy austerity of which was an absolutely perfect complement to the sweet/salty/smoky dates. One quibble: Of the four dates on our plate, the bacon on one had been cooked past crisp to, well, burnt. The other three, though, were just right.
La Cave's plates are priced more than at similar restaurants but are a good value because they're larger; our server said the recommended serving was about two per person, which is less than the three or four recommended at places with smaller small plates. And so we filled things out with the diver sea scallops with polenta cake and shrimp sauce ($17), which was brought with the raclette. The scallops were large, plump and sweet, the thinnish polenta cakes on the delicate side, the shrimp sauce classic, and there was a bonus in the form of a couple of thick slices of what tasted like (and looked like, in the dark) trumpet mushrooms. Very nice combination, and all parts skillfully prepared.
Which was the case, as well, with the sliced sirloin steak with mushroom fondue and cipollini onions ($19). The onions were on the large side for cipollini but were melty-soft and sweet, the beef tender and medium rare. I'm not sure why they called this "mushroom fondue" when it really seemed to be sauteed mushrooms, but the sum was more than the whole of the parts.
Service for the most part was fine. Our server wasn't as on the spot as the woman who was serving a nearby table, but the runners made up for his lapses.
As I said, it's pretty dark in La Cave, which I guess is apropos. Seating is extremely varied and ranges from couches to table to bar to even a couple of hanging chairs, and that's established up front, at the hostess station. The feel, overall, is casual and comfortable, and the menu goes along with that nicely. (Speaking of the menu, there's a vegan-vegetarian-allergen list available, if you're so inclined.) And the list of options for the charcuterie board is composed of choices that are just familiar enough, but not so much as to represent the same old things.
The upshot is that in a resort corridor, and a specific resort, known for sky-high restaurant prices, La Cave offers a moderately priced alternative that serves good, interesting food, in a comfortable environment.
For that, we can forgive a mild raclette.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal. com or 702-383-0474.