If I had to guess, I'd say the second-string was on during our visit to Wyatt's.

Having been at this game since the earth cooled has given me an intuition for such cases, for which the clues can come from several different directions. At Wyatt's, it was mainly good intentions gone awry.

The salad served with one of our entrees, for example, was beautifully and meticulously arranged, with a mound of mixed lettuces in the center of the geometric plate, sliced red-ripe tomatoes along one edge, sliced cucumbers along another, sliced pepperoncini on yet another. It was clear that the lettuce had been washed -- and I can't tell you how many times I haven't felt confident about that at other places -- so that was a good thing, but it hadn't been adequately drained. Quite a bit of water still clung to it, which made our nice thick, lumpy (that's a good thing, too) blue-cheese dressing thin and watery.

Cornbread was a side on another entree. Nice big pieces with plenty of texture. But for some reason it had been grilled or toasted, and since even the world's best cornbread is dry by definition (anything else, and you've got spoonbread), the treatment rendered it so dry that even butter didn't help.

We also were served a basket containing two little white rolls. They were sort of undistinguished little white rolls, but somehow along the way they'd gotten squished, so they ended up squished little white rolls. Again, the butter couldn't save them.

Which is not to say there wasn't a lot that we liked at Wyatt's. Since the menu indicated that the smoked meats are smoked on the premises, we had to give them a try, with the combo of a chicken breast and quarter-rack of ribs ($13.99; it's available with a half-rack for $1 more). The ribs were fantastic -- deeply smoked and, as a result, shreddably tender, and they had plenty of flavor even without sauce. The chicken breast didn't share the same smoky depth, but we didn't mind because we know how easily a smoker can dry out poultry, and we'd rather have moist chicken with a lighter flavor, as this was.

On the side: a passable coleslaw and nice firm red kidney beans with a generous amount of cumin for a slightly offbeat but very appealing flavor.

The entree that included the salad was the Black and Bleu Steak ($14.99), a marinated blackened skirt steak topped with blue cheese. I misread the menu on this one and thought it was to be served sliced. Otherwise, I wouldn't have ordered it, because even marinated skirt steak tends to be on the tough side, and blackening tends to create a formidable crust, which makes it seem more so. As it turned out, this skirt steak -- served medium-rare, as ordered -- was tender and juicy, for skirt steak. But I do think it'd be better sliced, and then topped with the cheese.

With the skirt steak we also had the brandied julienne carrots, which were sliced, not julienned (see paragraph 1 above), but quite nice with just a touch of brandy to bring out their sweetness.

Our starters actually had the potential to be the best part of our meal, which I guess should be understandable because starters usually are tantamount to bar food, and Wyatt's is in a poker bar. Sweet potato fries ($4.99) were perfectly prepared and grease-free, with crisp exteriors and moist interiors. But while the maple-brown-sugar dipping sauce served with them was a nice complement, it would have been better warm.

And the hand-breaded cheese combo ($4.99) interested us because it was different than the standard mozzarella sticks. But while the sticks of cheese were billed as garlic-smoked provolone, the wedges mozzarella, in actuality, the flavor met somewhere in the middle. The sticks tasted of neither garlic nor smoke, but the wedges had more flavor than we would normally expect from mozzarella. With the pool of decent marinara this was a pretty good starter. If only they hadn't been overbrowned.

The interior of Wyatt's is relatively Spartan, but there are enough Western-style touches to add interest. Service throughout was very good, the sole waitress zipping around to serve as promptly as possible, and apologetic when she couldn't. Nothing second-string about her.

Which brings us back to the kitchen. Maybe the second-string was indeed on. Maybe not. Doesn't matter. Whether training, attention to detail or discipline is what's needed here, it is needed, because a restaurant's reputation rests on its performance each and every night.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.