In Las Vegas, with its acute shortage of oceanfront, forest glade and quaint historic courtyards, we tend to take our outdoor dining experiences where we can get them -- even if that means a view of a parking lot or busy thoroughfare.
At Vintner Grill, it means both parking lot and busy thoroughfare. But the restaurant has managed to take a sort of side yard in a suburban office park and turn it, with a terrace, gas fire pits, umbrella tables, a tentlike structure and lots and lots of candles, into an environment so transporting that both the parking lot and the busy thoroughfare fade into the darkness and all that's left is a whispery breeze and twinkling lights.
Actually, we hadn't planned to dine outdoors at Vintner Grill, but the hostess who handled our seating took the initiative to ask if we preferred indoors or out, and we decided to get while the gettin's good. And with all that balminess, seafood seemed to be in order.
Stone crab, for starters. The season ended May 14, but that wasn't what gave us pause, since stone crab freezes extremely well. What gave us pause was that although our waiter pointed out that the menus are printed daily to reflect a selection of the best the market is offering -- and although it did bear the date -- the stone crab was listed at "market price," which meant we had to ask. It was $22, our waiter said, hastening to add that it was quite large, and that seemed reasonable enough to us. We were served just one claw -- one fresh, sweet claw -- but it was indeed huge, and as stone crab is extremely meaty the serving was quite sufficient. Mustard and cocktail sauces are served on the side, but I asked for drawn butter, which to me seems to complement this prized crustacean best. What I got was actually browned butter, but that turned out to be even better. Who knew?
Vintner Grill's kitchen seems to have a talent for seafood, which also showed in our seared scallops ($27). They were indeed well seared, but it had been done so deftly that the interiors were still on the rare side and therefore moist and sweet, instead of all dried out and tough. A loose risotto with corn in nearly equal measure, plus a few chunks of tomato, rounded things out.
A prime grilled rib-eye ($34) lived up to its billing, although the promised "coriander-curry chips" turned out to be a big pile of skinny french fries, on which the steak was served and which was way too light on both coriander and curry.
A profiterole dessert ($9) actually surpassed expectations, however. Billed as profiterole with a trio of gelato, it turned out to be three nicely executed puffs, filled with deeply flavored dark chocolate, cappuccino and hazelnut gelatos. Great contrasts of texture and flavor.
We couldn't bypass Vintner Grill's signature Caesar salad ($9), which is whole leaves of romaine and radicchio with a couple of breadsticks, wrapped in prosciutto and punctuated with a hard-cooked quail egg. It turned out to be as appealing to the palate as it was to the eye, with a well-balanced dressing that managed to impress without overwhelming.
Oh, and one other signature touch: The bread -- a pretzel roll and two olive-flecked ciabatta rolls were in our basket -- is served with a creative combo that involves butter that has been packed into a dish and chilled, with two wells later scooped out. One is filled with a sort of oily tapenade, one with an herbed olive mix. And it's all just great with the bread.
Service throughout was a little strained, but not because our server wasn't trying. The poor man had so many tables that he needed roller skates, but he remained in good humor and periodically thanked us all for our patience. That the evening was so pleasant helped in that regard, because we didn't mind lingering.
Patience is what you may need if the service situation remains the same. But if you're interested in dining in that paradise between parking lot and busy thoroughfare, better do it soon, before Mama Nature turns our heavenly evenings into a vision of hell.
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.