If I hadn’t known that Megan Romano was an experienced pastry chef with a stack of plaudits, I think I would have suspected it just by looking at the food at her Chocolate & Spice bakery-cafe.
No, not at the glass case stuffed with over-the-top pastry creations, bookended on either side by housemade gelato and finely detailed fine chocolates. It shows in her savory food, too; there’s an attention to detail that is downright meticulous.
Consider the grilled Brie sandwich ($7.25). Yes, grilled Brie sounds like a little much, and the fact that it was to be served on brioche sounded like more than a little much. But, her long history with sweets notwithstanding, Romano isn’t a little-much kind of chef, so I was curious about what she would do with this.
What she did was slice the brioche fairly thinly and toast it, which, considering the texture of brioche, results in a surface with lots of crunchy texture. She cut the pieces into several shapes slightly larger than fingers, which also took away the tendency to overwhelm, and layered just enough Brie in between, and ditto.
And then she served them, sort of stacked, atop a couple of thin slices of candied orange and a few pieces of arugula. The slightly sweet, slightly tart elements of the citrus not only balanced quite nicely with the bitter austerity of the arugula but also tempered the richness of the cheese. Yes, it was a grilled Brie sandwich, but, far from the cringe-inducing creation it could have been in less skilled hands, it was a triumph.
Romano’s candied citrus also lent its charms to a dish of grilled Kalbi beef ribs ($10), only this time it was in the form of kumquats (or maybe calamondins?) and grapefruit, and this time the sweet/tart qualities gently infused the edges of the jasmine rice on which the ribs rested. The ribs themselves? Bone-in, cross-cut, characteristically meaty, perfectly tender and gently infused with the classic Korean soy-based marinade.
Wedding soup ($5.25) was another tour de force, full of tender shreds of chicken, bits of vegetable and lots of the little meatballs that make wedding soup wedding soup. Little things counted here: The broth was sufficiently rich but not fatty (and, praise the heavens, not overly salty), hot but not scalding, topped with two perfect leaves of spinach and served in a large handled cup to facilitate sipping after spooning.
And of course we’d have to indulge in some pastries. A chocolate dome was filled with a rich mousse and was just lovely.
Surprisingly, though, the only problem we encountered had to do with another pastry, a smallish cannoli sized just right, tipped in chocolate and with a smooth, perfect filling. The problem lay in the shell, which was not only insufficiently crisp but also tasted of stale oil.
Service was fine. This is a counter-service place, in which you order and pay at the counter and the food is brought to the table. Flatware is plastic and napkins are small, but the food is served on nondisposable dishes, so points there.
Romano’s attention to detail also extends to the interior of the bakery-cafe, which is furnished with comfortable high-backed chairs for those who want to relax with a cup of coffee and maybe a pastry, sleek tables and chairs for those looking for a bit more structure. Most of the accents are in her signature teal and chocolate, with lots of visual accents and nice touches such as the citrus-infused dispenser of gratis ice water.
We’ll consider the cannoli an aberration, though one that should wave a red flag. Because in every other way, Chocolate & Spice reflects the attention to detail that helps characterize a skilled chef, pastry or otherwise.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@
Chocolate & Spice Bakery, 7293 W. Sahara Ave., (at Tenaya Way); 527-7772
Pluses: Food, atmosphere and service that show great attention to detail.
Minuses: Except for a cannoli.