I gotta quit going to these places that turn into bars for 20-somethings after the usual dinner hour.
It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the food. On the contrary, these sorts of spots usually are run by highly profitable nightclub companies who hire talented chefs to show the kids that, yes, we’re worth a visit. It helps them lure in the members of young Hollywood (and their peers) and then issue news releases announcing their presence.
But most of these places blow it on the early-evening end of the continuum. Smart ones would follow the George Maloof Model: Stroll through the Palms in the early evening and you’ll see the geriatrics from the block stuffing the machines full of money, but come back closer to midnight and the place is packed with the young beautiful set partying up a storm. The two groups contribute to making the place profitable in the separate ways they know best, and they’re barely aware of each other. That’s genius.
Cut to Social House at the erstwhile Treasure Island. After being led upstairs to our table by one of the phalanx of hostesses at the door, we were greeted by not one, not two, but three servers, who all apparently felt compelled to explain their roles. Then the leader of the pack — a very earnest young man who would have been fantastic under other circumstances — painstakingly led us through the menu as though we were 18 and raised exclusively on Pablum. He explained, with the degree of detail usually reserved for teaching brain surgery, that the chef had created the cold appetizers to open the palate so that we’d enjoy all the courses to come that much more, and on and on and on.
And here all I wanted was sushi (and since the slogan is “sushi, sake, socialize,” I didn’t think that was unreasonable).
Actually, we ended up ordering from most of the sections of the menu that the waiter (and by extension the chef) had prescribed for us, but no cold starter because there just wasn’t one that called out to us. And our waiter looked positively crestfallen.
The sushi, though, open palate or not, was quite good. Battera (or box) sushi is becoming more common, which is a bit of an irony considering that this style, in which the ingredients are layered into a boxlike mold, packed down and then sliced like a conventional roll (which is, actually, exactly what they taste like) was the original style. Our shrimp and spicy tuna ($20) version was very good.
But not as good as the curry lobster roll ($20), though that had nothing to do with how the roll was formed and everything to do with the ingredients. What I particularly liked was that the lobster — and in nice big chunks, no less — had been rolled with cucumber and avocado, so you got a couple of rich things there (one firm and resilient and one almost sensuously creamy) offset by a refreshing flavor and crunchy texture.
I had my doubts about the tamarind short ribs ($32), both because I didn’t think they’d carry the characteristic and vaguely sweet/tart, equatorial flavor of the fruit and because I didn’t think they’d be cooked long enough to be tender, but I was wrong on both parts. With an earthy ragout of wild mushrooms, this was an extremely well conceived and deftly executed dish whose only shortcoming was that it was difficult to eat with chopsticks. (Although I guess I should be gratified that they didn’t offer us forks.)
A starter of Kalbi beef ($9,) a Korean preparation that underscored the pan-Asian nature of Social House’s menu, was tender and satisfying.
At that point, our server returned with the menu to see if we’d like to order anything more — closed palates and all — but between all that food and a bowl of steamed edamame, we were fine. We guess he’s used to the appetites of those nubile hearty partyers.
And besides, dessert was on our minds. We were charmed by the “trust the chef” inscription that nearly begged us to order the Crispy Ice Cream ($9), but we would’ve been intrigued even without it. It was a delicious and somewhat ambitious adventure of contrasts in flavors and textures, the ball of ice cream coated in crunchy corn kernels (and let’s remember that it’s called “sweet” corn, and that they make sweeteners with it, so why wouldn’t it work?) on a plate painted with a puree of ube, the Filipino purple yam. It was an inspired pairing, the austere yam and the sweet ice-cream ball.
And probably pretty attractive, although by then (and this was still early in the evening) the lights had been turned down sufficiently that we couldn’t see much. That was OK, but the music had simultaneously been turned up so that we had to keep asking our battalion of servers to repeat themselves. I’m thinking they’d save a lot of staff time if they’d keep the music turned down until later in the evening.
Not to mention be more likely to draw more of the over-35 crowd in the hours before the vampires come out. Viewing a number of empty tables, I couldn’t help thinking that a lot of disposable income was being overlooked.
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.what: Social House
where: Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. South
pluses: Creative, well-executed dishes