The Grape

The Grape surprised us in two ways: We expected better wine and worse food.

Not that there’s anything really wrong with The Grape’s wine list. It’s just that considering the place is called The Grape, the wine list is not as extensive or as deep as we would expect — shorter than those of some of our local restaurants, with a fair number of the usual suspects. But maybe that’s a function of clientele as much as anything.

Then again, we like that the wine list is broken down by category, an especially handy tool for novices who might know that they like "full-bodied red wines with an intense, rich berry taste," but not that the 2007 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz fits the description.

And we also liked the fact that by-the-glass prices work out pretty close to the bottle prices instead of being considerably more expensive (as is common), and that smaller "tastes" are available as well. Both practices encourage sampling, which is what a place dedicated to the grape like The Grape ought to do.

From the food, we didn’t expect much, to be honest, we guess in part because we figured all the attention would be on the wine. But there we underestimated. Something as simple as a Caesar salad ($8) was a triumph, if only inasmuch that it was an authentic Caesar. We could taste the subtle contributions anchovies brought to the dressing — the saltiness and the bite, as it should be — which nicely straddled the creamy vs. vinaigrette border. The romaine was cold and crunchy, the croutons certainly tasted homemade and there were liberal shavings of a deeply flavored Parmesan. It was, in short, the best, most authentic Caesar I can remember eating in quite a number of years.

Cambozola, prosciutto and fig flatbread ($9) was on the trendier side of things. The menu said it was "a classic combination of sweet and savory" and it was, but much more. The salty richness of the prosciutto, the sweetness of the fig and the velvety texture and gentle tang of the cheese, all against the backdrop of the neutral crust, reminded us of Crosby, Stills & Nash when they still could sing harmony.

Baked brie in pastry ($15, designed to serve two) was far more predictable, but we predicted that; it’s just that there are few dishes we like more with a glass of a big red. The menu promised stone-fruit chutney, but the accompaniment seemed more like berry coulis, but no matter; it was simpatico nonetheless.

And how could we not appreciate that the tenderloin steak sandwich ($15) was served medium rare, which is the degree of doneness at which beef tenderloin is at its best? It was quite nice, tender and flavorful with its caramelized onions and blue-cheese sauce — a bit of a cliche, but only because it works so well.

You may have noticed that there’s no real theme to the menu except that the foods are particularly compatible with wine, and that flexibility is much of the appeal of The Grape. There are design-your-own cheese and charcuterie plates and small plates — both of which lend themselves to before- or after-movie snacks or sharing or the quilting together of a whole meal — plus entree-style selections (a steak, or three or five lamb chops) and salads and sandwiches, so there’s as much flexibility in the food selections as in the wine glass and taste choices.

Service throughout was very good, our courses well timed, our server willing and able to answer questions and provide information. The decor was winey but not to a kitschy extent; purple was prevalent, but plastic bunches of grapes were not.

Best of all: It was a pleasant evening, and we got to dine al fresco, facing the Rave movie theaters at Town Square and watching the world go by. It didn’t have the serenity of a patio in Sonoma, but then Sonoma doesn’t have Las Vegas’ color.

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.

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