Considering that other high-profile chefs have failed to find success in the suburbs, will Wolfgang Puck’s experience be any different? My prediction — no Magic 8 Ball needed — is yes.
After 20 years in a number of locations on the Strip, Puck’s international operation branched out late last year with a Wolfgang Puck Bar &Grill in Downtown Summerlin. It was his first foray into the suburbs of Las Vegas, where respected and experienced restaurateurs including the Maccioni family, the An family and Bradley Ogden encountered the rare challenge they couldn’t meet.
That was then, though, and this is now. I think the Puck organization will succeed, and I’m not just going by the size of the crowd on the evening of our visit, which was robust early, slowing considerably as school-night hour approached, a sure sign a restaurant has caught on as a weeknight stop.
No, here’s what I think is key: We had wood-oven-roasted sea bass (which I knew without asking was sustainably sourced, one of Puck’s passions), and the much more casual oxtail pappardelle. Had we desired, we could’ve had a pizza or a burger.
Suburban restaurants generally don’t draw the expense-account crowd; they much more often attract families and couples and groups of friends, most of whom aren’t looking for a Dining Experience. And so the burger, the pizza, the pasta tends to fill the bill more often than the wood-oven-roasted sustainably sourced sea bass.
To work, of course, all of it has to be of equal quality, and it was.
First things first, and the epitome of a casual dish: Truffled potato chips ($9) were just a notch up from bar food, although it was an important notch. At any rate, the chips were thick and crisp, house-made, with just enough truffle oil to add an ethereal hint and enough blue-cheese “fondue” (plus a few chunks) to take care of all of them. Fondue usually connotes dipping, which wasn’t the case here, but the kitchen had managed to nap them all so that the effect was much the same.
The pasta was sublime. I have a soft spot for the silken texture and subtly springy texture of pappardelle ($19), but even it can suffer if the sauce isn’t perfectly compatible. And it was, the tomato-and-oxtail ragu with just enough body to cling to the broad pasta ribbons, the numerous bits of shredded meat adding textural contrast.
The sea bass ($32) also was very well executed, the fish in fillets instead of the big slabs often encountered, with but a whisper of wood smoke complementing the fish’s mild flavor, which was further offset by a fairly assertive garlic spinach.
And we indulged in dessert, a molten chocolate cake ($10) that was anything but ordinary, with a scoop of killer cookies-and-cream ice cream on the side.
Service? Well, let’s just say I’d like to clone our server and put her to work at every restaurant in town. She was just friendly enough, bright, charming and efficient.
As for the atmosphere: There is a bit of the sardine-can effect there. I was somewhat dismayed when we were shown to our table to see that it was an elbow’s length from those on either side, and indeed, I think I heard more of their conversations than our own. I’m hoping that, once the opening-months excitement wears off and the place isn’t quite so crowded, they’ll take out a few of those tables and slightly space out the rest.
Because, although I suspect some of the current attention will wane, I think this is one celebrity-chef spot that will survive the suburbs.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, 10955 Oval Park Drive in Downtown Summerlin; 702-202-6300
Pluses: Varied menu of well-executed food.
Minuses: Tables a little closely spaced.