With an upset rematch victory over über Japanese iron chef Masaharu Morimoto in a 2003 Iron Chef competition, (arguably) America’s preeminent grill master and New York City restaurant impresario, Bobby Flay became more than a pretty face on several Food Network television shows and the CBS morning news. He cemented his credibility as a legitimate force with which to be reckoned in the world of fine dining where chefs have become larger than life glitterati.
On October 7, 2004, he launched his first restaurant outside New York City within the confines of Caesar’s Palace which has become a Mecca for some of America’s premier celebrity chefs. A flame themed ambiance features a flamed patterned carpet, copper flames on the wall and even flaming ceilings. Also impressive were the teak wood and flagstone floors, but the star of the show is the 20-foot rotisserie with a grill and quesadilla oven.
As frequently as Flay visits New Mexico, it was refreshing to see his menu peppered (no pun intended) with ingredients indigenous to the foods of the Land of Enchantment. Those menus use the correct spelling of the word “chile” which showed just how much Flay pays attention during his dining forays into the Land of Enchantment.
As you peruse the menu, a basket of ho hum breads and muffins is brought to your table. The boring bread is certainly not a precursor of things to come. What is more indicative of your meal is when your waitress asks how hungry you are then proceeds to explain the relative diminution of some menu items. Not all portions are Lilliputian, but if Murphy is dining with you, the entrees most appealing to you will be.
An appetizer of goat cheese queso (as redundant as Rio Grande River) fundido is redolent with olfactory arousing ingredients (roasted green chile sauce and blue corn tortilla strips) that taste as great as they smell. More and more restaurants are starting to use something other than Cheddar cheese on their fundido and it’s paying of with a more exciting appetizer.
Flay’s signature appetizer, the Tiger Shrimp and Roasted Garlic Corn Tamale with Corn-Cilantro Sauce is vibrant and flavorful, albeit a miniscule appetizer at an entree price. Flay’s version of a tamale is considerably different than the more traditional version served in New Mexico, but your taste buds will certainly be rhapsodizing “viva la differencia.”
The most filling appetizer on the menu, even if shared by two, might be the smoked chicken and black bean quesadilla with avocado and toasted garlic crème fraiche. It’s an appetizer in which several ingredients compete for taste primacy and none quit establishes itself as the prominent taste. The avocado was probably the most innocuous part of a quesadilla that does meld disparate and complementary tastes as well as Flay uses the secret ingredient on Iron Chef America.
The coffee spice rubbed rotisserie filet mignon epitomizes the best in grilled meat preparation and had it been more than ten ounces (a lunch portion is five ounces), I would write a song about it. Size not withstanding, it was an outstanding filet–perfectly seasoned, as tender as my wife’s heart and as perfectly grilled as any piece of prime steak I’ve ever had. Flay’s Mesa steak sauce with its strong chipotle influence was the best steak house sauce I’ve ever had, so good I dipped my chile rubbed Southwestern fries in it and asked for more.
Chowhound posters rant and rave about the Mesa Burger while simultaneously whining about its high price ($15). I’m not sure it was worth the price, but there’s no doubt it’s an excellent burger. Crafted with double Cheddar cheese, grilled Vidalia onion and an eye-opening horseradish mustard, it is a handful. The meat is succulent and juicy, perfectly prepared at medium with a nice hint of pink.
If you don’t want a grilled entree for lunch, the New Mexican spiced pork tenderloin sandwich with grilled red onion, arugula and ancho-chile mayonnaise is an excellent alternative.
The only thing that may keep Flay from succeeding in this restaurant venture is the smallish portions. Las Vegas diners have been weaned on enough food at every meal to feed a bull elephant and may stay away in droves.
The two restaurants against which I compare and rate the Mesa Grill are the incomparable Topolobampo in Chicago ( I still can’t believe Flay’s cuisine reigned supreme over Rick Bayless’s Mexican masterpieces in an Iron Chef America showdown) and Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe, both of which are superior to the much-heralded Mesa Grill.
3570 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV
LATEST VISIT: 28 March 2006
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Goat Cheese Queso Fundido, Tiger Shrimp and Roasted Garlic Corn Tamale; Mesa Burger