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At first bite: Counter culture gets gourmet
Story by Debbie Lee
Two new eateries try to mix casual and classy.
In a city that sustains itself on imported resources, it’s sometimes easy to miss what’s right under our nose. Consider the current state of our dining scene. Giada! Guy! Morimoto! Cooking show hosts are seizing the Strip faster than Putin’s troops are storming Crimea, transforming the four-mile swath of casinos into a veritable Food Network theme park.
As a result, our homegrown talents are forced to retreat. Take Anthony Meidenbauer, executive chef of Block 16. After honing his skills at the Wynn and Mandalay Bay, he now oversees the menus at some of my favorite spots in town. So why don’t we hear about him more often? The burgers at Holstein’s can hold their own against any Bobby or Batali-backed creation, and his entire starter menu at Public House just might be my idea of the perfect Last Supper.
His latest project is The Blind Pig Provision & Lounge. Sitting on the ground floor of Panorama Towers, just behind the south side of the Strip, it’s one of Block 16’s more casual spots. It’s also one of the first examples of what I predict will be a trend in our city — a genre one might call “gourmet counter-culture.” Now that esteemed chefs (Gordon Ramsay, Michael Mina) have swapped white tablecloths for paper placemats, the obvious next step in this regressive cycle is to bring their talents to refrigerator cases.
There is a full service bar and restaurant here. And as one would expect from a place that sounds like it was spit out of a hipster restaurant name generator, the menu and décor are very of-the-moment. You’ll find an obligatory kale salad, a gluten-free pizza, and a gourmet grilled cheese. Couples may like that the environment — a dim and sexy lounge with exposed brick and Chesterfield banquettes — is also very date-friendly.
On a recent visit, an appetizer of crispy pork nuggets with sweet chili glaze was good; if they had arrived hot, they would have been deemed great. And for their price, the New York style pizzas were just okay. I much preferred the garlicky porchetta sandwich, even if it was a tad too heavy on fatty belly meat. It was also a pleasure to eat beer-battered onion rings that actually tasted like beer.
If you prefer to grab your food and go, you can order any of these items at a counter in the “Provisions” half of the space. Part country store, part New York deli, it also features a separate menu of salads, juices, and pastries — my favorite being a nostalgic New York-style black and white cookie.
For residents of Panorama and its neighboring building, the Martin, The Blind Pig has the potential to become the high roller’s version of Cheers. Otherwise, I regretfully suspect that the curious location may deter tourists (and even some locals) from giving it a try. Only time will tell if neighborhood patronage is enough to keep it going.
Meanwhile, as Fremont Street rushes to reinvent itself, The Commissary has opened at the Downtown Grand (formerly the Lady Luck). Further supporting my culinary conspiracy theory that celebrity chefs are the alien invaders of fast casual concepts is chef Richard Sandoval. The international restaurateur and “Top Chef Masters” alum brings his signature Latin flair to a slightly confused mini food court within the hotel and casino. The menu mixes tortas, tacos, and tortilla soup with a selection of burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes.
Unfortunately, on a Saturday night, the space was empty. So there was no excuse when chunks of crispy potatoes were raw in the center. My consort, who took the “crispy” description literally, chomped his way through three or four pieces before realizing that this was not the end result of an avant-garde cooking technique.
At least the Latin smoked brisket was tender. And a cubano sandwich (ham, pork, Swiss) was serviceable. I’ll even be back when the weather is warm to indulge in a strawberry shake. But as far as downtown dining goes, I am still waiting to be wowed. So far, everything reminds me of those potatoes — only lukewarm at best.
The Blind Pig
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