Celebrity chef Kerry Simon's eatery, which he opened with trail-blazing restaurant industry maverick Elizabeth Blau at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, has given a hip, new edge to the Las Vegas dining scene.
The celeb-packed Simon Kitchen and Bar has already attracted a constellation of stars, both rock and silver screen, including Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney (who had post-concert parties there); David Bowie, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and George Clooney, to name just a few.
Critical response to the food has already climbed to the top of the charts. Part of the appeal is chef Simon, who the national press has been following around for years due to his sassy cuisine, celebrity following, and boyish good looks (starlets frequently appear on his arm, which has long been a magnet for tabloid fodder). At Simon Kitchen, the chef's playful interpretation of Signature American cuisine ranges from truffled mashed potatoes to "topless" apple pie and a whimsical cotton candy dessert. The bar scene is cool at this people-watching, off-Strip hot spot nestled in the Hard Rock Hotel.
Chef Kerry Simon's sensual dishes are beautifully realized fantasies that attract celebs, serious foodies and people who just want to have a great meal served in a casual oasis overlooking the pool at Hard Rock. Chef Simon's clever flavor and texture combinations make your taste buds really sing, and his presentations are often whimsical.
The chef's colossal crab cakes melt in the mouth, and are served with a tangy counterpoint of a papaya Asian slaw. His blue fin tuna tartare is laced with lemongrass oil and a kiss of chives, while the chicken curry is lightheartedly presented in a Chinese take-out container with toasted almond basmati rice and zesty chutney. Other popular main course items, like the dry-aged, thick and sizzling New York strip, can be accompanied by such side orders as the chef's famous Tuscan fries, delicate bamboo steamed vegetables, soothing creamed spinach or buttermilk onion rings as bulbous as flying saucers.
There are also "retro" foods on the menu that will bring you right back into the comfort zone of a bygone Americana era. The meatloaf transcends the norm, but will still feel like a great big hug from mom, and if you want to seek out your inner child, check out the luscious, gooey macaroni and cheese gratin (with no less than four cheeses) for a taste of "back when."
You can experience the simplicity of something as classic as a wood-roasted pizza with mozzarella and a vine-ripened tomato sauce or ascend to more complex offerings such as the illustrious shellfish platter overflowing with salty fresh oysers, little neck clams, mussels, Gulf shrimp, Alaskan king crab and Maine lobster.
Simon Kitchen is the brainchild of savvy restaurant consultant Elizabeth Blau, who is considered a major taste-maker in Las Vegas, having recruited countless celebrity chefs for new restaurants. For the opening of Bellagio, she persuaded a constellation of star chefs to come to a city known more for its inexpensive buffets than for fine dining, thus charting a new course for five-star dining in Las Vegas.
Formerly the senior vice president of restaurant development for the trend-setting MGM/Mirage Resort properties, the Las Vegas-based gaming and entertainment empire headed by Stephen Wynn, Blau was responsible for changing the face of fine dining in Las Vegas, thrusting the once-provincial desert city into the gastronomic spotlight. She now runs her own wildly successful consulting firm with offices in Las Vegas and New York. Elizabeth Blau and Associates specializes in strategic restaurant development.
Blau explains her recipe for success and the inspiration for Simon Kitchen. "We had spent four years at Bellagio in the midst of fine dining and had missed those fun, neighborhood places that we always had in New York. So we created Simon Kitchen and Bar because it's like giving a dinner party among friends every night."
Blau and Simon have successfully achieved their vision of a restaurant with multi-sensory appeal, from the appealing cuisine with sophisticated-yet-playful combinations to the Yabu Pushelberg-designed dining room with its open kitchen and sunny patio. We can expect this winning culinary team to be soaring high in the desert for years to come.
The striking Blau, who was formerly a model, can be seen at the restaurant (when she isn't traveling), and her presence is part of the allure. The décor is stylishly understated. The mood is set upon entering the dining room. Light streams in through breezy wood-slatted panels and bronzed panels of ancient screens that once were used to print beautiful kimono designs. The backdrop is a cracked clay wall in rich azure. Posed hostesses outfitted in sleek Catherine Malandrino dresses show guests to their tables. Friendly servers in long black leather aprons offer recommendations and are adept at answering menu questions. There are three private dining rooms and a patio, where every seat is a good one.
There's a thriving, late-night bar scene and international bottled beers plus creative cocktails (try the pomegranate Margarita, the Blue Goose martini made with Grey Goose vodka, or the Happy Drink, a combination of Patron XO Café, Das Komet vanilla liqueur, and espresso with a splash of Bailey's. A number of chef Simon's dishes are available for grazing at the bar, including the shellfish platter, wood-roasted pizzas, and the New York strip steak.