Not quite first
First Food & Bar’s lunch and late-night are tasty enough, but not super-original
Thu, Aug 6, 2009 (midnight)
Photo: Beverly Poppe
- Inside Palazzo, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 607-3478.
- Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m.-4 a.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 a.m.
- Suggested dishes: prime rib tacos, $12.75; duck confit strawberry mache, $15; Original Mini Burgers, $16.66; bag o’ doughnuts, $5.
- From the Archives
- A peek at First (3/31/09)
First Food & Bar is in a weird spot, officially in Palazzo but sandwiched between the resort’s exquisite and empty Barney’s New York store and the Grand Canal Shoppes of the Venetian. It’s a strange space, too—cavernous but made to feel smaller by urban tribal décor, a dark, hip bar on one side and the active kitchen exploding into the room on the other. Combine these quirks with the knowledge that “industry dining” innovator Sam DeMarco is the chef behind the menu, and it appears we’ve got an intriguing new restaurant on our hands.
The food is not weird. In fact, it might not be weird enough. Instead, let’s use adjectives like familiar, sometimes delicious, convenient and affordable. Of the four different menus, lunch and late-night are the most notable. Breakfast looks standard for a Strip restaurant capitalizing on the hangover crowd, and dinner is peppered with routine entrees and pasta dishes. Lunch begins with a pair of big, soft pretzels and a selection of mustards: honey, butter and vinaigrette. Appetizers sound appetizing: Chicken wings come Buffalo or Bensonhurst style, barbecued pulled-pork stuffs an egg roll, and Philly cheesesteaks come in dumpling form. One signature item, crisp oysters, arrive lightly breaded and fried—almost tempura-ish—then placed back in their shells atop seaweed salad and mounted by pickled vegetables and ginger. It’s a powerful bite.
For a mostly meat-happy place, First handles those veggies well, evidenced by a decent gazpacho special. A wide variety of salads are available at lunch, including smaller portions under a category named Sammy’s Sexy Silly Caesars. On our first visit, opening week, we ordered the duck confit from this section and instead received the larger and better duck confit strawberry mache, complete with a huge portion of succulent meat and a bright, fresh pile of greens kissed with balsamic and sweet berries. Another standout is the chopped salad, which is actually Mediterranean, complete with tahini sauce and falafel “croutons.” Sandwiches are up and down; a huge BLT with piles of bacon, avocado and onion rings packs little punch, and the sloppy joe is made with duck. They do a lot of duck.
Shared plates, fun food and simple favorites are the strength of the cuisine here, so the restaurant might be better served dumping its dinner menu and using the late-night one instead. The small stuff—Crazy Little Tacos come in five flavors, from catfish to lamb gyro—is infinitely more interesting than the larger plates, which are labeled with attitude on the late-night menu: “Just an F’N Cheesesteak Bro,” “Steak Frites/First Frites/Whatever.” The Original Mini Burgers, perhaps the definitive First offering, come in orders of four and taste a lot like In-N-Out’s. And that’s a good thing. Everybody does sliders, but these meaty, saucy beauties will recalibrate the taste buds of anybody still thawing out frozen White Castles.
Desserts are consistent. The creamy cheesecake in a jar is great, but it’s tough to pass on fresh doughnuts, covered in cinnamon and sugar and crumble-melting in your mouth. But whimsical, nostalgia-inducing treats are nothing new for the Vegas diner, and that pretty much sums up the experience at First.