Fishing for lunch
RM’s midday menu splashes down as one of Vegas’ absolute best
Thu, Jul 30, 2009 (midnight)
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Only a few of our best restaurants open for lunch—Spago, Postrio, Sensi at the Bellagio. If you consider the ones that have resident celebrity chefs, the number dwindles even further. Now make that a pair of celebrity chefs, and make the specialty seafood, and we are officially reduced to one.
That would be RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, where chef/author/advocate Rick Moonen, a transplant from the Big Apple now living here, holds court daily, more than ably assisted by his fellow New Yorker Adam Sobel, most recently of Company and Guy Savoy.
Moonen, who wrote the terrific Fish Without a Doubt, a home cook’s survival guide full of techniques and recipes for all manner of sea creatures, is a champion of sustainable seafood; or, in other words, fish that are caught in an environmentally sound, socially responsible manner, and which are not in danger of being fished out, like the dreaded Chilean sea bass, aka the Patagonian toothfish.
- Inside Mandalay Bay, 632-7777.
- Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Suggested dishes: Rick’s white clam chowder, $8; wild salmon sockeye gravlax, $12; tea-smoked Arctic char, $17; giant macaroon, $7.
You can pick up a list of what fish to eat, and what to avoid, at the RM Seafood podium. It’s a pamphlet called Seafood Watch, and it is published by the Monterey Aquarium of California. But a better, tastier road to travel is simply to sit down, pick up the restaurant’s menu and dig in.
This is a casual but elegant room, a big, high-ceilinged space with modern furniture, nautical colors and a raw bar for shellfish. The staff is well-versed in Moonen’s message, and the servers can explain most of the menu—not to mention why you should be eating here—with eloquence.
The raw-bar menu is a good starting place. RM seafood escabeche—mixed shellfish in a spicy crab vinaigrette—is fresh, sweet, tangy and sustainable, putting most of the crudo or ceviche in town to shame. If you like oysters, the selection varies, but the delicious shallot vinaigrette and house-made cocktail and tartar sauces do not.
I suspect Chef Sobel’s French training inspired the rounds of summer truffle that top RM’s warm Vidalia onion and bacon quiche, which is deliriously good and has nothing to do with the sea. You can also stay off-point with the Bibb lettuce with wild herb salad, a light, guiltless creation dressed with a retro Green Goddess emulsion. Why don’t more places do this lettuce? It’s so much better than iceberg or Romaine.
Many of the appetizers have no equal on Vegas menus. I’ve already written many words about Moonen’s clam chowder, and how the bacon, celery and clam juice make it the best in the West. But here’s a usual disclaimer: I am a native New Englander, so the library paste some Americans call clam chowder just ain’t makin’ it on my calendar.
But I have equal praise for the cured salmon called gravlax, a Swedish invention; the considerably less healthful Rhode Island-style calamari, shot through with pickled cherry peppers and fried garlic; and the downright hazardous Buffalo popcorn shrimp, which cry out for Belgian ale.
Now we are on to the main plates, wonders such as tea-smoked Arctic char with a tart cucumber salad that comes from Moonen’s own mother’s recipe; Pacific swordfish à la Nicoise (crusted with black olive); or Adam’s fish sandwich—pure kid food—a catfish Sloppy Joe that you’ll have to eat with a knife and fork.
New on the menu is a Maine lobster roll, a half-pound of Maine lobster meat on a butter-grilled potato roll you’ll have to dig a little deeper for at $27. (FYI, Red’s of Wiscasset, Maine, sells a version for $14.95, but the lines are an hour long.)
If you want off the Seafood Watch list altogether, then you can always have the artery-clogging barbecue-pork mac ’n cheese, served in a little enamel Staub casserole that you’d love to boost when no one is looking. There is a burger, too, even steak and eggs, green eggs farmed for the restaurant. Oh, grow up.
Missing dessert would be an error. Moonen’s key lime pie won’t transport you to South Florida, but it’s as proper and pale yellow an example of the genre as the law allows. And the real star is the giant macaroon, an oversized chocolate obloid filled with ganache and accompanied by raspberry sorbet.
All in all, wow. And all this with, er, redeeming social importance. How incredibly un-Vegas!