Beef Bonus! Fiesta’s Fuego is a suburban steakhouse on fire
Thu, Nov 15, 2012 (midnight)
- FUEGO STEAKHOUSE
- Fiesta Henderson, 558-7000.
- Sunday-Thursday, 4-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4-10 p.m.
There’s a culinary Bermuda Triangle in Vegas. The points of that triangle are the Strip, Downtown and Chinatown, and while getting lost in the vortex is mostly delicious, there’s a lot to miss beyond the venerable institutions, edgy independents and celebrity chefs.
I’m not even talking about the neighborhood gems. I’m talking about actual restaurants inside modest suburban casinos (“actual” meaning not Hooters, and “modest” meaning not the Red Rock Resort). Because of the mall-like setting and corporate ties, these places tend to get ignored, even when they have outstanding food.
That’s why I was skeptical about Fuego. The upscale steakhouse is tucked inside Fiesta Henderson, a Station property sandwiched between freeway onramps and still echoic of the jungle-themed casino it was built upon (see: decorative monkeys). I had been there dozens of times just for the movie theater, so it felt a bit odd to weave through the slots toward the restaurant entrance, where a fire pit strikes a very sexy, old-Vegas chord.
Big Al showed up a few minutes later for our date, and the hostess gave us our pick of sprawling booths along the wall of Fuego’s circular dining room. Its interior framework, like the gaming floor, has remnants of the property’s former identity. But in this case, the retro, embellished cave effect is just Vegas enough to be charming.
The Beef Issue
- The 10 Best Steakhouses in Las Vegas in 2012
- Five all-star side dishes from Las Vegas steakhouses
- Tom Colicchio talks beef with the Weekly
- Learn your cuts from the Butcher Block's Ron Lutz
- Kerry Simon captures the Weekly in burger form, with plenty of spice
- Give poultry the bird this year and make Vintner Grill's Beef Stroganoff
- Beef Bonus! New Stratosphere steakhouse exceeds heightened expectations
- Join the meat parade at Fogo de Chao
- An ode to late-night prime rib
The table itself was impeccably set with linens and polished flatware, and our server Jessica was on her game from the moment we sat down (despite having no idea I was a note-taking reporter). It took about a minute for Big Al and me to have gin martinis in our hands and a basket of warm artisan breads at our fingertips. The pretzel roll is tasty, but I recommend skipping everything else to focus on the insanely buttery lovechild of a popover and a croissant. Whatever diet you’re on, this alone is worth breaking it.
While Al and I discussed our far-flung significant others and our dog children, we snacked on a starter of beefsteak tomato, fresh mozzarella and greens ($6), artfully stacked, quartered and drizzled with silky balsamic. This isn’t the ideal season for fresh tomatoes, but the vinegar’s complexity and natural sugars made up for any lack of flavor. Our side salads were crisp and simple, the house creamy vinaigrette so good I ended up shamelessly dipping grape tomatoes, croutons and bread right into the decanter.
The precise moment my cocktail ran dry, Jessica was there with the drink list. We switched to red wine and prepared for our ambitious orders. Me: pan-seared, bone-in ribeye marinated in cilantro and garlic ($30). Al: fettuccine Alfredo ($12). We also picked—from a dozen $3 family-style sides—baked sweet potato, grilled balsamic asparagus and macaroni and cheese. The beef menu of USDA prime and choice cuts includes petite ($22) and standard ($26) filet mignon, New York strip ($21), porterhouse ($29) and king cut prime rib ($25), with kick-up options ranging from Oscar treatment ($8) to crumbled blue cheese ($4) to a garnish of crab legs or lobster tail ($15 and $21), plus traditional sauces (hollandaise, béarnaise, peppercorn, creamy horseradish).
As our stories turned from love and work to scuba diving in Panama and holidays with drunken relatives, the meal appeared. On mod white china, my steak was propped on a tasteful mix of lightly cooked and dressed pear tomatoes, carrot, broccoli rabe and cauliflower. The sear was masterful, achieving just the right balance of medium-rare internal temperature and outer char. Each bite mingled crispy, fatty bursts of intense flavor from the marbling with the meat’s subtle, garlic-enhanced sweetness. It made the creamy horseradish sauce I ordered on the side a ridiculous notion. So, for $30, I enjoyed a naked steak that far outshone a dry-aged specimen I recently had at a celebrated Strip outpost for more than $100. No lie.
The sweet potato was velvety. The asparagus had good snap. The macaroni tasted nice, but I felt the texture could have been creamier. It didn’t matter much, because with a steak that beautiful on your plate, you kind of forget about the other stuff. I felt genuinely sorry that Al’s vegetarian ways wouldn’t allow him to try it, but he seemed pretty content with pasta on pasta. We were so full, but Jessica was ready with the dessert menu. A couple minutes later she was ready with Fuego’s signature sweet, the Flaming Foster. The flambé experience is a cute riff on the restaurant’s name and fire theme, though the sticky pudding-style cake was dense and one-note soaked in its boozy caramel sauce, and the banana had raw green flavor rather than the caramelized toffee that makes the dish so yummy. It was disappointing, especially in contrast to the stellar meal that came before.
The evening, and nearly every bite of food, was thoroughly enjoyable. Fuego is not on the same level as STK, Carnevino and the rest of the world-class gang when it comes to atmosphere, kitchen firepower and overall menu sophistication. But that’s kind of the idea. This is a steakhouse for my neighborhood. I can get there in five minutes, without a reservation, and treat myself to a quality meal served by an attentive crew in a cozy, quirky environment. It’s a place for “regulars,” evidenced by the hostess’ cheerful recognition of most of the diners who came through the door. The menu was overhauled just last month, and I’d say it’s a success. Even if you don’t commit to an enormous cut of beef, stop by for a drink, a popover and the mint-chocolate stick that comes with the bill. It’s just one of the little touches that make Fuego an underrated delight.