Apple Cobbler – Azzurre Gin, Ginger Syrup, Cloudy Apple Juice, Fresh Lemon and Cucumber Juices
Milano – Effen Blood Orange Vodka, Aperol, Fresh Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Chilled Prosecco, Egg White
Nostra Rosa – Campari, Bulldog Gin, Conintreau, Fresh Lemon Juice, Blood Orange Puree, Agave Nectar, Chilled Seltzer Water, Egg White
Scotch Olives – Lamb Sausage and Feta
Modern Fried Egg – American Sturgeon Caviar, Corn Pudding and Brioche
King Crab Salad – Watercress Vichyssoise
Grilled and Chilled Prawns – Soft Polenta, Chorizo Vinaigrette
Foie Gras Mousse – Moustarda and Country Toast
House Baked Pretzel – Cheddar/Raclette Fondue, House Mustard
Warm Crab Dip – Spinach and Preserved Lemon
Sweet Potato Agnolotti – Sage, Brown Butter, Pear and Pecan Pesto
Cavatelli – Braised Lamb, Crushed Tomato, Parmesan and Whipped Ricotta
Caramelized Fennel and Sausage Flatbread – Camembert, Desert Honey and Rosemary
Barbecued Rainbow Carrots – Kohlrabi Puree
Australian Wagyu Skirt Steak – Chimichurri, Salsa Verde, Grilled Padron Peppers, Lime, Black Truffles
Whole Roasted Sea Bass – Olive/Caper Vinaigrette and Grilled Lemon
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes – Pancetta, Farm Egg, Shaved Country Ham
Double Espresso – Ice
Black and Tan Pudding – Chocolate, Butterscotch, Spice Whip, Caramel Corn
Hot Apple Pie – Apple, Quince, Cardamom Whip, Honey Ice Cream
Manhattan – Rye Whiskey Bread Pudding, Vanilla/Maraschino Cherry Ice Cream
Impressed by Shawn McClain since his Green Zebra days back in Chicago, a meal at Sage shortly after it opened confirming that his elegant simplicity could indeed translate to the Las Vegas market (though Five-50 Pizza later proved to be a half-baked Money Grab,) rumors of Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay being the first Casino restaurant in ages to challenge Gastro-Pub conformity by way of ingredients and technique finally lured me in almost exactly six months after it’s opening August 8th 2016 opening.
Not immune to the advertising or PR push, an invite to the grand-opening by Kerry Clasby politely declined as 2016 was dedicated to supporting more longstanding restaurants both on the Strip and in the community, it was as a party of two that dinner on Friday was enjoyed amidst spacious confines where guests are invited to sit at the bar, lounge or dining room in back, a plethora of decorations ranging from street signs to old-LPs decorating the walls as music plays forgivingly lightly.
Certainly a spectacle, the outdoor patio and well-stocked bar both showcasing design as low lighting generates an intimate feel despite the restaurant’s size, the menu and kitchen at Libertine Social are the responsibility of Executive Chef Jamaal Taherzadeh, his modern American cuisine ranging from fun to seriously technique-oriented while vegetables from the Intuitive Forager Farmers Markets stand unparalleled on their own, or when used to enhance the flavor of everything from Pastas and Flatbreads to roasted Meats.
Well celebrated for Cocktails crafted by Tony Abou-Ganim, the classics perhaps a bit pricey given their nearby ubiquity while the Fizzes, Draught, Barrel-Aged and Bottled lists all show a lot of thought, those fond of Gin are encouraged to take a look at the refreshing Apple Cobbler with a clean Cucumber finish while Vodka fans will undoubtedly be delighted by a frothy Milano that is Spirit-forward and bright with a whole lot of Citrus.
Partially deferring to Chef Taherzadeh and adding a few intriguing items along the way, guests enjoying a drink would be foolish to ignore the Scotch Olives pitted and packed with Cheese beneath a lightly fried Lamb Sausage Crust, the laser-cut Modern Fried Egg a vessel seen several times in the past but here better than most with creamy Corn Pudding blanketed in Egg Custard beneath a dollop of Caviar.
Taking the extra steps to pour a chilled Watercress Soup tableside over King Crab Salad before having some fun with airy, flavor-packed Churros that will make fans of Cheetos question why they’ve been fooled into thinking the snack was as good as it gets for so long, a different sort of upgrade is delivered by ‘Shrimp n’ Grits’ that improves on both with snappy Prawns and creamy Polenta plus the savory heat of Chorizo.
Turning attention to some Boards, Spreads and Dips, the Pretzels puffy and piping hot alongside house Mustard and melted Raclette, more Crab comes by way of the creamed Spinach Dip studded with big chunks of the good stuff flown in daily from Alaska while the Duck Liver Mousse at first appears to be far too much for even a party of four until the air is stirred out of it and the bright Fig-Balsamic Glaze on top turns it into the city’s most luxurious PB&J-reminiscent topping for Grilled Bread.
Placing two handmade Pastas on the menu, one old and the other new, Jamaal admits that the tender Lamb Neck served over Cavatelli is his dish most often taken home for dinner, the salting intense even when accounting for the mellowing effect of Ricotta while the Sweet Potato Agnolotti rival any Italian restaurant in town by placing the typical Sage and Brown Butter in a different context with softened Pears and toasty brown Pesto.
Mistakenly guessing the sweet and savory duet of Honey-drizzled Fennel and Sausage Flatbread plus Barbecued Carrots atop earthy Kohlrabi Puree as the final round before dessert, and thus overindulging in both as they each exemplify the pure, honest flavors familiar to followers of Chef McClain, it was with wide eyes that the kitchen presented two more entrée-sized plates including Sea Bass quite similar to that at Aureole next door (minus the head) plus a daily special of Medium-Rare Wagyu brightened by acid with a bit of heat and Black Truffles plus an outstanding side of “Local Fare” featuring wrinkly Fingerling happily soaking up the flavors of two types of Pork carried by a soft-poached Egg.
Taking a Double Espresso over Ice next, the choice of Cubes vs. Pellets a nice touch, dessert was presented with two menu-favorites plus the all-new Black and Tan Pudding, a refreshing savory note imparted by the Cream in a tall glass while neither the Pie nor Bread Pudding were overly sweet, instead focusing on letting the ingredients shine on their own with the Maraschino Cherry Ice Cream playing particularly well off the Whiskey in replicating the classic flavors of a Manhattan Cocktail.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS: At this point no longer ‘new’ by Las Vegas standards, six-months essentially 1/8th the lifespan of a hotel concept these days, Libertine Social challenges conventional wisdom by focusing on a ‘something for everyone’ approach rather than begrudgingly accepting it, Chefs McClain and Taherzadeh as well as the architects bringing both fun and sophisticated to Mandalay Bay with prices that are high, but Strip-competitive, and by-and-large justified by the quality of the ingredients.
RECOMMENDED: Milano, Scotch Olives, Grilled and Chilled Prawns, Foie Gras Mousse, Sweet Potato Agnolotti, Barbecued Rainbow Carrots, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Manhattan.
AVOID: The Modern Fried Eggs are indulgent at $12/each and thus not recommended for those counting pennies while the Salt-sensitive should steer clear of the Lamb Cavatelli. As to the complaints about cocktails…those looking to drink affordably are best served to look elsewhere…like Off-Strip or at least Downtown.
TIP: For those interested in something different, Libertine Social offers two “Fireside Chat” seatings each Saturday, a prix-fixe menu served overlooking the open kitchen as Chef Taherzadeh and team present seasonal ingredients complete with Wine and Cocktail pairings. 6:30 and 8:30, call for reservations.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.