Focaccia – Herb Butter
Mezze and Falafel – Farro and Quinoa Falafel, Taihini, Babaganoush, Black Garlic Hummus
Third Street Tomato Salad – Figs, Fig Jam, Strawberries, Housemade Mozzarella, Superfood Vinagrette
Lionfish Ceviche – Coconut, Ginger, Aji Amarillo, Sesame Lavosh
Grilled Calamari – Chorizo, Peppers, Lemon Vinaigrette
Classic French Onion Soup – Italian Summer Truffles, Foie Gras, Raclette Fondue
Seared Foie Gras – Huckleberry Gastrique, Cinnamon Churro
“Bacon & Eggs” – Prosciutto, Pork Belly, Quail Eggs, Avocado Cream, Spicy Tomato Jam
Beef Cheek Ravioli – Shaved Pecorino, Smoked Tomato Cream
Miso Crusted Black Cod – Morels, Fava Beans, Soba Noodles
Alaskan Halibut – Tartar Mashed Potatoes, Citrus Aioli, Fried Potatoes
Saffron Risotto Frutti di Mare – Prawns, Clams, Mussels, Crab
Rosen Farms Lamb Loin – Merguez Sausage, Root Vegetable Gratin
Crisp Jidori Chicken – Natural Jus, Apple and Raisin Slaw
Zucchini and Squash “Spaghetti” – San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Vegan Truffle Cheese
Vegetable Lasagna – 100+ Layers Zucchini, Squash, Poquillo Peppers, Parmesan
Trio of Cheesecakes – Blue, Brie, Cheddar, Seasonal Accompaniments
Mango Sundae – Almond Blondie, Mango Two Ways, Goat Milk Ice Cream, Dulce de Leche
Dark Chocolate Tartlette – Market Berries, Valhrona Ganache, Berry Sorbet
Rhubarb Pie – Vanilla Ice Cream, Rhubarb Candy
Olive Oil Cake – Roasted and Raw Grapes, Port Gastrique, Arrope Cream
When word started to circulate that Chef Johnny Church would be taking over Aureole one could not help but be excited about the revamped space and format intended to breathe new life into one of Las Vegas’ most eye-catching rooms, a first look at the menu from a man who previously cooked for some of Sin City’s most celebrated names showing signs of great food that unfortunately looked a bit ‘designed by committee’ while Spring 2017 now sees Johnny truly making Aureole his own.
Without a doubt still flying under the Charlie Palmer banner, though signs of both the Celebrity Chef’s name and that of the Michigan-born Executive Chef are scarcely found anywhere in the restaurant, it was just past 6:30pm on a Saturday night that three guests descended a glass staircase surrounding the world-famous four-story Wine rack, the lounge nearly filled with guests while the rest of the restaurant was perhaps 1/3 filled, still a good number of people given its vast expanse.
Seated in the room directly adjacent the former Swan Court, now a peaceful patio surrounding water fountains and gardens with several conference spaces and hotel rooms looking out from above, it was moments after sinking into the plush chairs surrounding a four-top that could have easily served six that a waiter and sommelier greeted guests with a brisk glass of bubbly, a Cheers to family soon to follow before Chef Church appeared in Whites to discuss the evening’s plans.
Designated as New American Cuisine, or better yet “a modern tasting table experience designed for the way people eat and drink today,” those new to Aureole v2.0 will see the menu arranged around concepts designated Surf, Root and Ranch with appetizers on top and entrees at the bottom, a total of three large-format items also offered in addition to five sides listed as ‘accompaniments.’
Allowing Chef Church carte blanche throughout the subsequent three hours, several current menu items mingling with small-plates and concepts from the in-process Tasting Menu, it was with a small dish of fluffy Focaccia and a plate of Herb Butter that the menu got underway shortly thereafter, a combination of light Mezze including Black Garlic Hummus and Smoky Babaganoush served on slate with Pita and golden orbs stuffed with Farro and Quina, the $14 Tomato Salad with “Chef’s Seasonal Accompaniments” a sharable bargain as all items were brought in from the Third Street Farmer’s Market or made on site, the Mozzarella creamy and smooth while Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with the Mother formed the base of an invigorating “Superfood Vinaigrette.”
Promising that there would be a lot of food and that no one would be offended if some plates went unfinished, course two saw Johnny send out his signature Lionfish Ceviche offering the invasive species in a Thai-inspired splash of Coconut and Ginger with slow-building heat, a plate listed as ‘Grilled Calamari’ the first of many stunning innovations that placed lightly charred Cephalopods in the context of Italian Sausage and Peppers with bitter notes offset by light Citrus Cream.
Told that the previous Raclette and Crudite did not sell as well as expected, more a commentary on Las Vegas convention attendees than the dish’s actual quality, the next course saw staff roll a small stovetop tableside where Chef Church would create “Classic” French Onion Soup that was anything but standard, the melted Cheese emulsified with Duck Liver warmed to bubbling before being poured over soft Croutons and caramelized Onions with a generous shaving of Italian Summer Truffles to finish.
Trying best to eat slow and careful, a peak at the menu showing at least a dozen dishes to come, it was with the Soup nonetheless consumed in its entirety that two tasting-portions and one share-plate followed, the perfectly seared Foie Gras alongside a Cinnamon Churro piped with savory Mousse as fun as it was delicious while the Prosciutto wrapped Pork Belly and Quail Eggs were well balanced by Avocado Cream and spicy Jam, the same to be said of a Beef Cheek ‘Pierogi’ in smoky Tomato Sauce that is just as smooth sized down as it was previously in the menu’s larger sharing format.
At this point turning back to the current dining room Menu, a focus on “Surf” seeing Chefs Church and Palmer collaborate on bringing the ubiquitous Miso Crusted Black Cod to a higher level by way of early-season Morels and tender Fava Beans atop housemade Soba in a slick Soy Sauce, another impressive entrée from the Spring menu features flaky Halibut served atop “all the flavors of Tartar Sauce” mixed into Mashed Potatoes,’ the makeshift Fish and Chips impressing even those generally don’t favor Seafood while the Saffron Risotto Frutti di Mare is as good as that at any upscale Italian spot in town with Rice cooked tender and fragrant amidst Jumbo Prawns, generous clumps of Crab Meat and shelled Mussels as well as Clams.
Going half Root and half Ranch for the finale, all the items served family style in portions large enough to be split by about four diners with everyone allotted a sizable taste of each, Chef Church’s fondness of the local markets becomes readily evident by way of plates including the Vegan ‘Spaghetti’ of Squash with Truffle-tinged Almond ‘Cheese’ as well as the horizontally-laid Vegetable Lasagna, the omnivorous likely to be impressed by both, and moreso by crisp Free-range Chicken served as a roll of Breast and Thigh next to a refreshing Slaw of sliced Apples or the tender Lamb from Rosen Farms wrapped in housemade spicy Sausage.
Focusing again on the idea of shared tasting for Dessert, almost every table in the room seen passing plates back-and-forth as opposed to enjoying just one item as in the days of old, pastry has recently seen an upgrade thanks to Chef Athena Thickstun, Chef Church’s brilliant Trio of Cheesecakes still present from a past visit, but sized and priced down, while the Mango Sundae, tangy Rhubarb Pie and Olive Oil Cake were all present for those seeking something sweet but bright, the bitter-sweet Tartlette there for those who need their Chocolate fix, but still lighter than one might expect thanks to the smooth ball of Sorbet and plump Berries from the Intuitive Forager’s Saturday Market.
FIVE STARS: Already flying high at just a few months in, the room ever impressive with food that remains accessible to the masses yet inspired enough that even a well-traveled gastronome will discover dishes that (s)he will remember, Aureole has re-emerged as one of Sin City’s most relevant places for New American fine dining under the toque of Chef Church, his own personal style and love of the local Markets blending with Chef Palmer’s celebrated Farm-to-Table approach in ways only likely to improve with each season.
RECOMMENDED: Third Street Tomato Salad, Lion Fish Ceviche, Grille Calamari, Classic French Onion Soup, Alaskan Halibut, Rosen Farms Lamb Loin, Trio of Cheesecakes, Rhubarb Pie.
AVOID: Those who shy away from ‘sweet’ savories may want to steer clear of the Black Cod as the Miso and Soy Blend is quite bold, even with the mellowing effect of Fava Beans and Morels.
TIP: Dishes including the French Onion Soup, Foie Gras and Bacon & Eggs are not currently on the menu, so availability cannot be guaranteed until the Tasting Menu officially debuts.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.