My blog in September of 2008 ended something like this. “All told, the food was excellent, though not any better than steakhouses like Nero's and Mastro's where I can get what I ask for. From a chef that demands perfection, I felt Craftsteak was anything but perfect and in a city with hundreds of hundred-plus-dollar meal options it would be very difficult for me to justify a return visit. While I certainly didn't expect the exquisite service of Le Cirque or Alex, I do expect my server to treat me with respect and do his/her best to make my experience memorable.”
As previously stated, after complaining to the GM (at that time a Mr. Jason Bartucci) with hopes that future visitors would not deal with such service we were provided a profound apology and an offer to refund the cost or to come back for a compensatory meal on the house – at the time I declined these options but on further review, a year after many fine dining experiences, I reconsidered. In a city with so many great options I would not generally be the sort to ‘forgive and forget,’ but returning with my two friends – both who love steak – and remembering how good the food was I made contact with the restaurant through the MGM website. While Mr. Bartucci (and our server) had apparently since been dismissed from the restaurant, my e-mail was answered by the new General Manager, Sebastien Vallet, who invited the three of us back for the chef’s tasting with wine pairings on the house.
Arriving just before 9pm, once again clad in hockey jerseys and jeans following a fantastic Frozen Fury XII at the MGM Arena, we made our way through the waiting crowd (a 2 hour wait for persons without reservations) to the podium where the hostess confirmed our reservations and personally escorted us to a booth in the back, chatting casually about the Kings and Avs eating at Craftsteak the night before as we walked. Again the restaurant lighting remained super low – something I consider unfortunate given the attractive appearance of the dishes, but the seats were again incredibly comfortable. Taking our seats we were almost instantly met by Mr. Vallet, a gregarious and friendly man in a great looking grey suit (vastly differing from the black/white clad servers,) who promised us a fantastic meal and confirmed that I did not eat beef while my friends most certainly did.
Within moments our waters were filled – bottled water without even requesting, and our server and his assistant came to our table to once again confirm likes, dislikes, and anything we may need. In order to not belabor service issues too much I will note a couple of issues here that, despite their obviously being overly attentive to our table, were less than impressive. First, while Sebastien stopped by multiple times, our server spent vastly more time at a table of well clad businessmen while the assistant served as our primary server throughout. While not “unfriendly” our assistant’s grasp of the English language was poor at best, wines were not described as presented, and this was officially the only restaurant on my trip to Vegas where I had to fill my own water. Another service issue presented itself later, but otherwise I have to say the team clearly “went out of their way” to please us – yet despite that fact, the service at Mastro’s, CUT, Carnevino, and myriad other fine dining establishments vastly outpaced Craftsteak – their “average” being better than Craftsteak’s “best.”
Similar to our previous visit the menu format consisted of a course of appetizers, a course of mains and sides, and a course of desserts. With the only questions prior to the meal being my distaste for steak and whether “scallops were acceptable” we started off rather quickly with a aromatic 1997 Californian Chardonnay (I had to ask to see the bottle as it was poured in silence.) Not a drinker I have to admit I liked the flavor of this wine and my companions agreed. Arriving shortly after the wine was a pan of their salt-topped butter rolls with additional butter. As good as before these are serviceable rolls for a steakhouse but I’d certainly not write home about them compared to Mastro’s, Cut, or Nero’s myriad options.
Arriving as we chatted and drank our wine the first course of this visit to Craftsteak was two salads and a roasted option - Caesar Salad with Fresh Anchovies, Heirloom Tomatoes with oil and Vinegar, and Roasted Vermont Quail with Vincotto. Beginning with the salad – as my friends don’t enjoy Anchovies I was fortunate to be able to indulge on all three fishes myself – tossed with the creamy Caesar dressing and crisp lettuces this was a good Caesar and the house made croutons were excellent. Following the salad, the tomatoes were as good as the dish last year (the exact same dish, actually) with a mild olive oil and balsamic marinade bringing out the acidic and sweet flavor of each of the 6 varieties. The final appetizer, the quail, was perfectly roasted with crispy skin giving away to supple and savory flesh. Offset with Vincotto and Rosemary plus Thyme the simplicity of this dish allowed the flavor of the meat to shine for itself and showed what excellent ingredient sourcing can do for even the most “simple” presentations.
Finishing our appetizers along with the first wine we again sat for a bit awaiting our second dishes. Browsing around the restaurant I was amazed at how many hockey jerseys were present – clearly not the “business casual” Craftsteak desires. Arriving from our assistant server without any description (approximately 1 minute later our main server showed up to tell us what the dishes were) our mains and sides were served with a red wine of which I’m unfamiliar and neither myself nor JT enjoyed – Brad thought it was decent. Featuring mains of a 16oz Ribeye, a 12oz Skirt, and Divers Scallops with Fennel and sides of Yukon Gold Potatoes, Sweet Corn, and Wood Roasted Asparagus this is where the other service issue came up. As previously noted, I don’t eat steak – that doesn’t mean my buddies do not eat scallops. Featuring only five scallops (we received three of the exact same dish as an appetizer last visit) and my friends each deserving to try at least one I explained to our server that this wasn’t acceptable and, surprisingly, met some resistance – apparently my thin frame made him think I can’t eat. Asking if any other fishes were available I was told only tuna – again the same prep I’d had last year (there was lobster, I saw it on another table, but clearly they weren’t giving this away) and inquiring about birds or pork I was told only chicken (I know they had duck and pork loin, I saw the nightly menu) so I requested the chicken. Consenting, begrudgingly, the server asked if we wanted anything else and I emphatically stated some mushrooms would be nice. While it took about 15 minutes to prepare, the dishes were indeed brought by yet another server – someone who actually smiled (aside from Sebastien.)
Getting into the dishes – well, there were a lot of repeats. The scallops were excellent, buttery, and well prepared once again with the fennel only enhancing the dish, not overwhelming it. A mix of woodsy mushrooms were again simply presented and delectable in taste – oil, garlic, rosemary, and with a particularly excellent lobster mushroom and meaty hen of the woods as highlights. The corn and potatoes were equally simple yet wonderful with the corn almost 'sugar-sweet' and the potatoes velvety, buttery, and wonderful.
Talking about the novel dishes for this visit – well, per usual I set aside my overall distaste for beef when someone tells me a particular cut is amazing. With both my pals bragging the Ribeye I tried a 1/2 piece and a similar cut of the skirt…they tasted pretty much the same, like beef – I still don’t get it – c’est la vie – my friends loved it and that is what matters. For myself, the highlight of the mains was definitively the Crispy Rosemary Chicken – clearly brined and likely rotisseried with subsequent braising in the pan in which it was served the dish was accompanied by a couple sprigs of rosemary and accents of ginger. While not quite as good as the prep at Bouchon earlier in the morning an excellent chicken dish. Pairing the chicken with the garlicky asparagus – perfectly tender yet snappy, was a nice compliment.
Collecting our plates – nothing but bones and a few scoops of potatoes our server commented “wow, you fellas can eat – lets see how you tackle dessert.” With JT already rubbing his belly I figured we’d be leaving some sweets on the table – and I was right. First receiving our final wine pairing, a heavy and sweet dessert wine that I cannot recall (but tasted much like a sauterne) and myself opting for coffee – a decadent and heavily fruit nuanced blend from Kenya that is grown specifically for CraftNYC we sat and waiting for only about 20 minutes before desserts – desserts aplenty – arrived.
Starting first with fruits and sorbets – two plates, one with sorbets of Chocolate, Mango, Orange Basil, and Strawberry and another with fresh fruits - Dates, Asian Pear, Melon, Peaches. Not a fan of the melon or the mango I quite liked everything else – particularly the non-creamy yet decidedly chocolate sorbet and the perfect dates.
Getting onto the four (yes, four) primary desserts – first off, Tom’s signature Cinnamon Monkey Bread with Pecan was as good as ever. Secondly, a unique item I’d not experienced in the past – a chocolate Flan served with fresh whipped cream and a chocolate cookie. Not unlike a chocolate gelatin in texture, yet creamy like an untorched crème brulee both Brad and I liked this a lot while JT thought the texture was “odd.” Next, Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Blueberries and crème fraiche ice cream was deemed the favorite by both my companions – rich and heavy, not unlike Junior’s in New York, and topped with a sour ice cream that blended perfectly with the sweet berries and mellow cake – it was indeed quite good and a buttery cookie at top and bottom added texture. Finally, my favorite of the dessert - Fig compote with Polenta Shortcake and crème anglaise. Featuring a sweet polenta cake baked crisp atop and soft beneath sitting in a crème anglaise and topped with a port-poached fig compote this dish reminded me of the best fig newton you can imagine – adding a bit of the cinnamon whipped cream from the flan only served to make things better.
When it was all said and done only some melting ice cream and the melon rested on the table – and JT’s mind was blown by the fact that someone taller and skinner than him could eat nearly twice as much as him. Not a “fine diner” JT conceded that Craftsteak was possibly the best meal he’d ever had and despite being very full he was happy. Brad, the same person who dined with me last time at Craftsteak, was also pleased though he noted that the steak he received last time was somewhat better. Myself – I was pleased with the food again, but still less than sold on the service given the fact that they were clearly “doing their best” and still seemed a little less than in-step with other restaurants of their caliber. When it was all said and done Mr. Vallet stopped by to see how everything had been and I told him it was good – because it was. It simply wasn’t “great.” Leaving a nice tip for our service team (perhaps had they known we’d be leaving a good tip the primary server would’ve been more available) we made our way out of Craftsteak for the last time. Impressed enough that I plan to check out Craft the next time I’m in Los Angeles or NYC, Vegas has plenty of other options in the meats market and if I were attending repeats I’d head to CUT or Carnevino first.