The first time I stumbled upon Aureole at Mandalay Bay I couldn't help but gasp.
Inside, a dramatic, 4-story glass wine tower looms above diners at the restaurant. The tower holds close to 10,000 bottles of wine. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of one of the black-suited "wine angels" gliding up the tower on cables to retrieve wine bottles.
The Michelin guide has awarded Aureole one star.
We happened to be in Las Vegas during Restaurant Week, so we decided to book this restaurant with my friend Emily (the fantastic photographer behind all my "trash the wedding dress" photos) and her husband Frank.
Would Restaurant Week be any different in Las Vegas compared to Boston?
The space at Aureole is absolutely stunning and most definitely one of the most interesting ones I've seen in Las Vegas. Sure, Vegas has its share of unique dining environments, whether it be eating among real Picasso paintings or sitting in front of the world's largest chocolate fountain. However, nothing comes even close to the breathtaking high ceilings and the dramatic glass wine tower at Aureole.
It doesn't stop there. Each table is given an electronic tablet that contains detailed information about all of those wines. I guess if they tried to put it in paper format it would be so heavy and unwieldy you'd have no way of managing it.
It's pretty cool. You can sort by various parameters and then digitally mark the ones you are considering. The sommelier then comes and helps you choose a wine based on how you have narrowed things down. Here is Bryan, trying to research wines on his iPhone app while holding the menu and reading the tablet. As an iPad user, he found the pen-based interface slightly clunky, but still useful.
Aureole has two types of menus. You can either order from the a la carte menu (appetizer + entree), or try their signature Parallel Tasting, which consists of 8 courses that come out two at a time. Like many high end restaurants, Aureole has a rule that all members of the table have to order the same type of tasting menu. Thankfully, because it was Restaurant Week, they agreed to be a bit more lax on the rules. A 3-course Restaurant Week menu would not be so different from the 4-course Parallel Tasting, so it was OK. They had multiple options for Restaurant Week, including a $30 menu and a $50 menu.
My friends Frank and Emily both got the $50 Restaurant Week menu. Bryan tried the Parallel Tasting (highly recommended by the waiter) which cost $85, and I ordered some random items off of the regular a la carte menu (total price: $37).
JEN's LIGHT MENU
I chose this option because I was still feeling really full from my crazy 16-course anniversary dinner (post coming soon!) so I asked for a lighter option. I ended up picking a few raw fish appetizers, which worked perfectly for me. I was so happy with their flexibility in accommodating my request!
Crudo of Hiramasa 18
Avocado and Tomato Marmalade, Spicy Ponzu
I started out with a simple crudo which was light yet refreshingly good. The sashimi-like hiramasa was very fresh and paired with a winning combination of avocados and tomatoes.
Peruvian Ceviche 19
California Bass, Bay Scallops, Chochlo, Aji' Amarillo
I was actually quite surprised at the size of this next "appetizer," which I ordered as my entree. The long glass plate was filled with vinegar-marinated scallops and white fish. I loved the Peruvian bent, especially the large Peruvian corn kernels strewn throughout the dish. Overall, it was a nice, light meal and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a tad expensive, but after all, this is Vegas, so you sort of have to expect that.
Restaurant Week in Las Vegas is a little different than Restaurant Week in most other cities. First of all, it costs more. Dinner can be a range of prices, usually $30 or $50 for a three course meal (compare with around $30 in Boston), while lunch is either $20 or $30. Secondly, $3 to $5 of each meal goes to charity (Three Square Food Bank), which I thought was pretty cool.
Many top rated restaurants and household names (Jean Georges, Bobby Flay, Michael Mina, Nobu, Bar Masa, just to name a few) get involved. Last year even Joel Robuchon was on the list! (though not this year). So what does a Michelin-starred Restaurant Week menu look like?
Smoked Salmon and Warm Potato Salad
Poached Egg, Watercress Espuma
The first course was simple but quite tasty. The poached egg added a nice twist to the flavorful whole-grain mustard potato salad. I didn't try the salmon, but Emily and Frank both seemed to like it.
Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast
Confit Duck and Foie Gras Ravioli , Caramelized Endive Orange Reduction Jus
Both Frank and Emily decided to go for the roasted duck breast, which was cooked absolutely perfectly. I tried a bite of it (even though I don't really like duck), and agreed that it worked beautifully with the orange reduction sauce.
Dessert was a choice between chocolate and creme caramel. They got one of each. Personally, I liked the chocolate one more, which was strong, intense, yet tempered by the salt.
Dark Chocolate Caramel Tart
Salted Macadamia Ice Cream; Milk Chocolate Sauce
Limoncello Crème Caramel
Marinated Strawberries; Lemon-Lime Macaroon
The Parallel Tasting is Aureole's unique way of presenting you with 8 courses. As the name suggests, the courses are brought out in pairs, meant to be enjoyed in parallel. In fact, they have these special double plates with one course on each side.
Bryan asked the waiter what he recommended, and of course he thought that the parallel tasting was the best way to really enjoy the best that the chef had to offer. I briefly considered it, but after the waiter told me that the portions were large and I would be close to exploding when we finished (I'm not sure if those were his exact words, but he indicated that it was plenty of food), I decided on the lighter option detailed above.
COURSE 1 (Cold)
The first course was a duo of chilled seafood. Part of me thought it was ironic that we were paying a premium to enjoy fresh seafood from the North Atlantic and Maine, probably flown here overnight from the East Coast. Both of these main dishes were strongly influenced by fruit flavors. Pineapple + coconut were the dominant themes that tied the two dishes together - a pina colada broth for the fluke and a roasted pineapple coconut dressing for the lobster. Though I appreciated the interesting idea, I only thought the flavors were OK.
North Atlantic Fluke Carpaccio
Maine Lobster and Green Papaya Salad
roasted pineapple, spicy coconut dressing
Barely-seared tuna cubes, topped with carrot shavings, cover a slice of carrot-sesame sponge cake. Again, fruit plays a significant role as orange vinaigrette is the dominant sauce.
Pan Roasted Diver Scallop
braised short ribs, carrot emulsion, black trumpet mushroom
The diver scallops are much richer and full of umami, having been seared and served with sauteed trumpet mushrooms and braised short ribs. This dish was quite good - the sweet scallops were succulent and paired beautifully with the deep, rich flavors of the other components.
COURSE 3 (meat!)
By the time we get to the third (or shall we say fifth and sixth!) course, we have left the fruit theme completely. Lamb takes center stage here, with a soft lamb confit on one side and a crusted lamb loin on the other. I'm not a huge fan of lamb, so I can't comment too much on these, but Bryan (who loves lamb), seemed to enjoy them both.
Elsberg Ranch Lamb Shoulder Confit
creamy fennel and tomato fondue, olive and basil lamb jus
Roasted Pistachio Crusted Lamb Loin
It's totally true - this tasting could easily serve two people. I can see why they make it a rule that everyone has to enjoy the tasting. Otherwise, I'd be really tempted just to order one thing and share the tasting. it is truly a ridiculous amount of food.
Peach was the central theme in the last duo of desserts.
Of course, they gave us a lovely assortment of mini-desserts (les mignardises) with which to finish the meal.
I had a fun time at Aureole. Like I mentioned before, the space is absolutely stunning and the service is decent. I thought the Restaurant Week menu was executed quite well. The food was quite good and they gave options at various price points, which I thought was really nice.
Honestly, I wasn't a huge fan of the Parallel Tasting (from the bites I got from Bryan's tasting). Not only were the portions way to big for me (and would be for many people I know), I didn't love any of the courses. A little too much fruit for my tastes, and as you know, I'm not a huge fan of lamb.
I will agree that it's a great value when you consider just how much food you are getting (especially compared with the $50 Restaurant Week 3-course). However, it doesn't work well for someone with limited stomach capacity (who feels guilty about leaving food on the plate yet hates feeling stuffed).
I will say I've had other friends really enjoy the Parallel Tasting, so keep in mind this is just my personal opinion. I'm just really glad we came during Restaurant Week so we could all sample so many different aspects of the menu. It sure makes for a much more diverse, informational, and interesting post.
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