Gastropubs have become insanely popular throughout the U.S. Chefs are closing down their high-end white tablecloth establishments and replacing them with restaurants that offer sharable small plates, house made cured meats, and dishes made with local, seasonable farm fresh ingredients.
The last place you might expect to see restaurants focusing on "local, seasonable farm ingredients" would be a city in the desert.
Namely, Las Vegas.
Interestingly, farm-to-table restaurants are thriving in Las Vegas. Las Vegas has the benefit of being quite close to California, where farms are abundant. As a result, Las Vegas restaurants are able to build relationships with farmers in California and offer the same type of local, seasonal fare that is abundant in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York.
We had a chance to visit Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay, one of the newest restaurants of this type to hit the Las Vegas Strip. James Beard award-winning chef Shawn McClain, who is also behind Sage and Five50 Pizza Bar at Aria, has partnered with mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim to create a restaurant that serves "comfortable but provocative" food - in other words, well-known dishes with a twist that surprise and delight the diner.
It's provocative in more ways than one. Check out the statues in the huge wall outside the restaurant.
. . . and inside the restaurant.
The space is huge and includes many different types of seating, such as a large bar, a front lounge, soft couch-like booth seating, kitchen counter seats, and even a back arcade bar.
The menu includes a wide variety of small, sharable plates that fall under a number of categories such as "Small Plates", "Local Fare", Toasts and Dips", and "Flatbreads." They also offer larger format meat and seafood dishes, all made on the company's Argentina-style wood-fired grill.
From the Small Plates section, we started with the one of the restaurant's signature dishes, the Marinated Tuna Cones, delightful savory cones filled with marinated raw tuna, whipped pink peppercorn creme fraiche, and yuzu kosho.
Although I've had many such type cones (inspired by Tomas Keller, most likely), this one really surprised me with the intense pink peppercorn flavor, which I loved.
The Modern Fried Egg is actually not a fried egg at all (though chef insists on keeping the cryptic name). Instead, it's a hollowed out eggshell filled with a sous vide egg yolk, corn pudding, egg white, and American sturgeon caviar. You get a toasted brioche stick on the side, the perfect vehicle for mopping up the rest of the sous vide egg.
I really enjoyed the classic egg + caviar combination (how can you go wrong?), and the corn pudding gave the dish an unusual twist which I really liked.
TOASTS AND DIPS
From the Toasts and Dips section, we had the Foie Gras Mousse with motarda and country toasts, which was very good.
The Local Fare section showcases salads and vegetable-focused dishes from partnering farms in California. We tried the Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, which came with pancetta, shaved Serrano ham, and a sous vide egg. The sous vide egg added a nice creamy balance to the salty Serrano ham (which, by the way, had excellent flavor) and the tender fingerling potatoes.
One of their specials of the day, a roasted Chiogga Beet Salad with feta cheese, pistachios, and local greens, was delicious.
Although we did not specifically try one of their flatbreads, we did try another one of their specials that day, a simple Fontina Cheese Pizza topped with Winter Burgundy Truffles. The pizza had a bubbly, chewy crust and the truffles were awesome.
One of the daily specials was a simple Crab Salad topped with a creamy avocado mousse and perfectly cooked cubes of potatoes.
I was impressed with the precise attention to detail. The cubes of potatoes reminded me of knifework that one would typically find in high-end dining, not a gastropub. All in all, the flavors were lovely. Again, crab and avocado is a classic combination, but I really enjoyed the unusual addition potatoes.
The Market Fish of the Day was a whole Branzino cooked in their Argentina style wood-fired grill. Everything that's cooked in the wood-fired grill is served with chimichurri sauce in some form or fashion.
In this case, the fish came topped with classic chimicchuri sauce and lemon. The execution was flawless. The meat was tender and we loved the charred, wood-grilled flavor on the outside.
The main course, a grilled Wagyu Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce was fantastic with the addition of freshly shaved winter black truffles.
The execution was excellent (a perfect medium rare), and the truffles were awesome.
From the Sides part of the menu, we ordered the Wood Grilled Broccoli & Broccolini. I was especially impressed (again) with the tiny, precision-cut, carrot cubes, which (again) reminded me of a high-end restaurant. I loved the charred, smoky flavor in the vegetables. Everything was perfectly seasoned, and overall I really enjoyed this dish.
We tried several desserts and they were all good. My favorite was the Bread Pudding, which came with some sort of liqueur (maybe grenadine?) topped with vanilla bean ice cream. It was decadent - creamy, dense and rich. I definitely tried to include some of that crunchy toasted top into each spoonful (yum!).
The Apple Pie came with a lovely quince and desert honey gelato on top.
The Chocolate Mousse Cake came along with a dollop of toasted marshmallow.
I was very impressed with the food and overall dining experience at Libertine Social. I like the emphasis on smaller plates (yay variety!), and the food is very good. Some of my favorites included The Marinated Tuna Cones, Modern Fried Egg, Beet Salad, and anything made on that lovely Argentina-style wood-fired grill.
I would definitely come back, and highly recommend this cool place.
Libertine Social Las Vegas
3950 S Las Vegas Blvd,
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Disclaimer – this meal at Libertine Social Las Vegas was a press meal arranged by MGM Resorts, the parent company that owns Mandalay Bay. I did not pay for this meal, nor was I paid to write this blog post. All opinions are my own.