Mesa Grill, Las Vegas (March 2009)

My affinity for Food Network television stars has waned since Mario Batali’s show was canceled. Bobby Flay now enjoys the esteem that comes with being one of the few actual chefs on the channel.

Due to an array of constraints–Bradley Ogden and Restaurant Guy Savoy are closed on Tuesdays and my mother’s show was at Caesar’s Palace–we were prodded into Mesa Grill’s direction. Going in to dinner, I could not help but hope that Ben Bernanke et al. would backstop our bill–as he did for Jamie Dimon when JP Morgan stepped in to rescue Bear Stearns–if the meal turned out to be “toxic.”

When walking into Mesa Grill, one is bombarded by the variegated interior–blues, greens, oranges, and reds. It seems like something straight out of a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas acid trip. And yet, it makes sense, for once the food arrives, those same colors recrudesce in the form of blue corn meal, pea risotto, Ancho chili sauce, and assorted seafood.

While my mother decided to go with the prix fixe menu, I hopscotched over the appetizers, ordering two entrées instead.

At the risk of sounding querimonious, let me start with the dish’s deficiencies. First, as the picture can attest, it was oily. Second, I have heretofore never understood what people mean when they said that lobster can be chewy if poorly cooked. Just to cut through the tail meat required quite a bit of effort; not even Fletcherizing would have helped. Third, while the lobster claw provides a dramatic presentation, removing the meat meant that I would have to drench my fingers in the aforementioned oily liquid. Chief among the dish’s auspicious elements was the sinus-clearing broth. Coriander balanced the sweet scallop and mussels. Both the blue corn stick and the walnut and raisin-studded bread also served as a palate emollient. 

Cioppino with lobster tail and claw, snapper, mussels, a scallop, and a blue corn stick
Salad, kidney and garbanzo beans, olives, blue corn chips
Pardon the untenable Rachael Ray reference–and the uncharacteristically monepic construction–but yum-o. The meat on the rack was, as always, difficult to access. Floating in the jus, the loin and leg were so tender. After finishing the rabbit, I still faced a sizable portion of risotto. Seeing a pile of peas was a thrill, given the paucity of vegetables in the meal, and to my surprise, they were not overcooked. My only gripe was the bean sprouts’ length, which made for inelegant eating. 
Braised rabbit leg, loin, and rack, pea risotto, and bean sprouts

This was a well-seasoned and balanced combination. The dry rub on the pork coupled with the ancho chili packed a peppery punch, leaving me no choice but to lunge my fork into the sweet potato tamale.

Pork tenderloin with an Ancho chili sauce, sweet potato tamale, and pecan butter
Espresso layer cake
Summa summarum, although Flay is no longer the proud beneficiary of a Michelin star, he delivers exciting Southwestern cuisine.
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