Tapas Without Borders

Talent comes on small plates at Longoria’s internationally inspired steak house

Beso, Eva Longoria’s dramatically designed restaurant at the edge of Crystals mall in CityCenter, has been largely ignored by the food press. So I decided to take a look, and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.

Advertisements refer to it as a steak house and, indeed, the Harris Ranch Beef served here is great. I tried the 16-ounce filet and the 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye, charred medium-rare, and both were flavorful, tender and juicy. The massive Harris Ranch is on Interstate 5 in central California. You smell it before you see it, if you drive by.

There’s more than steak going on at Beso, where creative chef Matt Piekarski, a protégé of Spago’s Eric Klein, mans the stoves. Not all of his dishes work, but many do, including some from a new small-plates menu, and a spate of mostly wonderful desserts.

If you dine inside, you’ll sit on plush black leather chairs with straight backs, or at sweeping booths with lacquered wooden tops. (It’s rather dark; most of the light comes from panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Aria waterfall, which is lit up after sunset.) And now that spring has sprung, the restaurant’s partially hidden outdoor patio is one of the Strip’s best-kept secrets for alfresco dining.

Cocktails are a must here. Pear and Elderberry Sangria or Eva’s Cadillac Margarita, made with a splash of Grand Marnier, are good beginnings. So is the house breadbasket, stocked with warm pretzel bread, cheese-crusted flatbread and sourdough rolls.

One evening, I started with guacamole, Eva’s signature recipe, served with warm tortilla chips. Ms. Longoria is a Texas girl from Corpus Christi, and she likes her guacamole bland, I’d say. Beso’s new menu omits the taco tasting, which I thought was the best appetizer—a tuna, lobster and steak taco presented on a metal tray. Chef, please bring it back.

Compensation comes in the form of small plates, an entire menu designed for the patio, and for sharing. Marcona almonds from Spain are flanked by an impressive selection of cured, imported olives and are served with pickled garlic and Maldon salt.

I love the chickpea fries, rectangular sticks dunked in harissa ketchup; it’s a delicious invention. Skirt steak, the putative substitute for that taco taster, is sliced and served with a swath of black-bean puree. Smear a tortilla with the puree and add the steak.

My favorite small plate is paella arancini, a Valencia-meets-Sicily dish of rice balls with lobster and chorizo, and golden brown crusts. The chili relleno, though, falls flat. The so-called short-rib stuffing turns out to be runny goat cheese. And a salmon carpaccio had no flavor, in spite of micro-greens, a balsamic vinegar drizzle and fried capers on top.

The kitchen does a credible Caesar salad with fat croutons, and a fine crackling pork shank with lentils, as well as classic steak upgrades such as Oscar (crab, asparagus and Hollandaise) and truffle butter among others. Crispy striped bass with cauliflower puree and Romanesco broccoli is an interesting alternative to meat. So is a Filipino-inspired tuna adobo.

Piekarski does his own desserts: a too-sweet guanabana pie—a riff on key lime pie with custardy texture—and a sensational pineapple cake that must be 50 percent butter served hot in an iron skillet. There are churros, too, for which butter is used instead of lard, which is the way they are made at Beso Hollywood.

Now, head upstairs to Eve, Longoria’s nightclub, to dance the night—and the calories—away.

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Pretty in pink and pleasing to the palette are the red-velvet pancakes at Babycakes Café, a compelling reason to get out of bed early this weekend. The pancakes are topped with whipped cream and chocolate crumbles, and served with cream cheese syrup. In addition to traditional favorites, consider S’more, rocky road, carrot cake and lemon ricotta pancakes. By the time you’re done, you won’t know if it’s breakfast time or dessert time—you’ll just be very happy. $5.75 for a short stack, $9 for a full stack, 2400 N.



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