Right on Track, Just Off-Strip

Plush and modern, the Barrymore is still finding its way

The Barrymore opened a few weeks ago at the Royal Resort, and it’s really the closest place to downtown that I’d call “plush modern.” There’s “hip” (The Beat Coffeehouse) and “Old Vegas” (Hugo’s Cellar), but this is a first: an elegant lounge with a white marble-topped bar and two gorgeous deco dining rooms, and featuring smart 21st- century cooking.

So I’m sinking down into my baby-blue velvet booth there, looking up at a drop ceiling composed of film reels, nibbling on a lobster deviled egg topped with American caviar and feeling pretty good. A companion is eating chicken matzo ball soup stocked with minced chicken and one giant, fluffy matzo ball that almost fills the cup. Life’s a dream.

This dining room is dark and clubby, an intimate space framed by a glassed-in floor-to-ceiling wine display. The smaller space, used for breakfast and lunch, is filled with ambient light when the sun is up. I am told the restaurant is named for Barrymores’ Steak and Seafood at the original MGM Grand (now Bally’s), so I’m curious as to why a poster of the movie Calling Dr. Gillespie, which stars his brother, Lionel, is hanging from one of the walls. Hey, why not Ethel?

The restaurant was developed by Billy Richardson, whose Block 16 Hospitality Group also brings us LBS Burger at Red Rock Resort and Holsteins in the Cosmopolitan, to name just two. And obviously, they’ve spared no expense to make this a beautiful place, from the Tartan carpeting and large, ornately framed mirrors in the dining rooms to the kitchen talent in executive chef Anthony Meidenbauer and chef de cuisine Francisco Campa.

Meidenbauer managed to impress me with a number of creative burgers at Holsteins, but here, he’s painting from a much broader palette. In truth, though, I end up being more impressed with lunch than with dinner.

The grilled fish tacos, two to an order, have enormous chunks of mahi mahi plus a cucumber-radish slaw and Poblano chili cream. At $10.50 it’s almost enough for two. The Steakhouse Burger, a grass-fed beef patty topped with bacon marmalade, is wonderful. And the check for a three-course lunch for two barely tops $60.

But I’m not in love with everything I eat here. The Barrymore Chopped—a salad composed of chopped lettuces, Pecorino, roasted peppers, chickpeas, roasted peppers, tomato and red wine vinaigrette—is watery. I’d love to find just one great chopped salad in this town; so far, I have not. And vitello tonnato, the classic Tuscan dish of thinly sliced veal with a rich, creamy tuna sauce on top, is parsimoniously drizzled instead of blanketed with the sauce, and I can barely taste the tuna in it.

Still, these boys can really cook, and most of the dishes I tried were spot-on. Lobster mac and cheese, served in a little ceramic crock, is terrific, with big chunks of lobster ducking under a bubbly crust. I love the steak tartare, which is nicely textured with capers and shallots. And a main dish, the fried free-range chicken, manages to be appealing despite an overly sweet crunch. The cheesy grits on the side did it for me. I tasted one of the steaks, a rib-eye, but it didn’t have the beefy intensity to justify the hefty price point.

I only tasted one dessert, budino, a grainy butterscotch pudding served in a glass jar, accompanied by odd-tasting pine-nut rosemary cookies that reminded me of Keebler’s Pecan Sandies. And we had to send an Old Fashioned back to the bar. The first time, it tasted like the bartender forgot to put the bourbon it in.

But let’s be patient with the Barrymore. It’s a great addition to the “almost downtown” scene, and this neighborhood can really use it.

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Rigatoni “D,” Maggiano’s Little Italy

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The great thing about there being so many great Italian restaurants in this city is that while they all have a lot of the same menu items, they each have a signature dish that they have perfected. At Maggiano’s it’s the Rigatoni “D,” a heaping bowl of short, tube pasta with herbed chicken, whole button mushrooms and caramelized onions, all tossed in a creamy-yet-light and almost sweet Marsala sauce. $16, in Fashion Show, 732-2550.