It’s hard to imagine K.C. Fazel barking out orders or coining catchphrases like the celebrity chefs with establishments up and down the Strip. His voice is soft but eager as he points to the two dozen cuts he has arranged on slabs of black slate in the kitchen of Tender Steak & Seafood at Luxor. He points out the differences among the four samples glistening on the rib-eye platter—a Kobe-style, a dry-aged Angus, a grass-fed version and a deep-red bison steak with little marbling. As he moves down the line toward his more exotic offerings—antelope, elk, venison, wild boar—he explains how Tender’s game meat-program has evolved with the restaurant.
After six years at the MGM Grand’s Brown Derby and Craftsteak, Fazel took over the former Luxor Steakhouse in 2006. When it was completely retooled and renamed Tender in 2008, Fazel launched an “extreme meat trio” of beef cheeks, veal sweetbreads and oxtail ravioli, as well as another trio of grilled quail, pheasant blintz and a sausage of guinea hen and duck ham.
“Then it worked, but customer preferences changed. Their comfort zone narrowed a bit,” he notes, perhaps along with their pocketbooks.
Recession notwithstanding, Fazel has continued to experiment with his game-meat program at Tender, tailoring the concept to appeal to today’s diners, who may be reluctant to commit to a full-size portion of something unfamiliar. Tender’s wild-game trio currently features axis venison medallion, wild boar and antelope osso buco. The charcuterie platter includes wild boar sausage and antelope pastrami.
Fazel has trained the staff to steer the more risk-taking customers to the elk chops, the less adventurous to the healthy bison options, and those who insist on more well-done meats away from lean chops to the braised antelope. He is a patient teacher and seems as unimpressed with himself as he is impressed by the work of his carefully chosen suppliers, most of whom he has personally visited. This year, Fazel will go to bison producer Durham Ranch in Wyoming, and next year he has been invited to participate in the harvest at Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, which supplies his wild boar, antelope and venison.
“Some people are afraid of game meat because of the reputation it has for being very intense in flavor—that gaminess they’ve experienced if they had a hunter in their family. But they don’t understand where exactly it comes from,” Fazel says. “The way the animals are raised and hunted or slaughtered can make an incredible difference in the flavor profile and tenderness of the meat.”
For instance, the Broken Arrow animals are free-range and “harvested” by a sharpshooter year-round. “So the animal is grazing one minute and taken down the next. It doesn’t have time to get stressed. Gaminess [in meat from traditionally hunted animals] comes from the adrenaline in their system—they know they’re being hunted—and from hormones, because they’re usually killed during the rut [mating season].”
As summer gives way to cooler weather, Tender’s menu will more prominently feature the Colorado Rocky Mountain elk chop. “People who are really into game meat go for a big elk or venison chop,” Fazel says. “When the [Safari Club International] convention is here, they attack my game-meat menu.”
Meat meets its match with pairings by Tender general manager Dave Casey.
• Wild boar with 2009 Pieropan Soave Classico, Italy.
• Elk steak with 2008 Penfolds Bin 407 cabernet sauvignon, Australia.
• Venison with 2010 Antica Terra Botanica pinot noir, Willamette Valley.
• Antelope with 2007 Duckhorn Paraduxx Bordeaux blend, Napa Valley.
• Vegas Strip Steak with 2008 O’Shaughnessy cabernet sauvignon, Howell Mountain.