Most of us know chef Rick Moonen as the champion of sustainable seafood. I know him as a master of reinventing himself, something he’s gone and done by gutting the upstairs dining room at RM Seafood, an upscale venue that resembled an art deco cruise ship. He has installed in its place Rx Boiler Room, a steampunk-inspired gastropub, if you will. Rx … pronounced Rick’s—get it, wink wink, nudge nudge. Clever fellow, that Moonen!
Steampunk—in case you missed it—is a literary, fashion and lifestyle aesthetic inspired by a Victorian vision of a steam-powered future (see Jules Verne).
But no matter how one defines this gaudy space—colored mostly in lurid red, stocked with gears, cogs, antique jars and shamelessly lush velvet drapes—it represents a departure for the chef, both in terms of the design and the food you eat. The restaurant has the sort of theatricality you find in places such as the Bazaar by José Andrés in the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles, a spin-off of which will open next year at our own SLS Hotel. I mentioned this to Moonen’s wife and constant companion, Roni, who admitted that she had a major hand in this new design and indeed felt inspired by the Bazaar.
Moonen has always had talent in the kitchen to back up his own impressive abilities. He opened with John Tesar, now an important chef and TV personality in Dallas, and for a time had Adam Sobel, who worked with Guy Savoy and Michael Mina. Now he’s got the talented Johnny Church, last seen at View Wine Bar & Kitchen in Tivoli Village. The new menu at Rx Boiler Room is the work of both Moonen and Church, but many dishes remind me of foods I ate at View, before Church decamped.
And some work, while others do not. His bacon-wrapped bacon ’n’ egg, for instance, is one of the Strip’s greatest bar dishes, served on a brioche toast with tomato jam. But the chicken potpie nuggets still appear to be a work in progress. In their latest incarnation, they are deep fried with a tempura batter, when they’d really work better with a short crust.
Some of the dishes here are really creative. Squid-E-Os with spicy merguez (Moroccan-style minced lamb) meatballs sit in a pool of black sauce, made from the ink of the squid and possibly some red wine. Braised oxtail croquettes Dijonnaise—crunchy orbs of meat and Bechamel—literally melt in the mouth.
The menu is divided into smart categories such as Dips & Bites, Boards & Jars, Land, Ocean and Trimmings, among others. If you aren’t in an adventurous mood, you can always fall back on a dry-aged burger, the grind with short rib and brisket in the meat, or a pitch-perfect, meaty lamb osso buco, filled with marrow and served Greek-style on a bed of toasted orzo pasta, which resembles a large grain of rice.
Interesting cocktails such as Some Like It Hot—a terminally hip concoction composed of Fords gin and Salerno blood orange liqueur—plus buzzword ingredients such as pink salt, come from the hand of lead barman Nathan Greene, and are ordered from an iPad.
For dessert, there are delicious options, including Rocky Road Pudding, laced with brownie bites, peanuts and chunks of marshmallow, and a deliciously light trio of granitas: watermelon, almond and espresso, lathered with hand-whipped cream.
The one caveat about this place is that if you get out cheap, you may also leave hungry. Fine dining may be taking a backseat to casual, so you can’t blame Moonen for jumping on a bandwagon where names like McClain, Mina and Serrano are passengers as well. But what you may be getting here isn’t choice, but what George Carlin referred to as “the illusion of choice.” If you’re looking for a bargain, go to Chinatown.
Rx Boiler Room
In the Shoppes at Mandalay Place, 632-9900. Open 5 p.m.-midnight Sun-Thu, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $69-$125.