Most people know Tom Colicchio from his role as head judge on the Bravo reality show Top Chef, but I’ve been following this chef since his days at New York’s Gramercy Tavern, and consider him one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in a kitchen.
His landmark cookbook, Think Like a Chef, published in 2000, takes home cooks through a series of steps to help them construct recipes—simple, clean and organic. And at his MGM Grand restaurant, Craftsteak, you compose your own dinner from lists of appetizers, meats, side dishes and vegetables, served family-style.
Colicchio’s eagerly awaited new restaurant at The Mirage, Heritage Steak, veers off in a different direction, though. Here, most of the work is done for you, on a menu made up of dishes that are already thought through, most of them colorful, intelligent and inviting.
Your initial impression might be one of familiarity. The restaurant’s design, by the firm Bentel & Bentel, will remind you of Craftsteak: a parquet floor; mahogany panels that separate the vast, open space from the greenery of The Mirage’s atrium; wooden tables; Chilewich placemats sitting in for table linens; and chic Bernardaud porcelain plate ware.
That’s red oak stacked high by the open kitchen, where antibiotic- and hormone-free meats are cooked over open flames. Executive chef Anthony Zappola told me red oak was chosen because it burns hotter and longer, without imparting aggressive flavors in the manner of mesquite and hickory. Colicchio clearly wants to emphasize ingredients, not obscure them. You generally taste what you are eating at a Colicchio restaurant.
An appetizer of grilled octopus—beautifully tender, gently charred—is gorgeous, paired with charred leek, potato, roasted peppers and Romesco, a Catalan sauce that is red, grainy and addictive, referred to on the menu as “almonds”! Maybe Colicchio doesn’t want to confuse us. Thanks, Tom, but we can handle the truth.
The de facto Caesar here is an artist’s palette of grilled Romaine and endive, soft farm egg and white anchovy dressing, pretty enough to frame. Wood-roasted peaches come with slices of Iberico ham and a flurry of arugula, a heavenly conceit. There are about 15 appetizers in all, including a number of soy-chili glazed skewers: squab, duck, skirt steak, chicken wings and more.
Main courses are composed dishes as well, unless you order a Heritage Steak, which will come with what are called peewee potatoes—small, halved potatoes cooked in duck fat (which I wish was more apparent). My roasted chicken was magnificently done in the classic French style, meaning laced with a rich brown demi-glace, and then brought back to America with spicy onion rings and a delicious summer bean gratin.
The only steak I tried, Tabasco-pepper Kobe skirt, was also excellent, though I wanted to taste more Tabasco. The kitchen here generally errs on the side of bland, so as to be safe, I’m guessing. Two sides—a genius creamless creamed sweet corn cooked down to a pudding-like texture, and a workmanlike roasted eggplant—rounded things out.
But some things need to be tweaked. Grilled lamb ribs, for instance, are rubbed with vadouvan, a trendy south Indian spice mixture, masking the flavor of the lamb to a degree. I couldn’t help wondering if this was intentional. Americans don’t embrace lamb the way other countries do, and spices hide the gaminess.
Don’t miss the mascarpone panna cotta for dessert, topped with fig, raspberry, pistachio nuts and other goodies. And expect crack service from a team that feels as experienced as any on the Strip—a near miracle for a new restaurant.
In The Mirage, 791-7111. Dinner 5-10:30 p.m. daily. Dinner for two, $125-$190.