Walking into N9NE Steakhouse for the first time since its recent remodel and menu re-write, I was a bit nervous. A little more than three years ago, I publicly vetoed its inclusion in the first edition of my restaurant guidebook, over the strenuous objection of my colleague, co-author and Vegas Seven food critic Max Jacobson. That veto, which lasted three editions, angered a lot of local foodies, and a few N9NE employees. I wasn’t sure how welcome I’d be, but since I’m filling in for Jacobson, I knew I owed the revamped restaurant a fresh look.
The first thing you notice about the new N9NE is that, while it’s clearly been spruced up, the overall vibe isn’t much different. It’s still modern and sexy, with a bar just slightly raised to overlook the main dining room and a private dining room in the back. Sure, there are some new draperies and other nice touches, but they’re generally overshadowed by the one big change to the room: the Center Table. Located in the center of the dining room, the large table sits under an ornate mid-century mod chandelier and is enclosed in a canopy of drapes. In a restaurant that’s always taken pride in its VIP guests, it’s presumably a way to simultaneously draw attention to their presence, yet shield them from prying eyes.
I’ve never been a fan of celebrity-filled restaurants and the stalkers they attract. (The fact that N9NE isn’t mentioned in the gossip pages quite as much as it once was makes me like it better.) So I couldn’t care less about who was sitting at the Center Table during my recent visits. But I was thankful the curtains at least slightly turned down the volume in what’s always been a very loud room.
The bar menu offers small snacks that range from whimsical creations including Philly cheesesteak egg rolls to traditional dishes such as oysters Rockefeller. The a la carte menu is just as diverse, with typical steakhouse fare alongside unexpected options—for example, lobster pot stickers and sashimi.
For me, the most significant change to the menu actually took place more than a year ago, when longtime chef Barry Dakake added dry-aged beef. It’s admittedly an acquired taste, but one I’ve always felt should be an option in any serious steakhouse. The chef has apparently come around to my way of thinking, and taken it to the extreme by offering both a 35-day rib eye and a New York sirloin that’s been dry-aged for 50 days. (Standard dry aging is 21–28 days.)
Over the course of two visits, my guests and I have eaten our way through a large portion of the menu, and have been impressed with almost everything. Both the sirloin and a wet-aged rib cap were perfectly prepared and so flavorful there was no need for any of the house-made sauces—although I recommend ordering the creamy horseradish just to sample it. The newly added butternut squash ravioli is sweet and delicious. The textural contrast on the Cajun-dusted salmon served over sweet potato hash and topped with bacon is sublime, although I thought the saltiness of the topping came close to overpowering the fish (my guest disagreed).
And the massive lobster thermidor—another new dish that starts with a sautéed three-pound lobster and blends its sweet meat with Gruyère cheese sauce and toasted breadcrumbs—is mind-blowing. The only thing I wouldn’t order again are the cheesesteak egg rolls, which were too greasy for my taste.
I’m glad I returned to N9NE, and want to thank Dakake and his staff for making me feel welcome. If anyone was scared away by my book, I encourage them to check out N9NE today, with one caveat: The majority of dishes—from the linguine in a creamy tomato sauce to sides such as broccoli and cauliflower doused in white cheddar—are incredibly rich. So unless you’re looking to clog as many arteries as possible, order carefully.
In the Palms, 933-9900. Open for dinner 5:30–10 p.m. Sun–Thu, 5:30–11 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $150-$300.
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