Seven Questions for Rick Moonen

The chef behind Rx Boiler Room and RM Seafood on where he goes for cheap eats, shopping organic and the burger joint he can’t resist

rick moonen

Photo by Roni Fields

Conspicuous consumption seems to be a big part of the Las Vegas foodie culture. Is it possible to eat as well for $10 a plate as you can for $100 a plate?

I know you can—and I mean that you’re eating clean food, not processed bullshit. I love to cook at home. Sunday is my sacred day. I make plan-overs; I’m planning to have these [meals] for the rest of the week. If I’m going to fire up my barbecue, I might as well get a bunch of veggies and cook them. So if I come home on Tuesday and I’m starving, I’ve got grilled asparagus, portobello mushrooms, I’ve got artichokes that I’ve marinated.

I’ll buy a pork butt, cheap, and slow-cook it—marinate the hell out of it, use tons and tons of garlic. And then you’ve got pork for the week—you can make tacos out of it, you can stick it on a salad.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the Valley to dine on the cheap?

I’d first and foremost dive into Chinatown. I like going to China Mama—it’s legitimate Chinese food. The atmosphere sucks, so go in there knowing it’s going to be cheesy. You can also go to Chada Thai & Wine; it’s open until 3 in the morning. Honey Pig is a lot of fun, because it’s very social—everybody’s forced to eat over the garbage-can lid in the center. You can drink cheap beer and sochu, which is like sake on crack. Five people can [eat] for $150.

Echo & Rig [in Tivoli Village] is pretty decent for the price on meat, because they do all their own butchering and they pass [the savings] on to you. I always say to them, “How can you stay in business with these prices?”

Let’s say someone wants to take a date to an upscale restaurant, like Rx Boiler Room, but they’re on a budget. What are some ways they can economize while still enjoying the experience?

So, we’re not going to kill the guy. You can get a lot of small plates á la carte. He’s going to order some bacon-wrapped bacon-n-egg, some chicken-potpie nuggets. And if things are going well, let’s bring this date to Round 2 and get some buffalo-fried oysters. They’re not that expensive. Then you might want to go to fish tacos after that. And you’re going to want a second cocktail, because the first one was stupid good, and that’s just the way it is.

You’re a big advocate for sustainable seafood. Where’s the best place in town for the average person to shop?

You can get some decent fish at Whole Foods. You can go to the markets on Spring Mountain in Chinatown, like 99 Ranch. I used to live in that neighborhood and shopped there when I was doing a chapter in my cookbook. You can get some decent salmon, but if you really want to know where your fish comes from and get information, Whole Foods is great for that.

Is it worth it to consistently buy organic produce?

Not necessarily. Sometimes it’s just about going local. Some people can’t be certified or legally call themselves organic yet, but they’re doing everything right.

If you go to a grocery store and want to save money, buy seasonally. Or buy at farmers markets. It’s spring, so you’re going to find fava beans, pea shoots, asparagus, wild leeks and wild spring garlic.

If you’re going to spend [extra] money on something, buy some liquid aminos and apple-cider vinegar, and mix those together with flaxseed oil. You put that on anything raw, chop it up and mix it with some greens, some seeds, and you’re eating high on the hog, man.

How do you get a picky eater to expand his or her palate?

Peer pressure is always No. 1. Tell them that they’re in the best place possible to step out of their comfort zone. That happens all the time in my restaurant. I get people really proud of themselves and high-fiving, because they just had their first oyster. I promise them I’ll buy it if they don’t like it. But then you stand there and intimidate the shit out of them.

Safe to assume a chef with your background doesn’t eat much fast food?

I have a soft spot in my heart for In-N-Out Burger. I go in there even if I have my chef’s coat on. I don’t care. I order a Double-Double and a fry, and I drink it with water because I can’t drink soda. If I’m going to drink something that’s sweet, it better have bourbon in it.

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