Jacques Café Well Worth the Trip

Dinner at the casual American bistro convinces our critic to conquer his fear of Summerlin

Photo courtesy of Jacques Cafe

Al dente risotto with rock shrimp, asparagus, clam juice and saffron. | Photo courtesy of Jacques Cafe

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’m not a big fan of Summerlin. I’m not talking about the outskirts, such as Tivoli Village or Red Rock Resort. I’m talking about the areas where roundabouts and non-perpendicular roads conspire to get me lost. Hell, even my GPS seems confused when I head deep into that particular bit of suburbia. But interesting restaurants keep opening out there, so I keep going—and keep getting lost on my way to find them. My most recent treks have been to Jacques Café, which celebrated its grand opening November 18, and what I found was worth the trouble.

Chef Jacques Pauvert has an extensive résumé that features restaurants in France, L.A. and Hawaii, including the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. His restaurant is in the corner of Trails Village Center and  bills itself as a “casual American bistro.” It’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, offering organic produce, grass-fed beef and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. The service is “quick casual,” meaning you order from a counter, but a server brings your food to your table. The décor is a bit more formal than your typical “quick casual” spot, however, particularly the side bar area, which has a formal bar and a view of the patio. There’s also a large outdoor patio that might not be suited to the present temperatures, but will be a great place to dine come spring.

The interior dining area and chef Jacques Pauvert.

The interior dining area and chef Jacques Pauvert.

I’ve visited Jacques for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By far, the weakest part of the menu has been the soups. The minestrone is far too thick and heavy. The “Summerlin”—made with cauliflower, squash, coconut milk, curry cilantro and pesto—was as confusing to me as the neighborhood after which it was named. And a porcini mushroom butternut soup had none of the sweet squash flavor I expected, dominated instead by the earthy mushrooms and bitter roasted leeks.

The sandwiches I’ve tried from the lunch menu have been considerably better. The pastrami comes with Gouda, sauerkraut, red peppers and aioli, while the grilled turkey

satay is dressed with cilantro, green onion and aioli. I also enjoyed a langoustine and spinach omelet, although it was just a touch on the dry side. And from the appetizer section of the dinner menu, make sure to try the crab cakes.

If this review seems lukewarm so far, it’s simply because I’ve saved the best for last. Where the chef really shines is with his more formal dinner offerings. The risotto with rock shrimp is excellent (assuming you’re OK with the texture of rice that’s been cooked al dente). If I were to change anything about it, it would simply be to ask for larger cuts of asparagus so the bright vegetables could better penetrate the heavy taste of the clam juice and sharp cheese. As it stands, this is a dish well above what I’ve found in most other quick-casual restaurants.

As good as the risotto is, however, it doesn’t compare to the steelhead salmon belly. It comes over a tiny al dente pasta that I don’t think I’ve seen before, but which reminded me of a baby orecchiette. What makes the dish is the delicious, delicate red miso cream sauce, which is finished with shitake mushrooms and a green onion puree. At $20, it’s the most expensive thing on the menu. But a seafood dish such as this would set you back a lot more at a more formal spot.

The staff at Jacques has always been extremely friendly, and they definitely know their way around the menu. The one knock: They can be a bit slow with drink refills and generally checking in on the table.

If Jacques Café were in my neighborhood, I have no doubt it’d be a regular dinner destination. And for that salmon dish alone, I’d even take on the roundabouts of Summerlin.

Al’s Menu Picks

  • Crab cakes ($16),
  • risotto with rock shrimp ($16) and
  • steelhead salmon belly ($20).

Jacques Café

1910 Village Center Circle, 702-550-6363. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon–Sat and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. Dinner for two, $25-$50.


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