Food is a large part of most holiday traditions. When I was growing up, my family usually had a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, ham for Easter and some of mother’s favorite Polish dishes for Christmas. But as with most things in my life, when I became an adult, I veered in a different direction: I never eat turkey on the holidays. For Christmas, I try to seek out venison, getting a perverse thrill out of being able to say I ate Rudolph. And rabbit is my dish of choice for Easter. In addition to allowing me to vent my rage at Peter Rabbit for not having brought me any candy over the past three decades, it’s also quite delicious. So for those of you who might also like to eat the Easter Bunny this year—or just enjoy a great rabbit dish year round—here are some of the Valley’s best.
Cascabel Chile-Crusted Rabbit
During my 14 years in Las Vegas, I’ve probably had more Easter rabbits at Mesa Grill than anywhere else. The current preparation is in many ways a classic Bobby Flay recipe, highlighting his ability to coax subtle flavors out of chili peppers without burdening us with heat. The loin and leg are bathed in a rich dark cascabel sauce that has mild hints of both heat and sugar, as well as a smoky flavor. It might be overpoweringly rich if it weren’t for the bright, mildly acidic wild mushroom couscous with green chiles and mint that accompanies it. $38, Mesa Grill, in Caesars Palace, 702-650-5965, MesaGrill.com.
Sadly, Rose.Rabbit.Lie. isn’t open on Sundays, so you won’t be able to get this dish on Easter. But it’s probably my favorite rabbit dish in town right now, and I just couldn’t omit it. Made with rabbit, carrots, rose petals, beech mushrooms that have been cooked in lemon juice and olive oil, and a rich brown zingara sauce, it’s hearty, traditional and reminiscent of home cooking. Think of it as a classic rabbit stew taken to a gourmet level. Because of that, it might just be worth getting a few takeout orders on Saturday and reheating them at home for the holiday, because it’s the kind of dish that’s likely to hold up well. $16, Rose.Rabbit.Lie., in the Cosmopolitan, 877-667-0585, RoseRabbitLie.com.
Paella Valenciana ‘Rafael Vidal’
It’s impossible to walk into José Andrés’ tapas restaurant without being drawn to the oversize paella pans, where chefs furiously prepare the traditional Spanish rice dish over flaming piles of orange or olive wood, announcing the completion of each pan with the manic ringing of a cowbell. All of the seven rotating varieties are notable for the beautiful crispy grains of rice scraped from the bottom of the pan and scattered throughout. Among the most popular is the Valenciana, which offers thin, crispy bites of rabbit cooked to showcase their gaminess, large, juicy pieces of chicken, green beans and lima beans. It’s offered most days, but if it’s not on the menu you can always round up a group of eight and order a custom pan. $25, Jaleo, in the Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7000, Jaleo.com.
I have to admit it’s been a while since I’ve had Kerry Simon’s rabbit. But I’ll never forget how the gamey taste of the bunny enriches the wonderfully spiced sauce, accented by shavings of sharp Parmesan. Moreover, the chef’s decision to serve it over spaghetti squash gives it a light springtime feel I don’t usually associate with a ragu—making it perfect for this holiday. So I was shocked to learn that it was off the menu until summer. Fortunately, Simon’s partner Cory Harwell has agreed to bring it back early for one day, as an Easter special. $12, Carson Kitchen, 124 S. Sixth Street, 702-473-9523, CarsonKitchen.com.